The future of work and workspace in a post-COVID-19 world, where the Hybrid Model rules
As lockdowns swept through the world earlier this year, the speed with which companies adapted was nothing short of remarkable, switching to a remote work model virtually overnight. Living rooms and kitchen countertops were converted into workspaces, and backgrounds for video calls were carefully curated. Many desk job workers even experienced a productivity ‘honeymoon’, with hours that were erstwhile spent stuck in traffic or airport lines, redeployed to staying on top of a zero inbox and sometimes enjoying mealtime with family.
However, as the crisis dragged, we realized that it wasn’t sufficient to measure productivity by the simple yardstick of hours worked. We were missing the ‘heartbeat’ of the workplace: the energy that comes from serendipitous encounters that aren’t boxed into Zoom screens; the creativity that comes from spontaneous collaboration; the trust and relationships that are built through countless and unsaid small gestures and interactions.
So, the question that is critical for us to answer – as we eventually emerge from this crisis – is ‘will we work differently?’ Will companies that are announcing permanent work from home policies become beacons for the rest, or remain exceptions? What has changed for organizations in this pandemic; changes that will be long lasting?
Hybrid is the future of work
IBM expects 80% of its employees to work in a hybrid model after the pandemic. The majority of workers will spend at least three days a week, maybe not all eight to 10 hours, but at least some fraction of those three days, in the office. Infosys will explore limited office attendance post-April. Nearly 75 per cent of large and very large companies are planning only 0-9 per cent employees working from office by end of March. By June 2021, Work-From-Office (WFO) percentage is likely to touch 20 and in quite a few cases, WFO is expected to touch 30 per cent.
From hiring to training or deciding on the technologies to enable efficient remote working, every aspect of the organization has completely changed during the pandemic. Even organizations which are thinking of reopening their offices must accept that more than a year of remote working has changed the habits of employees and some of those behaviours have become permanent.
Hybrid will change future of work
Besides commercial real-estate cost savings, adopting a hybrid workforce model allows organizations to recruit from a wider talent pool, lets them collaborate more effectively with temporary staff, partners, and suppliers, and offers choice as to where, how, and when employees work. When transitioning to a hybrid workforce, organizations need to consider how groups of employees communicate, collaborate, and get work done (“workstyles”). At least four distinct groups of workstyles have emerged during the pandemic: office workers, home workers, frontline workers, and hybrid workers, each of these employees will have different needs.
Businesses, therefore, will need to consider how HR policies, employee contracts, workflow processes, and organizational culture may need to change to accommodate this new model. The wholesale return to the office or moving to an entirely remote workforce is not a binary choice, and organizations must plan for hybrid working that effectively supports an employee’s workstyle.
A failure to understand an employee’s workstyle, given that new habits will have formed over this period, could be a costly mistake; indeed, Covid19 has fundamentally normalized remote work. Many companies rethought their annual “ranking and rating” performance systems in the last cycle. Some scrapped them entirely, others opted for more generous bell curves. Merit and bonus compensation were still differentiated across the workforce, independent of the evaluation approach.
Private 5G to provide seamless connectivity
As the way we worked changed during the pandemic it created new requirements for seamless connectivity. Employees evaluated their organizations on the kind of technology tools that were available for remote work. Organizations looked at Private 5G technologies to deliver superior connectivity experience to employees.
The future of connectivity will feature three characteristics: carrier grade performance; the flexibility and elasticity to constantly maintain peak performance; and the capability of running mission critical networks.
Self-motivated employees are in demand
Human Resources (HR) teams are now looking for employees who are self-motivated and able to work more independently without the need for micro-management by supervisors. The role of supervisors and team leads, too, have changed from being hands-on to hand-off. Communication has become one of the most important skills of employees who must give a status report of their work, collaborate with others, and understand client briefs over Zoom or MS Team calls.
Hybrid work will be the normal work model for most organizations. This will require a completely different way of managing work. Where, how, and with whom employees will work, what devices and tools they need to be productive, and how this can be managed in a secure and compliant way will have to be prioritized.