March 15, 2021 by Andrea Rajic
While vaccines are slowly rolling out and the world is collectively working towards the end of the pandemic that changed our lives, we're all hopeful about "things going back to normal." And while we're sure about what "normal" looks like for some things - socializing with friends, going to see a concert, heading straight to that bar - the way we work is more of an enigma. Actually, half of executives and employees said in a recent survey that transitioning to the new “normal” will be more challenging than adapting to the pandemic disruption.
The workplace as an idea went through tectonic changes in the past year, leaving us with many answers on how it should and will look going forward. One of those answers is the hybrid work model, in which companies don't go back to the office as they once did but don't go fully remote either.
Hybrid work mixes office work with working from home or another location. It could mean some employees choose to be in an office full-time, and others choose to work remotely. It can also result in people shifting between the work from home model and the office several days a week. Hybrid work is flexible, fluid, and dynamic. It's up to companies to decide how they're going to structure it going forward.
In the past year, many knowledge workers were stuck working from home. By now, we all know working while handling a pandemic is not a pleasant experience. The adverse effects of the past 12 months have prompted companies to start implementing hybrid work policies and increase focus on their employees. Here are the hottest hybrid work trends in 2021:
Pre-pandemic, employee experience covered the office design, flashy perks, and hardly valuable office employees' benefits. Now, it will reflect the needs employees have for support in their personal lives. Since the barriers between our personal and professional lives have crumbled down, employers have insight into the employee life experience. Tailoring programs to support the general well-being of the workforce will be critical for retaining employees.
Companies can support employee health & fitness through gym memberships, wellness allowances, and ergonomic home office setups. Promoting mental health is usually done through tailored programs, mental health monthly stipends, encouraging time off, and guardrails against burnout when working remotely. Businesses can help their employees attain financial health through counselling and advice services or promote learning and advancement with courses and budgets for extended education.
These are just some ways hybrid work models can encourage companies to design programs for a happier and healthier workforce, resulting in a better bottom line.
When discussing flexibility in the workplace, most people instinctively think about remote work or working from home and employees' geographic distribution. However, the remote work model does little to mitigate the challenges of operating a standard 9-5 shift.
In the new reality, the employees are in charge of how and when they prefer to work. Companies need to accommodate their employees' work schedules, peak productivity hours, and daily lives. The truth is most people are not at their most focused during a single 8-hour stretch and prefer to break down the workday into chunks to accomplish more and work better.
This newfound flexibility will allow employees to spend time with family, do chores, and take afternoon naps while still being productive and doing their best work. Hybrid work models can embrace this shift by enabling employees to only work from an office a few days a week and organize the rest of their time as they see fit. Companies benefit from hybrid work and flexible hours by expanding their talent pools, supporting parents in their workforce, and reaping the results of happier, more engaged employees.
As soon as workers started drifting away from their office desks, managers worried they are not getting work done when they are out of sight. The productivity statistics, especially from the beginning of the pandemic, quickly disbursed those fears, but it seems they are now creeping back.
Many businesses are now turning to so-called "productivity measuring apps" to monitor their employees during work hours. Employee monitoring is a severe indicator of a bad relationship between managers and employees. Knowledge workers need to have time for brainstorming, creative ideation, inspiration, and collaboration. Monitoring these with tracking tools is not only impossible but also intrusive.
Additionally, it shows there is no trust between management and workers, and failing to address these issues could determine the rate of employee retention for a company. The war on talent has been raging for some time, and skilled workers have more choices than ever before. Hybrid and remote work models emphasize documentation, communication, and a result-oriented approach. There is no place for surveillance in this approach, and companies should switch to a relationship of mutual trust ASAP - for their own benefit.
A key element in the transition to hybrid remote work is reshaping and reimagining the office experience. While some companies plan to go back to the office in full capacity, others are hard at work making plans for the new workplace.
Existing office spaces will need to run in new modes and become oriented to collaboration and meaningful encounters. The age of just being in an office for the sake of visibility is gone. The new hybrid work approach calls for redesigning, getting rid of open space layouts, and managing a safe return to the office.
Another option for companies is to provide employees with flexible workspace options to meet and collaborate safely on their own terms. Different teams have different needs regarding how often they need to get together, how they collaborate, and what their roles are. Flexible workspaces enable team clustering, tackle burnout and isolation, and promote adaptable, scalable spaces for safe collaboration.
The initial productivity surge during the pandemic work from a home experiment is now largely subsiding. In the beginning, employees were energized to achieve more and keep their businesses afloat from home. After a year of anxiety and stress, they are exhausted and therefore less engaged.
Employee engagement turned out to be a critical metric for success and a more comprehensive replacement for productivity. Productivity focuses only on output and leaves out the dedication and involvement of employees with their jobs. Research shows that workers increasingly feel the need to feel engaged, achieve a sense of belonging, and align the company values with their own, yet only 33% of employees say they feel engaged at work.
Trends and indicators point to the need for companies to address company culture, embrace hybrid work, and double down on increasing employee engagement. Millennials and GenZ are taking over the workforce - by 2025, 75% of the US professionals will be millennials. These generations work best when their employers make them feel they belong and provide them with tools to engage and thrive at work.
Unlike other work models, hybrid work has, by its nature, a non-fixed approach. When your guiding star is flexible and adaptable, you will see many different scenarios unfolding regarding how your employees prefer to work.
The challenge for all hybrid companies will be to make the hybrid model work for everyone and be fair. This means several different processes and procedures for various work methods, increased adaptability in management, transparent career growth pathways, and a level playing field for every employee.
Most of these challenges will fall on HR departments' shoulders, but the C-suite should share the burden fairly. It will take time to conceive and develop protocols for employees who work in the office full-time, those who come by occasionally, and those who are fully remote. Most organizations will need to rethink how they share information, communicate expectations, and provide visibility and clarity to their teams. Keeping everyone on the same level is crucial in providing a sense of fairness and equality and preventing the "out of sight, out of mind" effect for those working remotely or engaging in hybrid work.
Ensuring every employee has the same access to information, career growth, and recognition may go a long way to boost equality. Some studies have shown 64% of managers falsely believe office workers are more efficient and are more likely to recommend them for promotion than their flexible or fully remote peers. Combatting this bias needs to be a deliberate decision with guardrails against favoring office workers. Hybrid and remote work attracts more diverse talent and reinforces the need for their inclusion in career growth and opportunities inside the organizations.
If your company is switching to hybrid work, consider using Gable. Our network of unique flexible workspaces accommodates flexible, scalable solutions that grow with your company. Find out more and find out how we can help with your transformation.