Jayson Darby, Head of Science at Thomas International

The pandemic saw thousands move from working in offices to bedroom and kitchen tables as the crisis unfolded and multiple lockdowns were introduced. And while restrictions have eased across the country, and we’ve seen many heading back into the office full time, a number of firms are choosing to continue the ‘great hybrid working experiment’ and keep their workforce at home. It’s clear that the future of work is already here.

Some major institutions - such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and the BBC - are mandating employees go back to the office nearly full time, but others are remaining flexible and allowing teams to decide what works best for them. But with no handbook, businesses are flying blind.

What is clear is that having no strategy here won’t work in the long run. If organisations are to continue to evolve at the pace necessitated by the pandemic, they must account for the differences among their workforce and create a future-proof strategy that’s fit for now. Luckily, we have access to science, which can play a huge role in helping businesses navigate the new normal.

To remote work, or not to remote work

Working from home has a number of benefits. Before the pandemic, the average UK commute was an hour, meaning home-working has given commuters five hours a week back on average. That extra time in bed (or at work) has a huge impact on psychology, resulting in increased productivity and improved work / life balance. And these aren’t the only benefits. With rail ticket prices set to increase yet again, working from home will also have a positive impact on bank balances.

Businesses also stand to gain from having a remote workforce with many saving money on unused office space. Remote working could also lead to easier scaling, an expanded pool of talent, and employee retention benefits as workers and potential hiring candidates embrace the prospect of continuous home working.

But of course there are two sides to every coin.

Research has found that the reality of remote working can lead to loneliness and isolation, particularly for those who live alone. Managers may also face challenges when carrying out their duties in a remote context, as managing teams remotely presents unique roadblocks. For instance, monitoring team performance and development can be difficult, as it requires clear, defined communication, which is more difficult remotely.

So, ‘to remote work, or not to remote work’, isn’t the question HR leaders should be asking themselves, but rather: what should our strategy be? In answering, they need to look towards science.

How can science help?

It’s wise for firms to follow a nuanced approach. Hybrid working has the potential to create substantial gains for teams and organisations. But it must be managed correctly, tailored to individuals’ diverse characteristics, desires and needs.

Psychometric assessments provide insight into behavioural patterns and preferences and are of particular benefit when teams are working remotely. HR leaders should not assume that every person has the same degree of potential for succeeding in a remote working environment. Some will be more productive in traditional, structured office environments. Others enjoy the camaraderie or clarity that traditional working provides. The lessons of remote working demonstrate that there is no “right” way to work, and if workplaces want to maximise productivity and well-being, they need to cater for a range of working styles to maximise workforce effectiveness.

Other kinds of behavioural assessment can help explain individuals’ working preferences. For example, tests that provide insights to fears, motivators, values and behavioural styles, can enable HR leaders to split their workforce into separate verticals and meet employees’ differing needs. While most people show all four of these behavioural patterns at times, an individual will display a preference for one or two in the workplace. This is because each person develops a behavioural style which places particular emphasis on certain postures and less emphasis on others. For instance, if an individual displays a preference for steadiness, then they are likely to prefer continuity in their approach to work.

Succeed with a hybrid model

Just as science has helped us to combat coronavirus, it can also help firms navigate the future of work and bounce back better. Only by understanding the psychology of their teams' varied personality traits can business and HR leaders sensitively - and successfully - manage hybrid working. Using techniques powered by science - such as psychometric testing - will drive productivity, leading to successful and competitive organisations and a brighter tomorrow.

Jayson Darby, Head of Science at Thomas International

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