The Post-pandemic Hybrid Office
By Henry Kurkowski, CEO of eWireless
Author of the Upcoming Book: Remote Work Technology, keeping your small business thriving from anywhere.
On March 11, 2020, The World Health organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. This caused businesses around the world to suddenly move into the virtual office having employees work from home (WFH). It was soon discovered that many companies lacked a continuance plan to keep their business fully operational should they not be able to go back to the office. Faced with no other choice, these organizations had to make remote work a viable option. This forced both policies and management styles to step up to meet the demand of the day. There were some bumps in the road, but companies figured it out and found a way to not only survive, but to thrive while they were working remotely.
Today, many businesses are gearing to go back to the office but are faced with a similar situation. Not everyone wants to go back to the office. Managers and company leaders are having to face the necessity of creating a hybrid office of both traditional workers and remote workers. But the hybrid office model of 2019 is not up to the task of meeting the needs of a post-pandemic business world. A great number of companies find themselves not having a plan of action to deal with their new reality.
It’s Not 2019 Anymore
The hybrid office of today looks a bit different than the pre-pandemic hybrid office. In the 2019 office you typically had two sets of core teams; those hired to be in-office employees and those hired to be remote employees. There were times when in-office employees may work from home or while on the road, and sometimes remote employees would go into the office. However, for the most part, these two sets of people maintained their roles as either remote, or in-office workers.
Today we have a different story unfolding. Some employees who were hired to be in the office now want the freedom to be fully remote. Others want the flexibility to be in the office a few days a week, and to be able to work from home some days as well. After the mass exodus from the traditional office in 2020, its difficult for managers to find to legitimate reasons to say “No” to these requests. In order to keep up employee retention, companies must find a way to accommodate workers in a new hybrid office setting.
A World of New Expectations
Today’s hybrid office comes with a new set of employee concerns along with a new set of expectations they have of employers. During the shutdowns, people noticed that along with preventing exposure to COVID-19, many of them did not get colds or the flu as they typically did each year. Many employees have taken note of this and have some level of anxiety about working in enclosed spaces with large groups of people. Add to that the fact that in-office employees today want distraction-free quiet spaces where they can do more deeply focused work similar to what they had in the WFH situations during the shutdowns. They are also driving the adoption of touchless workplace technologies and the creation of outdoor work spaces to use when collaborating with teams.
With the sudden shift to remote work, managers and team leaders found that their soft skills played a pivotal role in the success of their teams. In the new hybrid office, employees still expect that high level of engagement which focused on empathy, compassion and emotional intelligence. Employee wellbeing should continue to be prioritized. Most of all, in the new hybrid office environment workers expect flexibility.
Flexibility is Key to Success
As managers discovered during the shift to WFH, the way they measured productivity also shifted. Instead of looking at hours in the office, leadership changed to goal-based and results-based methods of measuring productivity. This was the natural result of being in the sudden WFH situation where home life merged with work life. Managers were forced to be more flexible with when work was being done. That meant that they could not see productivity they way that they would have in the traditional office settings. Coming in early or leaving late became irrelevant.
The freedom that came from that flexibility is something that workers still expect. If their current job will not give them that freedom, they will look for positions with companies that will. This means that employers must be willing to keep up that level of flexibility in order to retain talented workers who have proven that they can work well from anywhere and need not be tethered to a desk in the office. The idea that teams cannot collaborate effectively while working remotely has now been proven wrong.
The Employee Experience
In order to keep employees highly engaged with their company and their work, employers must allow for the office to become a true hybrid environment. They must work out scheduling so that teams can work both from home and from the office at any time. Work polices must be altered to accommodate flex scheduling as well as how work will be done.
Open and accessible schedule software platforms should show team members who may be on premise or working from home. Workflows must be adapted to allow employees to do their jobs regardless of location or time of day. The number of meetings should be minimized, while leveraging asynchronous forms of communication along with dedicated slack channels and virtual project boards. Mobile technologies should be utilized to enhance productivity as a single connected experience regardless of the location of the employee or their team members.
Empower Your Hybrid Team
To empower productivity in the new hybrid office, managers must remove the constraints that bottleneck efficiency. Utilize Kanban boards to visualize process management and analyze workflows to see where bottlenecks may occur. Then restructure the workflows to optimize for the new hybrid office. Install methods that increase the speed of feedback, ensure that there are digital avenues for impromptu conversations and unstructured collaborations. Encourage human connections and social interactions.
It may take some time to find optimal policies and workflows that meet the expectations of both employees and management. However, with constant feedback, a clarity on goals and willingness to adapt, newly hybridized organizations will come out as far stronger companies than they were in 2019.