The future of work is hybrid and businesses must adapt

The future of work is hybrid and businesses must adapt

Originally published on The Business Times (Tue, 24, 2021) 
Author: Ben Thompson

IT was last year, after the initial shock of being thrown into lockdown and forced work from home passed that I realised remote working isn’t half bad. Now, 15 months later, any concerns I had about productivity and a lack of motivation are well and truly gone – but in saying that I miss some of the more social aspects of being in the office.

drinking coffee while on a virtual conference on Zoom
Working from home or hybrid office-home may become the new normal.

I’m not alone, either. Several studies show employees miss the social connection, work perks, and the general camaraderie of the workplace while still enjoying the flexibility of remote working. These opposing trends are throwing a wrench in the works for employers – some of whom are preparing for their staff to return to the office, even as others switch to long-term remote working.

Perhaps the answer lies in taking a leaf out of the playbooks of leading technology companies.

Google and Apple have now introduced three days in the office and two at home, with Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai saying that some roles may need more on-site intervention.

Salesforce is giving employees some broad choices, including work-from-home most days, while inviting them into the office one to three days a week to collaborate with colleagues, meet with customers or for presentations. People who don’t live near an office can work fully remote, while others whose job requires to be office-based, may come in four to five days a week.

In Singapore, the pandemic has already fast-tracked strategic workplace initiatives to support a dispersed workforce, but there’s more work to be done. A study conducted by Employment Hero in November found that 48 per cent of SME employees want additional support from employers to sustain flexible working arrangements in 2021.

The changing nature of work is ultimately leading to new expectations and demands from employees, and employers must remain cognisant of their needs. While technological support to enable ongoing remote working is necessary, this must be improved in conjunction with plenty of support and tools.

In the future, as we recover from the pandemic and restrictions loosen, hybrid working models will become a necessity for employers here. Resoundingly, studies around the world show that time saved from commuting and increased work-life balance are good things. Businesses also understand that they can still meet their objectives while managing employees that work remotely.

Of course, for those with larger teams, there are obvious advantages to collaborating and being in the office, but rather than making it a daily mandate, businesses will benefit from adopting a more flexible approach with staff. Consider doing an organisation-wide survey, and ask your staff what they want to do, and then structure the business around that.

Our recent survey found that nearly half (46 per cent) of Singaporean employers have implemented more flexible working options and 39 per cent of employers are planning on formalising flexible work options as the norm across their organisation. We also found that only 23 per cent of employees are planning to return to the office. If you’re interested in adopting a more flexible approach to managing your workforce, here are some options to consider:

Flexibility at the core

Whether you’re taking an office-centric approach or a remote-centric one, make sure that flexibility is at your core. If it’s encouraging staff to be back one to three times a week, your employees should be the architects of the strategy rather than forcing or guilting them into it. This is also a powerful employee attraction and retention strategy – if you can’t compete on salary, perhaps you can compete on choice.

Make time to connect

As employers map out the future of work, the rising rates of loneliness among employees during the pandemic needs to be addressed proactively. Plan ahead for weekly or monthly online sessions where your team can bond and put work aside for a bit to get together virtually or in-person for a bit of fun.

Seamless onboarding

How should employers welcome, train and engage new employees while ensuring social distancing, or when onboarding is done remotely? Beyond the nuances of the culture, new employees also need the right resources to get their work done – so, be sure that they have access to the right people, information and tools.

Ensure employees’ well-being

The risk of work-from-home burnout is real. Employers should encourage their staff to take time off throughout the year. Additionally, quarterly wellbeing allowances are a great way to ensure their physical, mental and financial health.

The future of work will be a tightrope of expectations, and the weight lies on employers to embrace opportunities and scale operations even as they focus on employee needs. I’d encourage employers to consider remote working in a post-pandemic world. Enabling your employees to live their lives in a more sustainable, joyful and prosperous way can not only result in them being more productive for your business, but perhaps more loyal too.

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