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The Great Return – and the Great Reset

flexible working

Any business owner or manager expecting employees to flock back to the office once restrictions are lifted and slide straight back into the traditional nine to five is in for a serious shock. It just isn’t going to happen. The working world is facing a complete reset – and companies need to prepare now.

Employees may have been compelled to Work from Home (WFH) during the pandemic but for many it has opened their eyes to a new way of working. Individuals can manage their time to fit in with other demands and, with the right approach, productivity and wellbeing can improve. Of course WFH is not for everyone – or indeed for anyone all the time. Face to face interaction and the chance to collaborate and learn from colleagues is vital.

But the future is clear: hybrid working is here to stay and the right hybrid working model will fast become key to attracting and retaining talent. From reimagining the office concept to creating flexible working guidelines and investing in the right technology, achieving a hybrid working model that works for everyone will take some planning – and companies need to get ready now insists Dan Harding, Chief Executive Officer, Sign In App.

Hybrid Working Future

COVID-19 has changed working practices for good. Recent global research confirms that more than half of all employees will work eight or more days each month from home. Which means that 98% of meetings now have at least one employee attending remotely.

Such surveys, however, do not reveal the nuance in the new hybrid working model. For every employee delighted to avoid the daily commute and revelling in the lack of distraction that can derail productivity in the office, there will be another desperate to escape the kitchen table and the constant battle with teenagers hogging the limited broadband. Indeed, many individuals will fluctuate between those emotions on a daily basis, which is why flexibility is now absolutely essential.

Yet many businesses simply have not got a handle on employees’ new attitudes and expectations. One recent poll 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 during lockdown. That hardly bodes well for post lockdown employee satisfaction. Furthermore, employees’ WFH experiences are not all positive. A Harvard study that analysed the emails and meetings of 3.1 million people found remote staff work almost an hour – 48.5 minutes – longer each day. And in many cases this is due to fear – fear that management expects people to be available even out of hours.

Such attitudes 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.

Truly Flexible Working

This is a once in a generation opportunity to create a working culture that truly meets the needs of both employees and employers. Forget the so-called flexible working policies of the past, where individuals were ‘permitted’ to work remotely one set day each week. This is about giving employees the choice every day to work wherever they want – the office, home or a local co-working space.  

It is also about recognising that people can work differently from home – and empowering them to do so. Forget the nine to five; ditch the five days a week. If an employee likes to get started at 7am while the house is quiet, why can’t they finish work at 3pm? Or take two hours for lunch and a walk if that’s what makes them happy? Truly effective and productive hybrid working is about encouraging and enabling people to do the job – when and where works for them on any particular day.

Proactive Management Support

Of course, some managers will struggle to make this shift; they will rail against the need to trust employees to do the job without continuous oversight. These individuals will have to change. Yes, flexible hours can throw up a few management challenges but nothing insurmountable.

Apps that show when an individual is online, in a meeting, or at lunch, provide a simple way of keeping track of the hours worked – something that can also flag up if an employee is working too late at night or exceeding the expected hours. This information also means managers will know when someone is available for a call, for example, meaning they can avoid contact during downtime.

HR will need to create clear policies to help staff and managers during this transition. There will be a greater onus on managers to focus on staff wellbeing – although this is about taking time for regular team meetings as well as one to one employee catch ups, rather than micro-managing and taking a big brother approach to monitoring their every step.

Creating a Hybrid Culture

This is a shift in management culture as well as employee behaviour – and one that will require trust on both sides. Policies combined with guidance will help to ease the transition – especially when it comes to building and maintaining relationships. Hybrid workers are still part of the company, part of a team – and creating culture remotely can be tough. For new employees especially, getting to know colleagues via video calls will take longer than within a traditional office environment. 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.

Companies will need to think hard about how they are going to entice people back into the office, once they are allowed. Whether it is fear or just a love of WFH, some people will need coaxing. This is where the office space needs to be reimagined to create a destination – an attractive touchdown space where individuals are encouraged to socialise as much as brainstorm and share ideas. Add in a simple app based way to book a desk or a meeting room, in line with COVID-19 capacity limits, and employees will be confident that the business is adhering to social distancing guidelines.

Hybrid Policies will Differentiate

Many companies are already ahead of the game. Over the past 12 months, companies have made essential investments in technology, such as video conferencing, digital assistants and cloud-based applications, required for successful remote working and the management of a hybrid workforce.

Building on that investment with a proactive approach to creating a new business culture is the essential next step. A successful hybrid working model will work for businesses and their employees. It will give people the autonomy to work how and where they want – and to change the approach as they feel. 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. With the right culture and the right technology, employees can be empowered to work wherever suits them best. And that makes them more productive, happier – and less likely to move elsewhere. Technology can also help companies monitor desk usage and use office space more efficiently which may allow them to downsize to save costs in the future. 

Forget government announcements and back to work enticements. Hybrid working is the new reality and if companies are to nurture and retain top talent, they need to get the right policies, processes and culture in place right now.

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