THE FUTURE OF WORK – HYBRID MODEL
“Employers are ready to get back to significant in-person presence. Employees aren’t. The disconnect is deeper than most employers believe, and a spike in attrition and disengagement may be imminent.”
As cited in the above McKinsey report, COVID-19 has meant a major generational shift in the way we work. Unplanned but it is happening all the same! As the pandemic unfolded through the beginning of 2020, working from home became a necessity globally and here too for the millions of Australians in office jobs and similar roles. Like many COVID impacts at that time, employers and employees alike hoped it would be a relatively short-lived event and we would be back to “normal” by now. Particularly given the rollout this year of vaccinations across the general population globally and locally.
However, as outbreaks and lockdowns continue to occur, it became clear that this new way of working was here to stay. ‘Hybrid’ and ‘flexibility’ have become part of the management speak lexicon as leaders and managers have come to realise that most of the workforce, based on numerous surveys, research and feedback, are not keen to go back to the way things were.
A recent Fairfax Media survey of Australia’s top 50 companies revealed that not a single company in the sample expects employees to come back into the office five days a week, and just six companies intend to mandate a certain number of office hours each week. All of them said they would be committed to hybrid working, in some form or other, even after COVID restrictions disappear. The five-day office week would seem to be very much a thing of the past!
There were a number of factors influencing those surveyed in terms of response including:
- Employees unwilling to return to office due to workplace safety concerns
- Public transport capacity and health safety concerns
- Government public health restrictions/lockdowns
- Preferences for greater flexibility including working from home
There are pros and cons regarding working from home both from the employer and employee perspective. Listed below are some of the pros and cons:
|More independence and flexibility|
Improved technical and communication skills
No office distractions
Collaborate across locations Reduction in work absences
Provides work-life balance
Home office costs
Risk of overworking
Risk to productivity
Distractions at home
Less face time with colleagues
Disproportionate work-life balance
Based on the above and depending on individual situations, a pro to someone might be a con to the next person. This is because a fundamental element of a hybrid model are the physical and psychological differences between a corporate office and working from home. It might seem obvious in that a corporate office is usually a homogenous work environment whereas the employees’ homes are as individual as they are. Something thought that is often overlooked by both employers and employees alike.
Employees may not always like their homogenous corporate office environment in terms of setup (e.g., open plan versus segregated) or décor, however it is essentially the same for everyone. As for the home office environment everyone’s situation is different. Not all employees have the luxury of an office at home and even if they do, they are not set up for long term or sustained periods of use. These different environmental, infrastructure, and personal experiences/preferences are what will drive an employee’s view around the pros and cons of working from home. It is also what impacts their work engagement and personal wellbeing.
Given the changes the pandemic has brought to the world of work, will savvy employers in a post-COVID world seize the opportunity to create a new, sustainable, and improved hybrid workplace model that benefits both the business and their employees? Some employers will insist on a return to the way things were pre-pandemic, however this represents a risk and missed opportunity. It could be that those leaders/managers advocating a return to the traditional workplace have a command + control and/or narcissistic personality profile and fear that their power base will be challenged by the hybrid world of work. Either way, they face the growing momentum of most businesses seeking to take advantage of what the hybrid work model can deliver.
In creating and developing a hybrid workplace model, where employees have the flexibility to work fluidly between the corporate office and from home, there are numerous challenges that you, as a leader in your business, must consider. With that in mind here are, in no order, some of the key considerations as a leader you will need to ask yourself in creating a hybrid work model:
- Based on experience to date what work and tasks are best performed face to face rather than virtually, and vice versa?
- How have meetings worked to date and based on that analysis what is the optimum model moving forward?
- How do you avoid creating a culture that might reward those working on site in the office more than those working from home, or potentially vice-versa?
- How do you adapt your communication skills to ensure all employees are effectively considered and covered in a hybrid model?
- How do you manage the impact of change that a hybrid work model may have on your culture, employee engagement, and wellbeing?
- How can you as a leader provide support to employees irrespective of how they choose to work in a hybrid model?
- What are the risks (financial, operating, people, etc) of a hybrid work environment that you, as a leader, need to be aware of?
- How do you bring people together and create a culture of belonging?
- How do you approach projects and the potential need to require employees to operate face to face?
- How effective has knowledge sharing, innovation and creativity been during the last 18 months?
- What are the human resource and industrial relation policies and program changes required to effectively manage a hybrid workforce?
A lot to consider and there will no doubt be other questions that arise as you take the journey to greatness through a hybrid working model. This includes thinking about what skills workers will need, how the ways of working will change, what roles may or may not exist, and what jobs might be done by machines, rather than people. It is critical to build the skills for the future workplace and to continue to motivate and inspire people when there is a mixture of people working remotely as well as in the office. Performance management will need to be focused on outcomes, rather than outputs, as managers will no longer be able to have constant oversight of their employees as they work.
As a leader, a good place to start the journey towards a hybrid workplace is with these 5 key leadership skills:
- Problem Solve.
Begin by focusing on deep listening and understanding your employees around their experiences over the last 18 months, where they are today and what they seek in the future. It is important for employees to be able communicate what they see as the pros and cons of a hybrid work model, so that they have a genuine voice in designing the future of how their organisation works. Surveying your employees is one good starting point.
It will also be important for you to accept that in this new world of work you may not have all the answers as the organisation transitions to a hybrid working model. Monitoring, receiving feedback and problem solving as you go will be key to creating a long term and sustainable hybrid working model that works for employees that in turn leads to a more productive culture with high engagement. Remember to acknowledge one size does not fit all (did it ever anyway in the pre-COVID traditional workplace?).
Finally, doing nothing is a decision in and of itself, but operating on the belief that what you have done and delivered in the past will work in the future is fraught with danger. There are many examples of businesses and leaders who have gone down this path and are no longer operating as a result! The future of work in a post-COVID world presents as a major opportunity to embrace change, work cohesively and flexibly with employees, and together create a workplace that delivers increased productivity, engagement, and wellbeing for all. If you don’t, you run the real chance of losing your top talent and overtime risking the viability of your business.
For further advice or assistance around creating and delivering a hybrid work model for your business, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us:
firstname.lastname@example.org or on 1300559585