In March this year, when Coronavirus forced companies to suddenly shift from offices to remote working, IT teams across the country worked 24X7 to create infrastructure, set up network configurations required to provide virtual connectivity to all employee groups. After the initial confusion, employees settled into a rhythm, enjoying the novelty of Working from Home (WFH), evading the daily commute to work and those needless diversions that often take up precious time during our workday.
Now, eight months later, fatigue has set in and WFH is no longer enticing. According to a global survey conducted by Barco, a visualization and collaboration solution provider, 77% of Indian respondents are finding WFH less enjoyable than at the start of the pandemic and 49% are missing the office social life. . And this trend is not unique to India. The study, which surveyed 1,750 employees around the world (250 each from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, India and United Arab Emirates), found that only 15% of employees want to continue to work from home full-time after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Collaborating with colleagues, struggling to contribute to meetings and stifled creativity are some of the challenges that are motivating them to return to office.
Hybrid Working is the new reality
This, however, does not mean that employees are ready to revert to the pre-Covid era either. Flexibility and freedom are the two new buzzwords that employees covet across the globe. They want to choose when, where and for how long do they come into the office. The Barco study indicates that most employees would prefer to work from office 3 days a week and choose to work remotely 2 days a week.
In the Hybrid model, organizations will be a blend of three groups based on role segregation:
- Office Employees - Roles of this group, and in some cases entire industries such as manufacturing, would require them to work primarily from office.
- Hybrid Employees – This is a group where the work does not mandate them to work from office. They can work from anywhere but they prefer to meet in-person intermittently to be more effective.
- Remote Employees – Similar to the Hybrid group, they can work from anywhere and actually prefer not to come to the office. Having this group is critical, since it allows employers to tap a much larger talent pool.
There is only one crucial question to make the Hybrid Workplace successful - Can we provide an exciting and seamless experience to all these three groups of employees? Here are a few important aspects to keep in mind to make that happen.
Revisit your Mental Model
Management across the globe need to reset their mental models to trust team members and provide them resources to balance home and office working successfully. If this means that you have to rebuild your strategy or give-up the swanky office that you have invested in, it’s better to bear those losses gracefully and plan ahead.
Teams, not management, will decide among themselves how to schedule the office working occasions to foster collaboration. Synergising these efforts would probably work only at the senior levels.
Training all managers to ensure alignment, excitement and performance among all the three groups is a crucial investment that employers should not miss.
Invest heavily in Technology
Mirroring the urgency to find the Coronavirus vaccine, companies are investing heavily in automating their workflow, digitizing their data and reconfiguring their office space (physical or virtual). Xerox’s recent global ‘Future of Work’ survey of 600 senior IT decision-makers, revealed that 56% are increasing technology budgets, and 34% are planning to speed up digitisation efforts.
Technological solutions to manage flexibility of the hybrid workplace is becoming equally imperative. Hence technology companies have been bustling to innovate and create the perfect tools for a high performing Hybrid Workplace.
Transition to flexi-office space
Many companies across the globe have already accepted the reality of Hybrid work and are re-evaluating office space. Changes being reported by the real-estate market corroborate this. The balance is shifting with Tier 1 cities with massive corporate hubs witnessing a decline and a price increase in residential semi-urban locations owing to high demand.
Companies now need to focus on two main areas:
- Creating the perfect flexi-office space that is still warm and personal while achieving high capacity utilisation and technology to manage the chaos that could stem from flexibility.
- Creating a similar experience for home offices through a digital set-up as well as ergonomically efficient infrastructure.
The common goal is to provide a seamless experience to employees, independent of their work location.
Craft the Culture carefully
Making teams work cohesively with a consistently in-office or consistently virtual workforce was a challenge keeping HR teams and leaders busy through the year. Now, in the hybrid workplace, how would one combine three different groups and still make them effective?
"I’ve worked in hybrid settings that have been disasters," says Darren Murph, head of remote work at GitLab, the world's largest all-remote company. The perfect flexi-office and the best technological solutions might not be adequate for success. Here are some of the actions that you need to take to tailor your Culture:
- Redefine expectations – Focus on what teams need to achieve without belabouring the how. Let employees and teams redesign their workday while maintaining transparency. Replace old KPIs focused on productivity and availability of employees.
- Build stronger connects – Training managers to avoid “Out of sight, out of mind” syndrome will be critical, especially when handling a mix of these three different groups. Strengthen the manager-employee bond and reinforce it with frequent skip level conversations and connects with mentors/ buddies.
- Invest resources and time – Integrating new employees, impacting large scale organization changes are just some examples of changes that will become even more challenging now. Be mindful and invest more time and resources to mitigate risks.
- Persevere to make the DNA change – It will take a lot of practice and care to take all employees along in the Hybrid model. For instance, planning a social event where remote teams can enjoy too or documenting every in-person discussion for the benefit of those working remotely will be important. So, train and keep reinforcing till it becomes the DNA of the organization.
Lastly, just because employees are demanding a Hybrid workplace, let’s not assume that they are well equipped to handle it well. Training employees to work in hybrid workplaces will, perhaps, be the secret sauce to balance the equation.
In summary, Hybrid work is the new business normal and is here to stay. Building a strong culture, investing in technology, offering flexi-office space and ensuring everyone across the organization is in tune with this new paradigm will be crucial to make it a success. As companies compete for the best talent, those who are truly able to provide the best employee-centric Hybrid environment will emerge as the real winner.