Explore some of the areas HR and business leaders will need to prioritise in order to enable employees to work where, when and how they desire, with a focus on the steps required to successfully implement change and the potential benefits of implementing hybrid working.
Traditional work environments and patterns were uprooted by COVID19, with the vast majority of employees having to adapt overnight to full time remote work. Now, as we prepare for offices to reopen, employee attitudes and expectations have changed. In order to remain functional and attractive, workplaces will need to evolve.
Why the workplace needs to adapt
Only 30% of employees worked remotely in some capacity before the pandemic hit, according to Gartner. Most people’s working lives followed similar patterns; commuting daily to and from the office, which was understood to be vital to the continuation of standard business operations. For many, working from home was viewed as a perk and many business leaders had concerns regarding productivity, which largely stemmed from a lack of visibility and trust.
However, over the course of the pandemic these assumptions have been disproven. The overwhelming majority of employees (less than 5% of employees’ roles required their presence in the office) were able to function and work effectively from home. After a brief period of disruption, businesses were largely able to continue as before to great success. In fact, Japan’s economy grew a record 22.9% in Q3 of 2020 as businesses invested heavily in remote work technology.
This demonstration of the ability to work remotely has led to a vast shift in employee attitudes. Wakefield Research reports that 87% of employees prefer this new way of working, leading Forbes to conclude that remote work is here to stay.
This is not an isolated finding, either. Gartner further reports that many employees envision themselves dividing their time equally between home and the office as and when it reopens, taking the responsibility themselves to decide where they can best complete their tasks.
This idea has been embraced across the APAC region, with Singapore, New Zealand and Japan introducing rotation based hybrid work environments, enabling employees to return to the office whilst following new safety measures, such as social distancing.
The benefits of adopting hybrid working are not limited to the reintroduction of employees to the workplace.
What do businesses stand to gain from Hybrid Work?
We were recently joined by Emma Dutton, Leadership Development Expert of Leopard Learning and Sue Warman, VP People of AICPA & CIMA, shared insights regarding the potential organisational benefits that hybrid working would enable.
Attracting and unlocking new talent
Under the traditional 9-5 office based working model there were a number of accepted prerequisites that went unchallenged when hiring. Roles were inherently tied to locations, meaning you either relocated, committed to a significant commute or only looked for jobs within your immediate locality.
Similarly, your presence was expected within the office throughout the week. These assumptions went unquestioned by job hunters, but now Sue and Emma predict a shift. The acceptance of remote work and increased focus on the digitisation of roles will allow those who cannot feasibly commit to either time or geographical requirements, such as stay at home parents, to continue working.
Introducing remote work will widen the talent pool available to organisations enormously and the benefit of this speaks for itself.
Shifting focus from roles to skills
Similarly, Sue and Emma predict that our traditional understanding of job roles will evolve and hiring processes will instead focus on core skills. Previously, it was understood that certain roles and functions were necessary to the day to day operations of businesses. However, the upheaval and reorganisation that businesses went through in order to adapt to life under lockdown has shown that what organisations ought to be focussing on are the skills fostered and developed within teams.
Encouraging and implementing hybrid work policies presents an opportunity for organisations to develop their employees and rethink the ways in which tasks are completed.
Employee satisfaction, engagement and productivity
Allowing employees to choose for themselves how, where and when they work will bring numerous benefits. It goes without saying that certain tasks are better suited to certain environments.
Sue and Emma both spoke of ‘Zoom fatigue’ caused by seemingly endless collaboration sessions, with individuals sitting at their desks on mute to avoid talking over one another. Extending the office outwards to encompass the home provides employees the option of working in privacy, but Sue and Emma both envision the office remaining at the heart of collaboration and socialisation.
This increase in flexibility and support fosters a sense of agency within employees, allowing them to engage with their colleagues and work on their own terms.
So, what needs to change?
Clearly, the traditional office setup, with banks of allocated desks and designated hot desking areas, is not suited to facilitate hybrid working as empty space represents waste in terms of real estate spending.
Nor would traditional office environments enable teams to closely manage occupancy in order to adhere to new safety guidelines introduced as a result of COVID19, such as social distancing, for example. Japanese businesses now have to allocate 16sqm of space per employee.
Here are some of the steps organisations can take to ensure their workplaces are fit for purpose and safe for employees to return to.
1. Leverage utilisation data
Monitoring the occupancy of your assets enables you to ensure in real time that occupancy remains at a safe level and gives you the means to respond to any spikes immediately. Additionally, workplace data can be used to create mobility profiles based on job description and department, enabling HR teams to tailor shift patterns and rotations to fit in with forecasted space usage.
Similarly, tagging assets throughout your office, such as phone booths and collaboration areas, allows HR and Facilities teams to make sure that the space provided to employees is fit for purpose, as areas which are identified to be underused can be repurposed.
2. Introduce booking systems
With employees deciding for themselves when to make the journey into the office, systems need to be introduced which allow them to save their space whilst ensuring that social distancing guidelines are followed. Booking systemsallow employees to assess their task at hand and find the space they feel most comfortable completing it in.
Furthermore, it allows groups of colleagues to come together to collaborate on projects in a safe manner, as HR teams can use this booking data to inform on track and trace protocols should a viral spike occur.
3. Gauge Employee employee sentiment
Workplace change programmes such as this need to be well thought through, with clear guiding principles behind each change. The first step to ensure your workplace is fit for purpose is by understanding the function and role your employees envision the office playing in their working life, which means gathering employee feedback is vital.
Sue and Emma stressed the importance of gauging employee sentiment at the beginning of and throughout change processes, both to ensure that changes made are relevant and to keep employees engaged and up to date with the process.
Employees have demonstrated the ability to work effectively from home and the desire to make this change permanent is strong. Do you know what your employees envision as offices reopen?
The purpose of the workplace will change, with a shift towards collaborative work. How are you going to ensure your employees can easily access the spaces they require?
The emergence of remote working will unlock new talent opportunities as geographical and time restrictions are removed. Do you need to update your hiring policies?
Following social distancing and track and trace guidelines will require tight controls on occupancy and space management. Do you have the tools in place to manage this?
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