The world has changed a great deal over the past two years. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the workplace. The pandemic taught employers to trust their staff more when working away from the office or from home. And it lent those employees a new sense of work-life balance and flexibility that they don’t want to give up.
There’s no doubt that hybrid working s here to stay. But how can organisations make it work for them? The first step is understanding. how making hybrid work will demand a rethink of office space, budgets, tech resource allocation, and how remote workers are supported.
The race is on
According to Microsoft, nearly two-fifths (38%) of the global workforce are now hybrid workers and more than half (53%) will consider transitioning this year. Yet, separate research reveals that while 70% of firms plan to implement hybrid or flexible working, only a third have a comprehensive strategy in place. The bottom line is that there is no one-size-fits-all here. Just take a look at those large financial institutions and legal practices which are already demanding full or near-full time attendance in the office. Now compare them with many employers in the tech or professional services sectors, where more worker autonomy is the name of the game.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. According to one recent study, nearly 60% of employers think they’ll lose both new and existing employees if they don’t get hybrid working right. The right tools, setting and support will be key to making this happen.
A fine balance
Organisations today need to acknowledge that both workers and employers benefit from splitting time between the office and remote locations, but also that the traditional HQ is no longer the “face” of a corporation. As such, it creates new complexities and challenges that will need to be addressed.
The risk of employee overwork is a big one. Despite offering on paper a much healthier work-life balance, which cuts out the stresses of commuting, more home working could potentially lead to excessive workload. Research reveals that half of employers worry about an unhealthy culture of overwork, while the same number of employees argue their bosses aren’t doing enough to prevent people feeling like they need to be always-on. In a new era of work , organisations must outline their expectations more clearly, and consider developing a new etiquette of behaviour regarding what is required of office-based and remote workers. Digital tools can help here in scheduling work times and providing insights to time spent online.
Part of the challenge is the hybrid working both blurs time and place and redraws the rules of collaboration between office and home-based colleagues. Gone are the days of formal, scheduled, and synchronous collaboration. Special planning will be needed to manage a new, more ad hoc environment.
It will also demand next-generation AV technology like always-on video or spatial audio that will create virtual spaces where informal meetings and innovation thrive. Employers would do well to profile and understand their employees’ differing needs to assess the right blend of technology for their individual working styles. They must also remember that personalisation is key, but not if it creates an unmanageable environment for IT. Balance is everything in the new workplace.
Focusing on the experience
Of course, these aren’t the only complexities that must be unravelled to make hybrid working a success. Aside from the risk of overwork, there are two other important considerations to note as home-based work becomes commonplace. The first concerns trust, belonging, identity and relationships.
Many employers have gone to some lengths to improve the physical comfort of employees returning to the office—through new ventilation systems, social distancing signs and partitions. But the same is not necessarily true of home workers’ psychological comfort. What of the isolation and detachment from colleagues that some home workers feel? Bosses will need to consider how digital collaboration can be harnessed to immerse remote working employees more fully into the office environment and extend their sense of purpose and belonging outside the HQ.
The second factor for organisations is the need to think more carefully about the impact of the new working culture on diversity and inclusion. Equality of experience will be key to ensuring everyone feels included in the new workplace.
What success looks like
Creating a healthy, productive environment out of this new approach will require a rethink of end user support infrastructure and digital tooling—to create seamless, inclusive experiences that support greater flexibility of time and place and both formal and informal collaboration. Beyond that, it’s also critical that organisations understand first what level of hybrid they are prepared to take on, and how much personalisation of technology employees are allowed.
This will require a certain amount of cultural rewiring to get right. But the benefits should speak for themselves. By understanding how to make the most of their spaces, their talent, and their technology, organisations can become more agile, resilient, and attractive places to work. That is the promise of the new workplace.