Hybrid Working: The Gamechanger

An unexpected by-product of the pandemic is the fact that the employer-employee relationship has changed - probably forever.

According to a recent survey by Slack’s Future Forum almost 60% of knowledge workers are now in hybrid working arrangements -  proving that the WFH genie is out of the bottle and most employees want a mix of WFH and in-office.

But the issue is, on whose terms?

Should employees dictate when and how often they come into the workplace or should (or indeed can) employers accept the inevitability of some element of WFH in the mix, but stipulate which days are designated ‘in-office’ days.

WFH enabled employees to escape annoying colleagues and/or their irritating workplace ‘habits’. They could also minimise tedious commutes, as well as the dangers of cross-contamination however, after the initial euphoria which WFH generated, many employees yearned for physical facetime with colleagues for professional as well as social reasons. 

For many, the pandemic did bring a welcome break from the straight jacket of a 9-5 work schedule, as employees could better accommodate their family and post/pre work social activities – whilst fulfilling the requirements of their jobs.

But what of the employer? How do you run a business allowing some fluidity in your team’s whereabouts but not knowing which employees/teams will be in the office, when, how often and for how long. 

Just before Christmas many companies started to try to take control of the WFH agenda and like Apple, initially changed their ‘WFH whenever you like’ philosophy to, ‘You all need to be in the office from 1 February’. But the last lockdown forced yet another change in their position. Now, they like many other companies providing guidelines of expectation, are stipulating which days employees come in - eg “There will be three specific in-office days – Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

So how do you plan your business in a hybrid working world:

  • Even allowing for physical distancing at work, how much workspace do you really need
    • Should you relocate to smaller premises, or sublet (lease permitting) part of the space – can you action one before the other
  • If employees intend to only come in for collaborative activities, meetings, training, appraisals etc should you sacrifice desk space for more meeting rooms and collaborative zones
  • If you stipulate only two/three days in the office, you will need to establish which teams are required to be in, or together, on which days.
    • If you stagger the days, can you minimise the workspace you need - ie reduce your occupational footprint
    • Or will this cause an adverse impact on cross-team collaboration and productivity
  • Does opting for more WFH days retard the career prospects of women/primary carers for child, or those responsible for domestic commitments – as they try to minimise their presence in the office and therefore miss out on the informal career and relationship building, as well as networking which inevitably takes place around the watercooler, or whilst engaging in informal and unscheduled interactions
    • Ironically the outdated and inflexible 9-5 regime was more egalitarian in this respect
  • Navigating inequality and potential discrimination - is it fair to expect more junior employees and those who do not have adequate facilities at home to come into the office more than more senior peers who have the equipment, internet access and space to WFH.

The complexities of business planning in a hybrid-working world are now huge. Managers’ business planning now needs to factor in:

  • Impact of hybrid working on productivity - accepting that productivity may have increased
  • Escalating costs
  • Supply chain issues
  • Workplace access issues (think physical distancing, ventilation and potential contagion spreading from surfaces)
  • Revenue generation in recession/pre-recession markets
  • Managing employers’ and employees’ expectations on in-office attendance
    • And the subsequent implications for workspace planning and occupancy rates.

Some would argue that as all business models are people centric, perhaps the last could be the most critical – because in an age when change is a certainty, the most valuable asset any organisation has is still its people.

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