The Future of how we work: Hybrid Working

While some may say that fully remote working conditions are becoming the new normal, we believe that hybrid working is in fact set to become the future of the workplace. As the world begins to open up again, most people will end up going back to their offices, but it won’t be an every day occurrence as it was before COVID-19. Returning to offices won’t be an overnight phenomenon- instead it’ll be a phased, gradual process as infection cases reduce and having the flexibility of working from home will become a general working practice.

Adapting to flexible working conditions and adopting technology to make that happen has been critical for businesses throughout the pandemic. At this stage however it is time for them to prepare for a hybrid working model, one in which teams will be able to work together remotely as well as face-to-face. Employees will have to be prepared to work effectively from both their homes and the office, like they have been up to now and management will need to prepare their teams and offices for flexible working arrangements.

However, this won’t necessarily be a straight-forward or easy process. It has been found, and experienced, that being forced to work from home has caused my people to feel isolated, struggle finding the right work-life balance and even experience “burn out” due to working more hours than usual. The hybrid working model may be the answer to improving this, but there is still a risk of feelings of exclusion or imbalance when employees have different working habits to one another.

So how do you keep employees on the same page when some are working remotely, while other are in the office? It is important that care and focus is given to understanding what enables people to work together efficiently with team members and that they have access to the same technology resources wherever they are working that particular day. With the dawn of the hybrid working era potentially upon us, it’s time that businesses take extra considerations when it comes to technology  to ensure it’s as efficient as possible.

The return to work

For many people, working from home throughout the pandemic has shown them that there are other ways to work successfully. Time can be managed more easily to fit in with other life demands and if the right approach is taken, productivity and wellbeing can certainly improve. But there are also those that have missed social interaction with their colleagues and the chance to learn and collaborate with them.

A recent research showed that 73% of professionals want to still be able to work from even after the pandemic ends. So, it is clear that people are expecting to have that option once the world returns to normality. And on the other hand, the same study found that 67% of workers are keen to have more face-to-face time with their co-workers. For every person ecstatic about the peace and quiet of working from their home office, there is another desperate to escape the dining table or the family feud that results from limited broadband bandwidth. Many people will experience a rollercoaster of emotions daily, so it is clear that flexibility is essential.

However, there are still many businesses that haven’t taken their workforce’s pulse on how their expectations and attitudes have changed. A more recent poll found that one in five people who were able to do their job from home were not, with hundreds complaining that they were under pressure from their managers and employers to come into the office even during lockdown. These statistics aren’t reassuring for post-lockdown employee satisfaction.

Moreover, a Harvard study that analysed the e-mails and meetings of over 3.1 million people found that remote staff work almost an hour (48.5 minutes) longer daily. The main reason for this is the fear that management expects people to be available even after contracted work hours finish.

If these outdated attitudes are held onto, then businesses cannot expect to achieve a successful hybrid work model for their employees.

Creating Culture

There is uncertainty around the impact a hybrid working model could have on businesses culture after it has taken in some cases years to build. Google has warned about the potential impact of this work model on corporate culture. However it is far too early to say exactly how the new office environment will look, work and how elements like culture and productivity will impacted, or perhaps even improved. When even tech giants such as Google are being so open about the fact it will take time to adapt and readjust, perhaps the key for all businesses is to start preparing now instead of waiting for rules to be changed again.

Technology should be used to enable positive change through focusing on areas such as smart desk occupancy management, contactless staff sign, visitor management, and employer duty of care. To foster and nurture culture, technology should be used to adapt to new and innovative ways of working.

Effective hybrid working is about giving workers the choice to work wherever they want daily, whether it is in the office, a co-working space or from home. It also should recognise that people can work in different ways from home and allowing and empowering them to do so. Perhaps the nine to five, five days a week should be ditched. If a worker wants to start work at 7:30 am while no one else is up in their house, why couldn’t they finish their workday earlier? To have productive and effective hybrid working, businesses should be enabling people to do their job, however and wherever works for them on any day.

Revamping the workspace

The hybrid workforce means a change in management culture as well as employee behaviour. This will work only if there is trust from both camps. It isn’t just culture that needs to evolve- the office space needs revamping as well. It needs to become an attractive space where staff are encouraged to socialise as well as brainstorm ideas, regardless of whether they prefer to be more office or home-based.

Flexibility can be achieved by introducing apps that can allow employees to book desks in advance. Meeting spaces can be limited to a set number of people, for example in line with the rule of six. If businesses can show their employees that the workspace is safe and organised perhaps, perhaps staff will feel more confident that it’s safe to return to the office, especially at the beginning.

Furthermore, businesses can adopt apps that show when a staff member is online, at lunch, or in a meeting. This can also flag up if an employee is working late at night or working longer than expected hour. Managers could use this information to know when someone is available for a call, in order to avoid contact during down time. Clear policies should be drafted by Human Resources to help managers and employees during this transition.

Managers will need to have a greater focus on staff wellbeing. But this doesn’t mean micro-managing and transforming into some big brother entity that monitors everything their staff does, instead making the time for one-to-one catch-ups and regular team meetings.

Being Proactive

Regardless of back-to-work calls, and government announcements- hybrid working is a new reality. If a business wants to retain and nurture the best talent, then they’ll need to jump on the hybrid working train by implementing the right processes, policies, and culture right now.

Many organisations are already ahead of the curve, with crucial technology investments such as cloud-based applications and video conferencing being made over the past year. The next essential step is building on that investment with a proactive approach to create a culture that  works for both staff and management.

The most successful hybrid model will give people the chance to work how they want and to adapt their work pattern to their needs. Whether it’s working from the office in winter and remotely during summer, or flexible hours around school holidays this should be the new normal. If the right technology and culture is in place, then staff should feel empowered to work however and wherever suits them best. If that is achieved, then a businesses workforce will be happier and more productive- and definitely less likely to want to move jobs.

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