04 August, 2021

New work order - getting the most out of hybrid workforces

Many thought last year’s move to a work-from-home model would be temporary. But now, as the long-term impacts of the pandemic become apparent, it’s clear that how and where we work has changed forever.

At first, many thought last year’s move to a work-from-home model would be temporary. But now, as the long-term impacts of the pandemic become apparent, it’s clear that how and where we work has changed forever.

A recent study from the IBM Institute for Business Value found that most employees believe remote work will be a permanent fixture as part of a hybrid workforce that blends in-person employees with virtual colleagues.

It also found that 56% of the CEOs surveyed believe enhanced operational agility and flexibility is their top priority in the next two to three years.

For employers, this sudden change to the workplace model has raised serious challenges.

Technology requirements, workforce monitoring, updated procedures and workflows, half-empty office sites: these are all parts of a puzzle that need to be solved to keep employees happy and productive while also promoting business needs and goals.

For some managers, the change was a necessary evil, and now their focus is on returning employees to the office as soon as possible. 

But for businesses who have adapted and embraced a hybrid workplace model, there are many new and exciting opportunities to take advantage of.

Here are four changes businesses can make to get the most out of a hybrid work model.

1. Understand changed expectations

The pandemic has prompted many to reconsider their priorities and goals, both personally and professionally.

As employees begin to return to the office, it’s likely their expectations about their careers, lives, families, and health and wellbeing have changed.

Professor Anseel, Associate Dean of Research at UNSW Business School, says that meaningfulness and significance are essential motivators at work.

To keep employees engaged, he says businesses should use the pandemic as a chance to re-evaluate their place in the world and redefine their priorities. This could involve creating a new goal or vision for the organisation — a new purpose.

Importantly, businesses need to clearly communicate this new purpose to their employees, letting them know what their company stands for and how it’s creating positive change in the world.

Wanting to go back to 'how things were before' may be comforting, but it can also highlight a lack of connection with your employees. It can also leave them struggling to find meaning and purpose in what they do.

2. Embrace individual flexibility

While working from home has been a revelation for some, for others, the experience has been isolating, fraught with technological limitations, and has blurred the lines between work time and home time. This has led to increased stress and anxiety.

Because everyone’s needs, values, work style and aspirations are different, individual flexibility is critical to getting the most out of hybrid workplaces.

Giving your employees the ability to negotiate individual agreements around their schedules and commitments can lead to greater collaboration, innovation, and performance.

Before COVID-19, flexible work was a major perk. In this new era, it's a must-have and can let potential employees know that your business is forward-thinking and values the health and happiness of your workforce.

3. Rethink the purpose of the office

We all have ideas about what a typical office looks and feels like: private offices, cubicles, meeting rooms, and shared break-out amenities.

With more workers splitting time between the office and elsewhere, Professor Anseel suggests the purpose of the office may need to be reconsidered and redesigned.

Instead of being places where you sit at a desk or talk on the phone, he suggests they be redesigned as places to collaborate, share, and exchange information, solve problems and build a community.

By repurposing office spaces for innovation and creativity, employers can help employees be more productive when physically together, reduce location costs, and promote the office as a ‘destination office’ that attracts fresh talent.

4. Change how we talk about 'workspaces'

Language impacts the way people think and feel about things. According to futurist Gihan Perera, the secret to creating a successful hybrid workplace could involve changing how we talk about workspaces.

He suggests moving away from calling the office ‘the workplace’ and maintaining an open mind about defining work environments.

He also recommends not calling your out-of-office team members ‘remote workers’, as it can diminish their value and limit the opportunity to build an effective hybrid team.

Importantly, employers need to consider how decisions affect all team members, not just those ‘at the office’.

This will help keep teams strong and cohesive and ensures all employees have the same opportunities to contribute and feel valued.