The hybrid workplace is no longer the stuff of future-gazing analyst reports. It’s taking place in front of our eyes, in offices across the globe. Our research shows the majority of organisations are planning on redesigning their offices to support new ways of working. But how well employers transform these environments for a new era of work may well govern their long-term business success, says Clare Tibbitts, hybrid work expert at Poly.
They must ensure productivity gains don’t come at the expense of employee wellness; that meeting equality is maintained, whether staff are at home or in the office. And that a positive work culture of collaboration can be nurtured despite the shift to remote work. In short, employers must re-evaluate their people, spaces and technology to set themselves up for hybrid working success.
Why hybrid matters
For all its detractors, the “Great Resignation” is real, and it’s happening right now. Large numbers of employees are now reconsidering their roles after two years spent working from home. A recent Microsoft study of 30,000 global workers finds that two-fifths are currently weighing up whether or not to leave. Some will move careers altogether. But many will jump ship to an employer they feel can provide a better work-life balance, and deliver the tools and support they need to be effective in their roles.
There’s opportunity here, not only to keep the brightest and best by delivering on hybrid working initiatives, but also to attract talent from elsewhere. Yet there’s also risk, if hybrid working schemes don’t met staff expectations. Our research reveals that over half (58%) of organisations have experienced high staff turnover recently, with a similar number warning that this could put them out of business. Organisations are also concerned that a brain drain to rival companies is impacting their growth potential.
Yet despite acknowledging these drivers, many employers seem to be paying little more than lip service to the concept of hybrid work. Over half believe it’s merely a “blip” and that, in time, their office will be at 100% capacity again. Meanwhile, almost two-fifths are only prepared for hybrid working in the short-term.
Productivity vs burnout
These underlying attitudes matter, because ultimately they’ll determine the success of hybrid working projects in the longer term. Take productivity. It’s often viewed by employers as a significant benefit of remote and hybrid working. As Microsoft says in its report, the “digital intensity” of the average working day increased dramatically during the pandemic. Between February 2020 and February 2021 time spent in Teams meetings increased by 2.5 times globally, with meeting times also lengthening, it says.
Yet this kind of “productivity” hides another very real trend: that of burned out staff. Workers now feel they are constantly connected and expected to be available. And our research shows that, despite being aware of such trends, employers have been slow to do anything about them. Only 38% encourage employees not to look at work emails outside of working hours and to take regular breaks, while just 13% have official processes in place to prevent staff from over-working.
Employers need to reset their expectations of workers for the new hybrid era, combining official oversight and processes to prevent burnout with staff training on time management. Three-quarters of organisations admit the pandemic has made fostering and retaining a collaborative culture harder than ever. This is particularly concerning for ambitious workers keen to build face to face relationships and progress in their careers.
The people-first office
Once employers have accepted that hybrid working is here to stay, they must find more effective ways to support it whilst managing the risks of fading workplace culture and staff burnout. That means rethinking and reinventing the office with a people-first approach to technology investment. First, they should consider defining employee personas to better understand how spaces and technology will be used by staff. This will not only drive more successful office makeovers but also help to deliver meeting equality, by ensuring the virtual experiences of remote workers match those of their office-bound colleagues.
No two organisations are the same, and so hybrid workplace plans will vary. Experimenting to see what policy and plans work best is a useful strategy as long as organisations remember to measure, test, and collect employee feedback. A hybrid working plan could include anything from creating more spaces for socialising and unwinding, to building more meeting rooms of varying sizes, introducing “quiet zones” and implementing hot desking.
It is highly likely to include corporate purchases of more cloud and collaboration software, and enterprise-grade headsets, cameras and conference phones. AV technology now exists to “auto-frame” and track meeting participants as they move around a conference room, plus it can eliminate background noise, and sharpen image quality. The right devices and technology pairings are key to providing an equal virtual and office experience that staff will look forward to, rather than dread.
Ultimately, hybrid working success will not come about with a simple office redesign. In fact, nearly two-thirds (64%) of organisations say the office is no longer the face of their company, but rather it’s the technology and experience that matter most. Putting the worker front-and-centre of these experiences, and taking clear steps to mitigate the risk of burnout, are the keys to unlocking success. As the competition for talent heats up, there’s no time to delay.
The author is Clare Tibbitts, hybrid work expert at Poly.
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