COVID-19 hit and the workplace as we know it changed for good. The shift from physical space to virtual space – the decoupling of work and place practically happened overnight. We became more pragmatic and, in some ways, more connected. We always had this capability, but we just didn’t allow ourselves to flex in this way – and we're kidding ourselves if we think it will go back to the way things were.
There are so many different dynamics in the mix now and increasingly we hear about what’s not working. So, what can be done to help do it right? Hybrid working must be designed in partnership with employees, and as a recent McKinsey article highlights, the disconnect is deeper than most employers expect. Where do we start and what can be done to try to close the divide between organisational and employee needs and expectations?
There is an increasing number of research articles and stories about companies that have reverted and expecting their employees to come back into the office on specific days/times just because that’s the way it was. The reasons given may be that they need their staff in the office to collaborate better, mentor, role model, onboard people and maintain the culture. All valid concerns/expectations – but forcing ‘in the office’ old behaviour isn’t going to cut it. It indicates a ‘deafness’ to employee concerns and the result could be some of the highest levels of attrition experienced in years.
Research undertaken by McKinsey shows that 40 percent of workers globally are considering leaving their employers by the end of 2021. This will incur real costs in the shape of decreased employee engagement, lost productivity and as identified high turnover. So, getting serious about finding an alternative hybrid model to suit each business is vital. Businesses need to address the behaviours matched to their desired need, not assume that being in the office will resolve these challenges.
A good starting point is to look at the challenges and consider how we might address these both for the virtual world and in office culture. Unlike our industrial revolution way of working – the 9-5, 5 days per week, or rostered times for manufacturing, a hybrid model won’t be a one size fits all. If you’re serious, then the key is to define what will work for your customers and employees and design the way of working to meet their needs, incorporating the improving technology solutions that encourage a ‘work from anywhere’ world.
Just expecting people to be in the office ‘because’ is a guaranteed way to negatively impact productivity and employee engagement. Employees should know the purpose and intent for them being present in the office.
Recently I was talking to a Manager who had gone into the office as ‘Wednesdays’ were deemed ‘in-office’ days. There was no reason for that being the case but they had been ‘instructed’ that they wanted people to spend at least that day in the office. The problem was, the day had not been planned and so those that did work from the office spent most of their time on their computers. They all wondered out loud, why they had spent time coming in to do the work they did equally as well at home. Sure, it was nice to see people, but they needed more reason than that.
We do need to keep connection with our people and in-person helps build rapport and engagement, therefore, use the in-person opportunities to their fullest by setting in place a regular cadence and routine.
Another valid concern that we hear a lot is that a lot of serendipity is lost by not having people in the office, bumping into each other, chatting in the kitchen etc. But again, there is a way to help create these serendipitous moments in the digital world – and not only that, the chance for them to happen at a much larger scale – even across territories and time zones.
Harnessing social tools for digital connection and spontaneous conversation helps build and promote connectedness.
You can’t expect serendipity to happen if you don’t move with the times and start to move away from relying on email as your primary communication channel.
Corporates have traditionally struggled in this area as they want to ‘manage’ the variety of tools, but there are ways to help create the environment for these types of interactions to flourish.
Yammer, What’s App etc. actually open up the floor for more people to connect. And you can use them in various ways.
When done well you’re creating new opportunities for these serendipitous moments to occur amongst people who traditionally never have the chance to bump into each other or have never even met in person.
Any business can benefit by adopting some or ideally all of these ideas to improve their hybrid workforces – but pulling it all together in a repeatable and scalable way that gets embedded in the company culture is where we can help.
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