By Joanne Bushell
After working from home for the last year and a half, employees want to retain that freedom and flexibility. Organisations need to adapt. That means providing not just wonderful workplaces but also empowering and enabling their talent to work from remote workspaces.
For leaders who can make hybrid working ‘work’ for their organisation, the rewards will be significant. There remains much complexity and uncertainty around the exact nature of work in the wake of COVID-19. But one thing is clear: the future of work is hybrid.
Hybrid means employees will work in dispersed working environments. There will no longer be one workplace. There will be many workplaces that form part of an organisation’s property footprint.
Those workplaces could be a CBD office, a hub-and-spoke model with regional and suburban offices, or some other variation. For knowledge workers, who just need a laptop, these spaces could be anywhere. A café. A co-working space. The park. The bedroom.
We now know that employees are the driving force behind the hybrid model.
Leaders need to show the same flexibility, adaptability and hustle they did during COVID-19 and create the hybrid workplaces their employees now demand.
Hybrid means that organisations need to reimagine the role of the office, what it looks like, and the experience it offers employees. They need to be thinking about their value proposition to determine what model works best for their property footprint accordingly.
AT IWG Plc, the largest global flexible workspace provider, we have some unique insights into hybrid working and believe that if employers are to successfully adopt the hybrid model, leaders must consider a series of critical considerations:
The first is wellbeing. Wellbeing was thrust into the spotlight during COVID-19, and a move to dispersed working environments means wellbeing must remain at the top of the agenda.
A focus on wellbeing pays off. Poor employee productivity can be defined as physically being at work but not working. This type of poor productivity is called presenteeism. It is estimated that the cost associated with presenteeism due to poor employee health is at least two to three times greater than direct health care expenses.
While the estimated cost of presenteeism dwarfs the cost of health care, it does not receive the same level of scrutiny among employers preoccupied with controlling the direct costs of poor employee health.
Wellbeing is also a priority talent attraction mechanism, and it helps deliver a compelling employee value proposition.
When it comes to wellbeing, leaders shouldn’t lose sight of what worked during COVID-19. That includes getting to know people as human beings, embracing empathy, and checking in regularly with them.
Leaders may feel the pull to go back to the way things were. They may want to use the same levers and behaviours to inspire and engage their people. But hybrid working requires redefining the employee experience.
Hybrid ways of working are inherently more complex than the traditional office-based model. Digital tools will be essential for helping leaders manage this complexity. But beware the trap of thinking you can take what you did face-to-face and move it online.
Organisations should use the shift to hybrid to consider how they can leverage technology to also uplift their recruitment, onboarding, engagement, and development practices, and tailor this across multiple workplaces and spaces. Think about what hybrid means for performance measurement, day-to-day communication, teamwork and collaboration.
When reimagining and implementing these processes, look to your employees for suggestions about how they want to work. Get them to co-create the solutions. Lean in to the unknown and the future of work experience.
Leaders also need to rethink managing performance across dispersed environments, particularly when they can’t see employees.
First, focus on managing for outcomes, not outputs such as hours spent at the desk or in front of a screen.
Second, clarify KPIs and expectations of employee roles. Are those KPIs mutually understood? Does the employee have the same understanding of that KPI? As far as possible, be specific: big, broad, ambiguous, can’t be measured.
Above all, focus on trust. Performance in a hybrid environment requires a high degree of mutual trust between employer and employee. Micromanagement isn’t going to lead to successful outcomes.
All this means leaders will need to take more of an active role in coaching employees. They will need to be proactive in reaching out, encourage reflection and providing frequent feedback.
Another important consideration is embracing flexibility. Employees are reluctant to give it up after having flexibility during COVID-19. By 2030, up to half the labour market will be Millennials who favour flexibility over remuneration.
When looking into flexibility, providing environments that enable safe interaction and promotion of productivity will become an important element.
One of the biggest pros of office working is the opportunity for the unexpected to happen. A walk to the coffee machine could lead to a chance encounter with a potential future business partner, for example. This kind of serendipity is unlikely to occur at home.
The important thing is that conversation around ‘hybrid working’ shouldn’t be limited to the home office. Instead, we need to move from the idea of one workplace to a network of workplaces.
Investing in leadership
As we know, the future of work is unclear. But COVID-19 made one thing certain: the hybrid work model is here to stay. While not all industries and jobs are suited to hybrid work, for many organisations in industries that allow flexible and remote working, it will become the new normal.
Organisations need to accept that and embrace hybrid. With 33% of CEOs having no plans to change their long-term investments in leadership and talent development over the next three years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, something’s got to give.
If they can focus on the four key factors above – wellbeing, engagement, performance and flexibility – and invest in building the leadership capability to deliver those factors, they will position their organisations as employers of choice and enjoy the productivity and performance benefits that this delivers.
Joanne Bushell is MD of flexible workplace specialists IWG