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It’s time for the great office reset

remote work
(Image credit: Image Credit: Thefarmsoho.com)

Employees may have been forced to Work from Home (WFH) throughout the pandemic but for numerous employees it has opened their eyes to a fresh way of working. Employees can manage their time to fit in with other demands and, with the right balance, productivity and wellbeing can increase. Moreover, WFH is not right for all the workforce, all the time. Face to face interaction and the chance to collaborate and learn from colleagues still remain the key takeaways.

But the outset is clear: hybrid working is firmly here to stay and the right hybrid working model will fast become a priority to attracting and retaining future talent. Aspects such as reimagining the office concept to implementing flexible working practices and investing in upcoming technology, all help to achieve a hybrid working model for all – but companies must prepare now, concludes Dan Harding, Chief Executive Officer, Sign In App.

The hybrid working future

The recent pandemic has changed working practices for good. Research found that over half of the workforce will work eight or more days each month from home. Consequently, nearly 98 percent of meetings now have at least one employee attending from outside of the office.

However, such surveys do not reveal the variation of opinion in the new hybrid working model. For every individual delighted to remove the daily commute and reveling in the lack of distraction that can perish productivity in the office, there will be another desperate employee seeking to run far away from the kitchen table. Everyday members of the workforce will fluctuate between those emotions, which is why flexibility is now absolutely essential.

Moreover, many businesses simply have not got a handle on employees’ new attitudes and expectations. One recent finding discovered as many as one in five people who could be working from home were not, with hundreds complaining they were under pressure from employers to attend the office even when working remotely. That hardly bodes well for post lockdown employee satisfaction. Besides, employees’ WFH experiences are not all positive. A Harvard study that analyzed the emails and meetings of 3.1 million people discovered remote staff work almost an hour longer each day. And in many cases this is due to fear that senior leadership expects people to be available even out of hours.

Such points of view are not only completely unacceptable but totally out of tune with post-Covid thinking. This is not the way a business will create and support the successful hybrid workforce of the future.

A new approach to working

This is a rare opportunity to create a working environment that truly accommodates the needs of both employees and employers. It is time to forget the so-called flexible working policies we once knew, where individuals were ‘permitted’ to work remotely one set day each week. Now, this is about giving employees the choice every day to work wherever they want – be that the office, home or a local co-working space. 

It is also about realizing that employees can work differently from home – and empowering them to do so. Ditch the nine to five, five days a week. If an individual likes to get started at 7am while the house is quiet, why can’t they finish work at 3pm? Or alternatively, take two hours for a lunch break and a walk if that’s what makes them happy? An effective and productive hybrid working is about listening and enabling your team to do the job well – when and where works for them on any particular day that suits them.

Offering a helping hand

Without a doubt, few managers will struggle to adapt to this shift; they will rail against the need to trust employees to do the job without continuous oversight that was once always face to face. These individuals will have to adjust. Of course, flexible hours can throw up a few management hurdles but nothing impassable.

Apps that indicate when an individual is present, in a team discussion, or away at lunch, provide a transparent way of keeping a record of the hours worked – something that can also highlight if an employee is working too late at night or exceeding the required hours. This data also means managers will know when someone is available for a call so that they can avoid contact during desired downtime.

To be successful, HR will need to distinguish clear practices to help staff and managers during this changeover. A greater involvement from managers will be required to focus on staff wellbeing – although this is about taking time for regular team meetings as well as one to one employee catch ups, as opposed to micro-managing and taking a top down approach to monitoring their every move.

Evolving a hybrid culture

What’s required is a change in leadership culture as well as employee behavior – and one that will require trust from both sides. Policies mixed with guidance will support the ease of the transition – especially when it comes to building and nurturing relationships. Hybrid workers are still part of the organization, part of a team – and devising a culture remotely can be challenging. For new employees especially, getting to know colleagues via video calls will take longer than within traditional face to face environments. From collaboration to mentoring and simply sharing experiences, face to face contact will always be part of the mix even if that is just a couple of days a month.

Businesses will need to think hard about how they are going to encourage employees back into the office, once they are permitted. Whether it is fear or just enjoyment of WFH, some team members will need encouraging. This is where the office environment needs to be reimagined to create an attractive and welcoming space where team members are encouraged to socialize, brainstorm and share ideas. Supplement this with a simple app based configuration to help book a desk or a meeting room, in line with Covid-19 capacity limits, and employees will become more confident that the business is adhering to government guidelines.

Hybrid policies will differentiate

Many businesses are already ahead of the game. Over the last year companies have made large investments in technology, such as video conferencing, digital assistants and cloud-based applications, required for successful working from home and the management of a multi location workforce.

The next phase involves building on that initial investment with a proactive approach to creating a new business culture which is essential to maintain the momentum. A successful hybrid working model will give team members the autonomy to work how and where they desire – and to change the approach as they feel required. Possibilities could include WFH in the summer, in the office in the winter; flexing hours around school holidays; or simply heading into the office in search of company. Furthermore, with the right culture and the right technology, employees can be empowered to work wherever suits them best to the best of their ability. This results in a more productive and happier team – who are less likely to move elsewhere. Ultimately technology can also help companies monitor desk usage and use office space more efficiently which may allow them to downsize to reduce costs in the future.

Time is of the essence – forget government announcements and back to work enticements. Whether we like it or not, hybrid working is a new reality and if businesses are to nurture and retain the best talent, they need to get the right policies, processes and culture in place today.

Dan Harding, Chief Executive Officer, Sign In App