When will life go back to normal? The 21st of June, or the end of 2022? It’s easy to get carried away by the promise of a particular timeline. But after a global pandemic, is going ‘back to normal’ really an option? Organisations need to start thinking carefully about their next move and, for many, that looks to involve a hybrid working model.
Over 100 million employees across Europe started working remotely because of COVID-19, and, one year on, reversing that move will be a challenge. Though some leaders have called remote working an “aberration”, there’s no escaping the fact that study after study shows that – to some degree – employees want to keep working from home.
What is a hybrid workplace? It’s a mix of remote and office-based work. If you’re considering it for the future of your organisation, then it’s time to prepare. Ask yourself these seven questions:
65% of employees say they’ve been provided with the remote work tools they need, but what about the 35%? Have they muddled through at home, but could really do with a proper set-up using large equipment that doesn’t fit in a spare room – let alone a corner of a bedroom?
Are your people’s day-to-day tasks better suited to office space, home, or a mixture of the two? For ‘deep work’ that requires extended periods of concentration – like writing lengthy reports or complex code – a home environment without chitter-chatter or annoying playlists is preferable. Brainstorming sessions, on the other hand, may benefit from face-to-face conversation.
Be honest: has remote working been bad for business? For managers who like to keep a watchful eye, it may be difficult to assess how hard people are working. But again, numerous research suggests remote working employees are actually more productive – and when it comes to old-fashioned metrics like hours logged, 30% say they’re working for longer at home.
Look at your teams’ performance, and try and forget how you feel about remote working. If they’re doing better at home, then does a full return to the office really make sense?
Out of sight, out of mind? That’s probably not the case for managers who can’t look at outcomes, rather than output. Are you ready to measure productivity in the same way, for both office and home-based workers? For a hybrid approach to work, a trust-based approach is essential – especially in preventing any bias towards the employees who prefer to base themselves in the office.
Trust will be key – and as that’s something born from face-to-face interactions. It’s also been said that that’s what people really do like about office working – with 65% saying socialising is what they miss most. That’s why hybrid working may be the best route for many organisations.
But what will that connection look like, when people mix-and-match staying home and coming into the office? Some suggest making in-office experiences based around socialisation and connection, rather than work. Think team socials, or strategy days – anything whether collaboration and the free flow of ideas is welcome. For everything online, make sure you have the right tools in place to encourage your company culture to flourish.
With everyone in the office, or everyone working remotely, life is simpler. If you’re going to make hybrid working really work, then you need to anticipate how easy it could be for people to get left behind. How do you document those off-the-cuff conversations that turn into a whole strategy shift, or make the employee on the screen feel as heard as the one in the room?
It’ll take some changes to processes like knowledge sharing, but there could be simple fixes – like getting better at setting and keeping to meeting agendas, working off live documents with tracked changes, or keeping the ‘big talks’ to days everyone can come in.
You might want to rethink your floor plan. If the main benefit of the office is collaboration, then make sure your office reflects that. Think meeting rooms and break-out spaces, rather than rows of desks. If you don’t want to make office working a chore – one that doesn’t seem worth the commute – think of how to make it a comfortable space, dedicated to the social sharing of ideas. That is, rather than an arbitrary place they have to sit for nine hours.
We all know happy, engaged teams are more productive. They’re more loyal, more hard-working, more passionate about your organisation. So it’s probably best to base your next steps on what they say they want. And for that, you need to listen.
Ask them questions about their remote working experiences, and where they see the future of the workplace being. Understand the challenges now, so you can make better choices for a tomorrow that keeps on changing.
More and more organisations are committed to offering hybrid work, and some are destined to become fully remote companies – likely to be a draw for many in the workforce. To stay competitive in an ever-changing market, that’s worth considering.
But the advantages of remote working aren’t just for your employees. As we’ve talked about before, the benefits of a remote workforce are clear to see. From productivity and efficiency, to the chance to widen your hiring pool to areas that don’t suit an everyday commute, it’s just good for business.
It may take some work, but get hybrid working right and the impact could be huge: everyone enjoying the perks of remote work, but more communicative and connected than ever. That’s one way to banish the ‘back to work blues’, whenever they may come.