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New Ways of Working in a Hybrid World

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COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way we work.

Companies around the world are beginning to implement hybrid working practices in the wake of the worst of the pandemic, allowing their employees to split their time between the work and the office.

What does this new way of working look like though, and what trends can we expect to emerge as we transition into a more hybrid-working focused world?

Remote work is expected by employees

Remote work, it’s safe to say, was a bit of a novelty before COVID-19 completely disrupted almost every aspect of our lives. Previously the preserve of a few tech companies, most employers did not offer remote working as an option for most employees. Fast-forward to 2022, with the world still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, and remote working has become an integral part of the way that we work – so much so that employees are generally expecting remote working provision to expand and not contract, as we get back to work.

Flex Job’s 10th Annual Survey found that some 97% of respondents wanted some type of remote work to be in place, post-pandemic. In all, 58% of people surveyed would like to be full-time remote employees once the pandemic is over, while 39% of workers would like a combination of remote and office work.

Likewise, research has consistently shown that remote work is probably better for our mental health overall. Research by Microsoft Surface and YouGov has found that 56% of employees reported more happiness now that they were working from home and not in the office. On top of that, an overwhelming 87% of workers surveyed thought that their organisation had adapted well to hybrid working, too.

Remote work has fundamentally changed how we view the office and how we use it. As more companies implement hybrid working processes, expect to see remote work consolidate its new-found legitimacy at the expense of office-based work, and for employees to demand more remote working opportunities, going forward.

 

The office gets redefined

Like it or not, there’s no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally challenged the dominance of traditional formats of office-based work. A hybrid world, where we work part of the week in a physical work environment and part of the week at home, is likely to redefine what office-based work actually means.

After all, during a National Lockdown when every non-essential premises has to close, it’s not surprising that people started to question the value of working in a physical workspace when they found that their work could be completed to the same, if not higher, quality from home.

Add in the fact that employees also realised that working from home meant freedom from draining commutes, office politics and arbitrary surveillance, and it seems rather obvious that there was going to be a reckoning between the needs of employees and the desires of employers when the world started to return to a semblance of normal.

The pandemic has essentially prompted a period of reflection amongst employees across the world. It’s given us time to think about what’s important to us, putting into perspective the fact that our lives are often heavily unbalanced in favour of work rather than just life.

And there’s a question that keeps surfacing in employee WhatsApp chats, LinkedIn and forums: if reporting to an office each day at an appointed time is so essential to completing a task, why have companies been reporting a boost in productivity whilst working from home?

Be under no illusions – the physical workspace is facing serious, existential questions about its value in an increasingly digital world.

That explains, in some part, why employers are pivoting towards making their workplaces and offices more human and focused on face-to-face interaction. The pandemic, after all, has taught us the valuation of physical, face-to-face interactions. 

In effect, offices are being redefined to be spaces more about connection, collaboration and culture. Since people have started to return to the office, employers have been experimenting with office layouts and redesigning their workplaces to facilitate collaboration and team work, and to build a sense of community amongst employees. Office cubicles are on their way out. Instead, team-work and employee-friendly office spaces are on the way in. 

Flexibility becomes an essential recruitment and retention factor

The Great Resignation is causing shockwaves across the world, as workers leave their current roles in search of better ones, with better pay, conditions and benefits.

It’s a phenomenon that’s being driven in part by an emerging desire for more flexibility at work.

At the risk of getting morbid, the pandemic has been a catalyst for change. It’s prompted us to think about our own mortality, and the things that are important to us in life. With increasing levels of restrictions, we’ve been forced to think about how to make the most out of life in difficult circumstances, and naturally, our thoughts have turned to one of the biggest aspects of our life – work.

That soul-searching has resulted in a lot of people realising, to put it bluntly, that their jobs are simply not worth the terrible pay, conditions and treatment that they put up with in them. Research seems to suggest that a key bugbear for most employees resigning at the moment seems be the lack of flexibility in their roles – the fact that there are so many explicit and implicit rules about how they are to do their jobs that can never be broken or changed.

It’s becoming clear that in a hybrid world, employers are going to have to loosen their grip on some long-held conventions about how work has to be completed if they want to maintain good employee retention and attract the best candidates for roles. This could mean anything from allowing employees to set their own schedule through to loosening office-based dress codes. To find out the issues that are most relevant to your own workplace, speak to your employees!

 

The Four Day Week arrives in earnest

As PiIlita Clark in the The Financial Times points out in this fascinating article the modern concept of the weekend essentially came about as a direct response to the constant state of exhaustion that workers were subjected to in factories, mines and mills: expected to work practically every day from dawn until dusk.

More progressive-minded employers decided to give their workers two days off to rest and found, in the process, that their productivity was much higher. As a result, they were able to produce more goods and made more money. Eventually, more employers cottoned on to the idea, the novel concept spread and the weekend was born.

Research from Opinium found that 57% of workers are in favour of a four-day week, with only a mere 21% of workers opposed to it.

Whilst employers may grumble now, the momentum is very much in favour of working practices becoming less intense over time, especially as technology develops to enable that.

If employee sentiment follows current trends, demand for a better work/life balance (realised over the course of the pandemic) and a need for practical responses to automation will force employers to consider implementing four-day week working patterns in order to maintain competitiveness.

It’s interesting to think that in a few decades we may look back at the time before the four-day week as one as alien and as strange as the Industrial Revolution period looks to us at the moment, in terms of working practices.

 

Automation and Artificial Intelligence makes serious strides

COVID-19 might have slowed some aspects of the economy, but the adoption of technology to make work smarter, faster and more profitable is definitely not one of them. And the move to a hybrid world is only likely to make this process gain momentum.

Research by McKinsey has found that around 75% of employers have sped up their implementation of automation and AI technology at work since 2020, when the pandemic began in earnest.

The combination of cheaper, more sophisticated AI and automation technology, combined with gaps in the workforce left by employees who are leaving is forcing employers to look at ways that they can improve their productivity in the face of not being able to attract the relevant staff to positions they would have once filled easily.

A surprising amount of roles in an organisation could probably be automated and make use of artificial intelligence – by 2030 for instance, it’s estimated that up to 30% of jobs could be automated in some way. Expect the hybrid workplace to become increasingly tech-focused in the future.

Of course, no one can predict the future, but there’s no denying that the world has fundamentally changed following the COVID-19 pandemic. As we move to widespread hybrid-working, we should expect to see new ways of working to emerge. Make sure you’re ready. 

 

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