Hybrid working: The future of work

remote working
(Image credit: Shutterstock / GaudiLab)

At some point over the next few months, employers will be able to reopen offices and welcome back their employees. However, after a year of growing accustomed to working from home, any business leader expecting individuals to flock back to the office once restrictions are lifted and return to the traditional nine to five is in for a serious shock – it just isn’t going to happen.

There will of course be some who are desperate for face-to-face contact with colleagues and the chance to collaborate, but others will understandably need some coaxing. With this in mind, it is clear that the working world is facing a complete reset and a hybrid working model is here to stay.

About the author

Dan Harding is CEO at Sign In App

The return to work

For many individuals, working from home during the pandemic has opened their eyes to a new way of working. Employees can manage their time to fit in with other demands and, with the right approach, productivity and wellbeing can improve. On the other hand, there are those who have missed that face-to-face interaction and the chance to collaborate and learn from their colleagues.

With recent research revealing that 73% of workers want to be able to work from home after the pandemic, it is clear that employees will expect the option of working from home to continue. The same study found that 67% of workers want more in-person time with their coworkers. Of course, for every employee delighted to avoid the daily commute and enjoying the peace and quiet at home away from the office, there will be another desperate to escape the kitchen table and the constant battle with family over the limited broadband. Many employees will fluctuate between those emotions on a daily basis, which is why flexibility is now absolutely essential.

Yet, there are numerous companies that have not got a hold on employees’ new attitudes and expectations. A recent poll discovered that as many as one in five people who could be working from home were not, with hundreds complaining they were under pressure from employers to attend the office even during lockdown. This does not bode well for post-lockdown employee satisfaction. Additionally, a Harvard study that analyzed the emails and meetings of 3.1 million people found remote staff work almost an hour – 48.5 minutes – longer each day. In many cases out of fear that management expects people to be available even out of hours.

With these unacceptable and out of date attitudes, businesses cannot expect to create and support a successful hybrid workforce.

Creating the right culture

It is true that culture takes years to build and there is uncertainty around how a hybrid working model could affect that. Tech giant Google warned about the potential impact of a hybrid model on its ‘corporate culture’. It is still an unknown quantity as to exactly what the new office environment will look like, how it will work, and how elements such as productivity and culture will be affected, or even improved. But with businesses such as Google being so open and honest about the fact that it will take time to readjust, after such a long period of upheaval and uncertainty, it demonstrates that the key is to prepare now, not wait for the rules to change, again.

As offices become touchdown spaces, technology should be an enabler of positive change through elements such as smart desk occupancy management, visitor management, contactless staff sign, online and offline visibility and crucially – the employer duty of care. Technology can be used to adapt to new ways of working and employee expectations in order to foster this culture. 

It is about giving employees the choice every day to work wherever they want – at home, the office or a local co-working space. It is also about recognizing that people can work differently from home – and empowering them to do so. Forget the nine to five; ditch the five days a week. If an employee likes to get started at 7am while the house is quiet, why can’t they finish work at 3pm? Or take two hours for lunch and a walk if that’s what makes them happy? Truly effective and productive hybrid working is about encouraging and enabling people to do the job – when and where works for them on any particular day.

Reimagining the work space

This is a shift in management culture as well as employee behavior – and one that will require trust on both sides, but it is not only culture that needs to develop. This is where the office space needs to be reimagined to create a destination, an attractive touchdown space where employees – new, old, those who prefer more home working or to be more office based – are encouraged to socialize as much as brainstorm and share ideas.

Apps that can be used by employees to book desks in advance – with clear rules set to control capacity in every area can enable this flexibility. For example in a pod of four desks, only two can be made available at any one time, meeting spaces can be limited to specific numbers – enforcing the rule of six, for example. Showing employees that the space is safe and controlled is a great way to boost their confidence about returning to the office, especially for the first time.

Additionally, apps that show when an individual is online, in a meeting, or at lunch, provide a simple way of keeping track of the hours worked – something that can also flag up if an employee is working late at night or exceeding the expected hours. This information also means managers will know when someone is available for a call, for example, meaning they can avoid contact during downtime. HR will need to create clear policies to help staff and managers during this transition. There will be a greater onus on managers to focus on staff wellbeing – although this is about taking time for regular team meetings as well as one to one employee catch ups, rather than micro-managing and taking a big brother approach to monitoring their every step.

Proactive approach

Forget government announcements and back to work enticements. Hybrid working is the new reality and if companies are to nurture and retain top talent, they need to get the right policies, processes and culture in place right now.

There are already many businesses that are ahead of the game. Over the past year, companies have made critical investments in technology, such as video conferencing, digital assistants and cloud-based applications, required for successful remote working and the management of a hybrid workforce.

Building on that investment with a proactive approach to creating a new business culture that works for both employers and employees is the essential next step. A successful hybrid working model will give people the autonomy to work how and where they want – and to change the approach as they feel. WFH in the summer, in the office in the winter; flexing hours around school holidays; or simply heading into the office in search of company. With the right culture and the right technology, employees can be empowered to work wherever suits them best. And that makes them more productive, happier – and less likely to move elsewhere.

Dan Harding is CEO at Sign In App.