- What Have We Learned?
- Why We Still Need Hybrid Offices
- The Ultimate Hybrid Workplace Checklist
“Unprecedented” underestimates how the past year has impacted the world.
Articles upon articles have parsed, nitpicked, confidently predicted, and then retracted predictions about what society will look like as we slowly emerge into the post-pandemic world.
But does this actually mean for the future, especially in terms of the workplace?
A whole slew of new terms have emerged from the past year, including but not limited to:
- Herd immunity
- Flattening the curve
- Hybrid working
- The Covid 15
- Zoom fatigue
You get the point.
These recent phrases have slithered their way into our everyday vocabulary, especially when we discuss changes to the workplace.
Are QR codes going to actually be a regular part of our restaurant experience? Will face masks be normalized during flu season? Could companies adopt remote working arrangements in the long run?
If the thousands of assertive predictions over the past year have taught us anything, it’s that we know very little about what the future holds.
That doesn’t mean we cannot learn from the challenges and obstacles that the year presented. For the workplace in particular, many experts have noted that one of the very few glimmers of hope has been the dissolution of misconceptions about remote working.
Prior to lockdowns, many large organizations were adamantly against remote working, clinging to the belief that it harms company culture and leads to a drop in productivity.
But guess what didn’t happen when employees were forced to work from home?
Soon enough, research and articles all but proved what many already knew — remote working can actually improve employee productivity.
For example, a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) shows that working from home could lead to a 5% productivity boost in the post-pandemic economy, and why it is likely here to stay.
The research cites five main reasons for the permanent shift to remote working:
- Ideal work from home (WFH) experiences
- Decreased stigma around WFH
- Increased investments into employee experiences
- Continued anxiety about being in large crowds
- Accelerated technology adoption that support WFH
Although analysis greatly supports the pivot to remote working arrangements, there are various factors to consider that may make this shift challenging for some.
So can organizations incorporate the good, leave behind the bad, and create the ideal workforce for all employees? Perhaps.
That’s where hybrid working comes in.
What Have We Learned?
The apprehension of remote working has often been linked to concerns about diminishing company culture, and the lack of hands-on management (ahem, micromanaging).
“It’s not a new normal,” said David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs, at the Credit Suisse Group AG conference earlier this year. “It’s an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible.”
Despite the continued resistance from some big name companies, we can easily look at the data to know that for many, remote working has offered lessons that can be applied now and in the future.
For instance, the idea of the dreaded commute.
Citi’s ThankYou Premier Commuter Index revealed that workers spend $2,600 and 200 hours annually on commutes.
Not only is commuting expensive and time-consuming, it often causes a spike in stress before even coming into the workplace. This start to the day, five days each week, inevitably leads to decreased productivity, higher stress, and lower engagement levels.
After this factor was taken out of the equation in the past year, employees began to inquire whether there was a point in commuting after all.
Additionally, workers proved they could work autonomously with the right technology.
Having this independence meant more than employees working on their own time and communicating with their colleagues in other time zones — it meant they were trusted by their employer.
Unfortunately, the aforementioned micromanagers struggle to understand that their employees are experts in their field and have the ability to solve their own issues and connect with the necessary coworkers for certain projects.
Having an autonomous workplace means:
- A more confident workforce
- Increased productivity and engagement
- Enhanced feeling of accountability
- Growing desire to learn new skills
- A better sense of work community and culture
- A healthier work-life balance
Autonomy, especially in a remote workforce, is crucial. But even as companies move towards a more hybrid arrangement of both in-office and at-home policies, workers need to be given the opportunity to work amongst themselves to achieve true efficiency.
Another insight gained from the past year is understanding that consistent meetings are unnecessary.
We’ve all experienced the inconvenience of attending meetings throughout the day that continuously halt workflow, especially when the content of the meeting could have easily been an email.
Although remote working has helped some organizations do a better job of holding only necessary meetings, some companies who are unseasoned in optimal remote working practices have turned to excessive Zoom meetings to substitute the lack of in-person attendance.
This has led to an increased risk of Zoom fatigue.
Zoom fatigue is the exhaustion associated with incessant virtual meetings that take away from actual work, leaving employees to work much longer hours in an effort to catch up.
Although attending a Zoom call is relatively easy and accessible, the convenience of these meetings leaves employees feeling like they cannot say no to attending.
One of the biggest, and maybe the most important, takeaway from the past year has been the benefit of flexibility.
In fact, research from the Society for Human Resource Management shows that 91% of HR professionals believe that flexible work arrangements have a positive influence on employee engagement.
Flexibility has helped workers have a bigger say in their work schedule, allowing them to choose when they work best. Having this option has been found to increase productivity levels and job satisfaction.
Why We Still Need Hybrid Offices
While remote working has offered the workforce invaluable lessons, it has simultaneously highlighted why having an office to retreat to is necessary for the future of work.
For one, in-person meetings have the advantage of real-time brainstorming, clearer communication, and nurturing relationships with our colleagues.
Additionally, collaborating virtually can often come with its own challenges. Although there are platforms and tools that can be used to facilitate collaboration, nothing can truly replicate in-person teamwork.
Building camaraderie often comes from impromptu collaborative sessions in the hallway of the office. Without the “watercooler” aspect of the workforce, it becomes much more difficult to nurture workplace culture.
Not only is collaboration easier to navigate when face-to-face with colleagues, it helps generate stronger communication channels, whether it be from these chance encounters with coworkers in the hallway or through nonverbal cues, like tone of voice or facial expressions.
Incorporating a hybrid office has also been found to help workers who need a change of environment.
Employees may be lacking in specific tools and resources when working remotely, so being in another space may help them reach their daily work goals.
A stagnant work environment often leaves workers uninspired and distracted.
This reason alone is why so many companies have pivoted away from cubicle-laden offices and offered a larger variety of workspaces, from private offices to breakaway areas, that encourage collaboration.
The same lesson can be applied to the remote environment.
Without variety in our surroundings, it’s very easy to slip into a mundane routine that lacks creativity and motivation. So offering an alternative office to come into for part of the week can provide workers with that extra spark of stimulation they need in the work day.
Additionally, hybrid working can help alleviate the chance of Zoom fatigue, which becomes increasingly risky when operating with a fully remote workforce.
As previously mentioned, Zoom fatigue can have a significant impact on the quality of work that an employee provides.
Symptoms of Zoom fatigue include:
- Job cynicism
- Irritability with colleagues and clients
- Lack of energy and difficulty concentrating
- Chronic health issues such as headaches
- Lower levels of job satisfaction
- Turning to alcohol, drugs, or food to deal with work-related stress
- Poor sleeping habits
Even more worrisome, it can lead to burnout.
Once an employee reaches burnout levels, both their mental and physical health can be on the receiving end of almost irreparable damage.
That is why it is the direct responsibility of business leaders to ensure that their employees have the time to focus on their tasks at hand, without being disrupted by constant Zoom meetings.
The risk of Zoom fatigue makes adopting a hybrid working arrangement more ideal, as it may help alleviate the stress that these micromanaging tactics can have on employees.
Because there is still value in in-person meetings, leaders may be more inclined to schedule necessary gatherings, rather than be tempted by the ease of squeezing in multiple Zoom meetings throughout the week.
Another perk of hybrid working is the fact that it is mutually beneficial.
Employers and organizations can actually cut down on overall costs when adopting this type of policy.
In fact, companies who utilize hybrid offices can reduce their expenses across various corners of their operations, including:
- Reducing time on commutes and distractions means increased productivity, which inevitably means more time spent on the company’s bottom line.
- Real Estate
- Hybrid policies offer organizations the chance to cut down on their current office footprint, utilize less space, or adopt lower-cost offices in suburban areas that are closer to where employees live.
- Unscheduled employee absenteeism can cost around $3,600 annually for each hourly worker, according to research from Circadian.
- Work absences are usually connected to stress, family-related issues, or mental health, so reducing the work-related obstacles can help companies save money.
- A report from Employee Benefits News found that turnover can cost employers 33% of an employee’s annual salary, mostly due to hiring and onboarding replacements.
- Hybrid working is directly linked to higher job satisfaction, meaning top talent is more likely to stay on at their position.
As you can see, hybrid working means more than just incorporating more casual days into your work schedule — it has become essential for an organization trying to build out a culture that operates at the highest frequency it can.
The Ultimate Hybrid Workplace Checklist
So you’re convinced: hybrid work is the way to go.
But it’s not as simple as telling your employees, “Come into the office whenever you want!”
This transition will require planning, hearing employee feedback, training, updating policies, and more.
Let’s dive into what exactly you’ll need on your path to adopting a hybrid work model.
Synchronous and Asynchronous Training
For starters, you will need to lay out specific training practices that make it easy for both you and your employees to transition to this new way of operating.
This will require making sure that employees are not only equipped with the right technology to work from home or in an alternative office, but also fully understand how to use these tools.
Investing into new resources is essential for a hybrid workforce, of course, but without the proper training in how to utilize these tools, employees can grow even more frustrated with their work environment.
For instance, a survey from UK tech recruitment firm CWJobs showed that only 27% of IT decision makers were satisfied with their employees’ abilities to use new technologies. This is despite 72% of UK businesses investing into new digital tools and training last year.
Another way to ensure that your hybrid workforce is getting proper training is to create the most interactive experience possible without physically being in the room with employees.
What this means is that leaders need to use platforms, such as Zoom, whenever necessary and possible.
Using video conferencing software encourages people to interact with one another, despite sometimes being in different time zones.
Synchronous training is beneficial for the team as a whole, as someone who feels confident to speak up and ask questions may clarify certain processes that others need insight into.
But, understandably so, it’s hard to get everyone on a Zoom call for a training session at the same time.
If that’s the case, then organizations should create training guides that are accessible to workers whenever they need them. Using asynchronous training, and giving workers a deadline to learn the material, provides workers with more flexibility to get on the same page.
This can be done through pre-recorded videos or interactive tools that make it easy for employees to hop on at their own time and consume the material.
Good Connection And Software
As mentioned above, having the right tools and software is absolutely vital to a hybrid workforce.
In the past year, companies have ramped up their remote and hybrid work software offerings, which can make identifying the right one for your organization a bit overwhelming.
However, the best way to know what your workers need is to simply ask them.
Send out employee feedback surveys to gain insight into what tools and resources can help improve your employees’ work day.
This is particularly important for the younger workforce, who are typically sharing internet and space with their roommates.
Having spotty connection and slow-running software can add stress to the work day, which is why employers should provide them with a stipend to go towards improving their connectivity and overall office environment, whether that is their home office or a hybrid office.
For some, this may mean having an all-in-one platform that allows them to easily message their colleagues, collaborate with team members, host meetings, book meeting rooms, and more.
Doing so improves the overall work experience and helps employees not feel overwhelmed by various platforms.
This makes managing the workforce easier on you, too.
Not only does this improve the process of workplace operations from every aspect, it also allows you to collect work-related data and identify areas of improvement within the workplace.
Affordable Office Space
Along with the need for seamless software comes the need for an actual workspace.
As we know, employees do want to come into the office. However, where this office is located will vary.
So ensuring that workers are supported wherever they decide to work from will be key to optimizing the team.
It is up to you to understand what employees actually want and need from their workspace, and that will depend on the background of each worker.
Working parents may want access to a flexible office space that features childcare services, while a fresh-out-of-college employee may want to work in a coworking space that emphasizes community and collaboration.
But let’s first look at some of the basic needs of an office:
- A laptop or computer
- Dependent internet connection
- Collaborative software platforms
- Virtual office services
Without these resources, the work day inevitably becomes more difficult for your employees, which leads to low levels of productivity and satisfaction.
Prioritizing the employee experience is crucial here.
Again, reach out to employees and understand what they need. From there, invest into what amenities and office tools will help optimize their work day.
With a survey from Deloitte finding that only 47% of employees believe that their employer is investing into their professional development, and only 34% satisfied with their company’s skills and performance investment, it’s clear that organizations need to do more.
Office space demand has grown tremendously in the last few months after experiencing a historical slump during the pandemic.
Utilizing flexible office space, virtual office services, coworking spaces, and more that give employees the freedom and flexibility to work near home shows that professionals are supported by their leaders.
For example, if a hybrid worker lives in a suburb outside of your company’s headquarters, you can invest into one of Alliance’s virtual offices that will come equipped with all of their essential office needs, such as on-demand meeting rooms and Live Receptionist services, without forcing them to commute to the city.
From a business perspective, doing this provides the benefit of cutting down overhead costs.
But more importantly, it expresses a sense of trust and care.
Incorporating alternative workspaces as part of your company’s network of offices also ensures that the main office does not get overcrowded.
As we remain on the heels of a pandemic, being in an enclosed office with several other workers can bring a sense of anxiety.
In fact, a Limemade survey of 4,553 full-time workers revealed that a staggering 100% were anxious about returning to the workplace, citing fear of being exposed to Covid-19, having their flexibility taken away, and commuting to work.
So making sure the physical office that employees return to abides by occupancy restrictions and health protocols will be essential.
Aside from adopting alternative workspaces, companies can also provide staggered schedules for their employees in order to keep a sharp eye on occupancy levels.
Companies can easily do this by investing into technology that keeps track of occupancy in the workspace using sensors, which can then be seen through an app on a workers’ phone. This allows them to know ahead of time how crowded the office is at any given moment.
The future of the workplace is officially here.
But this isn’t news. What is notable is how fast it became reality.
The adoption of remote and flexible working was always going to be part of the picture. However, the pandemic forced companies, eager and not, to adopt this way of working.
What will now be looked back as the “world’s largest work-from-home experiment” is in its analysis phase, and companies are trying to navigate where they fit in.
Although remote working was met with glee by many workers, after over a year of isolation, distracting home environments, balancing child and work responsibilities, and more, some employees have come to value being in an office.
But let’s not ignore the perks of working from home and the unnecessary aspects of coming into the office five days a week.
For the first time in many professional’s lives, they were able to:
- Ditch the lengthy work commute
- Tend to their children more often
- Find a healthy work-life balance
- Enhance their productivity
- Identify a work schedule that actually works for them
These benefits should not be underestimated. Because of this sudden transition, workers got a taste of what a truly flexible lifestyle could do to improve their lives, both professional and personal.
So, yes, while there are definite advantages to coming into the office, could companies take the good without the bad?
It turns out they can, and that’s where hybrid working comes in.
Hybrid means just that: merging both remote and in-office work arrangements that allow workers to enjoy the freedom of choosing the best workplace for their specific needs.
This can mean a multitude of things.
Companies can either incorporate flexible workspaces in suburban cities outside of their main headquarters to allow employees to work near home, or simply provide workers with a stipend to improve their current home-working environment and have them come into the main office for hands-on meetings.
Getting the best of both worlds means that your workers reap the benefits of remote working, your business is fully optimized, and that the company’s culture is nurtured.
However, making the shift to a hybrid work model will take planning.
Let’s review the ideal hybrid workplace checklist:
- Investing in hybrid work training
- Incorporating the necessary software and technology into daily operations
- Providing collaborative spaces and meeting rooms
- Creating strong scheduling policies to avoid overcrowding
- Offering the most affordable options for employees
Once you’ve made sure that all of these aspects are part of your new hybrid workplace strategy, you are guaranteed to see improvements to your employee satisfaction, retention, and overall productivity.
- What are the benefits of hybrid work?
- Hybrid work provides both the benefits of in-office arrangements and remote working policies. Employees can achieve a better work-life balance, improve their job satisfaction, grow their productivity, and also get the chance to brainstorm and collaborate with like-minded professionals.
- What is the difference between remote and hybrid?
- Remote work means that employees work from home or outside of the main office full-time. Hybrid work offers both remote working options and the ability for employees to come into an office when needed, such as for in-person meetings and collaboration sessions.
- What does a hybrid workspace look like?
- A hybrid workspace usually features a variety of designs meant to accommodate all work styles, from meeting rooms, private phone booths, collaborative spaces and everything in between.
- What is a hybrid workforce model?
- A hybrid workforce model means that some workers may be working out of the company’s main headquarters or offices in city centers, while others work remotely or in flexible offices throughout the week.
- What are the key skills for a future hybrid workplace?
- A hybrid workplace requires having the ability to clearly communicate with the entire workforce due to employees working from various places. Additionally, business leaders need to ensure that their workers have the know-how of new software platforms and technology that are necessary for hybrid and flexible workplaces.
- What have we learned from working from home?
- Working from home has taught the world that employees do not need to be in a singular office to be productive and innovative. The past year in particular has forced companies to instill more trust into their workers, while realizing that providing them choice in their work environment can actually improve their productivity.