While the recent changes to our working lives have been challenging, they have also created new opportunities. As we begin to figure out what the next ‘new normal’ will look like in 2023, many organisations are implementing return-to-work mandates often with no transition period.
Some leaders are walking back on their flexibility promises, despite supporting flexible work early in the pandemic.
About 50 per cent of leaders say their company already or will require a return to in-person work full-time this year, according to Microsoft research that surveyed 31,102 people around the world.
This is a stark contrast to data from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) last year which found that 88 per cent of business leaders expect a hybrid way of working in the future. And 76 per cent of managers believing their staff will continue to work from home more often (PWC, 2020).
The research we think matters the most right now relates to what workers want – and survey after survey reveals it’s autonomy.
In Harvard Business Review’s hybrid working study, over 5,000 knowledge workers around the world were asked what they wanted from their future of work arrangement. 61% of employees said they would prefer if management allowed team members to come into the office when they need to and work from home when they need to – in other words, autonomy.
Whether you’re asking your people to be in the office one, three or five days a week, hybrid workplaces are still the norm and offer a range of opportunities to organisations and employees. They aren’t however, without significant challenges. With some planning and preparation, organisations can mitigate the risks and capitalise on the opportunities of hybrid ways of working.
Loss of collaboration and increased isolation
Fairness and equity (socioeconomic, domestic duties, gender, personality differences)
Breakdown of organisational culture
Boundaries (work and life)
Increased autonomy and productivity
Increased opportunities for engagement
More time for friends and family
Decreased environmental footprint
Potential financial savings for individuals and organisations
There is no one-size fits all when it comes to hybrid work. Some organisations will have set office days, while others may let team members decide when to come in. Some will re-design offices as ‘collaboration hubs’ while others may forget offices all together and sign their employees up to co-working spaces. There is no right or wrong here, all that matters is to design your structure to meet your organisation’s unique needs.
Establish and explain the new reality. It is important to not keep employees in the dark when it comes to transitioning to a hybrid workplace. The best organisations co-create changes with their employees, keeping them educated and involved throughout the process.
Uncertainty and change is inevitable. Throughout this transition there is going to be a lot of uncertainty and unexpected changes. Try to remain flexible and continue to learn as you go. We are all in new territory.
Spend time thinking about your organisation’s communication tools, processes and structures. It is important that communication in your organisation changes to reflect the new way of working. When do you use chats? How do you communicate time-sensitive information? When does something need to be a phone call?
Remote first. Even if most of your employees are in-office, it is best to make communication happen virtually first. This will help ensure there are no information gaps and create an equal dynamic.
Centralise HR digitally
Make sure employees can access HR resources and contacts no matter where they are working from.
Dedicated cross-over and collaboration time
It can be useful to have designated time where employees are in the same location and working at the same time. It’s best to prioritise this time as collaborative time.
Create virtual ‘water cooler moments’
Informal conversation is vital for culture. Build a system for internal socialising and allocate portions of your digital communication to non-work-related things (e.g. have dedicated slack channels for hobbies/interests, 5-minutes before a meeting to catch-up with each other).
Teams with a shared purpose tend to be buffered against drops in communication. When possible, build cohesion and a shared purpose into your teams.
Be aware of in-group/out-group dynamics
It’s important to make sure all employees feel united. It is possible for a ‘rift’ to grow between remote and office employees. Good communication, strong leadership, a shared purpose and equal recognition can stop this from occurring.
Make it fair between remote and in-office employees. Visibility and career progression can be a challenge for employees who prefer remote working. Make sure recognition, feedback, rewards and promotions are distributed fairly across the organisation.
Shift to outcomes rather than hours
To make the most of remote work, teams should focus on outcomes rather than hours. Where possible, support your organisation in making this switch.
Ensure teams and employees are supported to set up productive office spaces
Creating a productive home office requires a time and money investment. Ensuring your employees are supported to do this will pay dividends in the long run.
Pay attention to fairness and equity
Not everyone will respond to a hybrid workplace equally. Organisations need to consider the role of domestic responsibilities, socioeconomic factors and personality differences when setting up hybrid workplaces.
Make employee wellbeing a priority
Everyone will respond and adjust to hybrid work differently. Consider how you are checking in on people and what resources are available for them
Invest in training
Consider what training is needed to help employees’ transition to a new way of working. This could be learning new software or upskilling managers to lead virtual teams. It’s important all employees feel equipped and supported to work in this new way.
Managers have never faced so many challenges. The last few years have overturned our perspectives of work and life, leaving many employees wondering what the point is or considering resigning to find inspiration elsewhere. Throw in the challenges of remote working, uniting disparate teams, enticing reticent workers back into the office, and navigating complex team dynamics; and it’s no wonder managers are feeling the strain.
Like everyone, managers and their teams have been busy simply surviving; they haven’t had a chance to stop and take stock of what the organisation is trying to achieve.
Psychological Capital (PsyCap) is the secret weapon to bring people back together, give them a chance to air their grievances in a supportive context, and move forward in a cohesive way to achieve a common goal.
Though PsyCap has been around for years, it is very relevant now as we revisit old routines and seek new sustainable ways of working. Positive PsyCap contributes to better job satisfaction, organisational commitment, and team dynamics, which ultimately leads to better engagement and retention.
More than ever, people want to find meaning in their work, and PsyCap can serve as a helpful reminder of the organisation’s role and how people’s actions within it are meaningful.