It is unanimous that the nature of work, engagement and office settings have been forever altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The radical changes that this situation has presented are just a sign of the times. Adaptability has emerged as one of the key factors required of organizations to stay agile and relevant. Even as the widespread administration of the COVID-19 vaccines promises to restore a semblance of the “old normal,” some of the new norms from this global crisis are likely to persist.
Making the switch
Perhaps the most important shift the pandemic has brought about is compelling most organizations to switch to a remote work model. A Gartner study conducted in April 2020 revealed that remote work has proved to be viable for many and that this trend will continue even post-pandemic. The survey showed that 48% of workers would work remotely at least part of the time after the pandemic. Many companies have realized that workforce productivity is possible to accomplish with a well-adjusted and a motivated hybrid workforce.
In fact, as many employees report, this transition comes with the added advantages of fewer workplace distractions, no time wasted on commuting and a degree of flexibility especially for those living with families where they are also the caretakers. Remote working has boosted productivity for a significant number of people. Another recent survey of working professionals in India revealed that 34% of the professionals are willing to take up to a 10% salary cut to continue their remote working arrangement even when the pandemic ceases (source: Mavericks India, November 2020).
Nourishing the company culture
Strong leadership, transparency and empathy are key to making the transition to a hybrid workforce successful. Some employees may need to work from physical locations and some can continue to work remotely. Therefore, establishing and maintaining a strong company culture is more important than ever. We can set out to accomplish our goals only when a team dispersed across geographies is connected by a uniting ideology and a strong work ethic.
For a hybrid model to succeed, organizational structures and workflow must be adapted to provide more autonomy to employees and create an environment of flexibility and shared ownership. Senior leadership and managers must substitute in-person team interactions with frequent weekly or daily check-ins to set goals.
In some cases, it calls for a reconfiguration of team structures, task management systems and even reporting hierarchies. By and large, managing people in a remote work model can be as effective as managing in a traditional office environment if cohesiveness of plan and collaboration of the actions become a part of the team culture.
Adopting digitization & tech-first approach
Connectivity lies at the root of a successfully functioning hybrid workforce. Without the right technological support given by the organization and supportive backend processes in place, it would be impossible to coordinate the functioning of such a team. The swiftness of the COVID-19 pandemic showed us that organizations that were tech-ready were able to continue their operations without a hitch. The focus, therefore, should also be on digitizing as many organizational processes as possible, and establishing a value chain that can function seamlessly on digital platforms.
Here, the role of the technical support teams becomes all-important. With uninterrupted accessibility and actively available resources, employees across locations can stay connected and collaborate as they would if they were present in the same office space. It is crucial to on-board all employees and equip them with the training and the type of technology they require for their specific roles.
Digitizing HR processes can help avert delays and miscommunications. For instance, a digital human resource management system (HRMS) makes it easier for organizations to handle routine processes such as attendance, leaves, and payroll and allows appraisals to take place without disruptions.
Adjusting to work-life balance
One aspect of the creation and nurturing of a hybrid workforce that cannot be dismissed is the psychological impact of the transition. For many employees, COVID-19 was the first time that their regular routines of office work were disrupted and replaced by something more amorphous. Those working from a centralized or office location also had to adjust to a reconfigured space and changed protocols.
Given the flexibility of the hybrid scenario, one aspect that might inadvertently suffer is the work-life balance of employees. It falls upon the organization to step in and provide support and easing the top worries of the employees. Clarity on career progress, promotion and salary opportunities is of utmost priority as is providing medical cover and mental health resources.
It can also make a difference to create non-work interactions and activities for employees to engage in, even within the ambit of “work hours.” In the complete absence of workplace socialization, there is a need to substitute it with meaningful engagement that helps teams feel connected and lets employees get to know one another in a casual way as they might have in the office cafeteria.
Change is the only constant, and to adapt is to thrive in a fast-altering environment. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a shift in the definition of organizations and workforce. We must take the change in our stride and make adjustments to keep moving forward.