In January we looked at What is the Future of Our Work, based on the “The Workplace of the Future” report commissioned by EPOS. There were much to digest from both a leadership and employee viewpoint. Following up on the report, the President at EPOS Jeppe Dalberg-Larsen further explores not only future ways of working, but also the ways in which we work.
In the interest of transparency and disclosure, this editorial is based on Jeppe’s thought leadership on this topic. I have added my experiences and take on the current landscape.
The pandemic caught many businesses off guard regardless of the size of the business, almost everyone had to pivot and accept the #wfh phenomenon. Living in metropolitan Melbourne, we endured 263 days of lockdown in total between 2020 and 2021.
Our shared experience over the two main years of the pandemic has fundamentally transformed not only the way we work but the ways in which we work. From the frontline I have seen and participated in the efforts expended at all levels to turn the ships around when lockdown were first mandated.
Now that the pandemic is seemingly over, many organisations have a much clearer understanding of how technology can weave connections and supercharge productivity but there are still questions that remain: how can we make hybrid work, work.
Looking at the landscape, I see some businesses wanting and demanding staff to return full time to the office. It is as though the last few years of #wfh or hybrid work was an epic failure. Some managers are insisting on dusting off the cobwebs in the office with little thought or regards to the changed expectations of the workforce. To make matters worse, some workers are finding themselves returning to the office in a hot desk environment without all the equipment that they have been used to having in #wfh.
It is hardly an alluring proposition for employees. To remain an attractive employer and appeal to burgeoning talent, business leaders today need to meet employees where they are. This requires a mindset shift, including embracing technologies that can enable borderless collaboration and redefining traditional notions of productivity.
Belatedly, business leaders around the world are responding to phenomena like quiet quitting, the great resignation, and a total step change in employee expectations while balancing business outcomes in a fluid and unpredictable economy.
They say necessity is the mother of invention.
At the onset of the pandemic, we saw this to be true in how businesses transitioned entire workforces onto virtual platforms. Although the pandemic has largely passed, the force of today’s zeitgeist necessitates that businesses embrace hybrid and think seriously about establishing clear and detailed workplace strategies that champion employee experience in the long run.
We have seen that companies who push for a full return to the office have faced serious ramifications, and many companies have experienced severe backlash on social media for making such calls. I myself is seeing plenty of fallouts at the clients that I have dealings with.
There is no ’one-size-fits-all’ approach to the future of how and where we work. No two businesses are the same and by the same token, no two employees have the same expectations or needs to be fulfilled. However what businesses now do share is one universal truth – their employees want a hybrid model.
As more and more people experience the upsides of flexible work the more heavily it factors into the decision-making of if a job is “worth it”. For younger generations like Gen Z, there is simply no going back. In fact, Gen Z’s likelihood to engage with a company posting on LinkedIn if it mentions “flexibility” is far higher (77%) than Millennials (30%) and others on the platform.
Making hybrid work, work
Like so many business challenges, the solution(s) requires a leaders to ask tough questions, and listen to tougher answers. Without a genuine attempt to break the problem down into pieces and examining team needs, there is little hope of success. Especially when when dealing with an issue as complex as making hybrid work work.
Business and team leaders should consider what work should and could be done remotely versus what is needed in person. To get the most out of the hybrid model, business leaders should encourage an intentional culture for setting meetings by questioning whether meetings are really required when an email might suffice.
Acting in this way ensures that when meetings do happen, they are valuable and collaborative experiences. Particularly when it comes to in-person meetings which should be treated as team bonding opportunities and ways to problem solve and ideate. More fundamentally, meeting in person is one aspect of fostering a company cultural identity.
Technology is also central to ensuring the efficacy of the hybrid model. When hybrid meetings do happen, with a mix of physical and virtual participants, it is important for the right technology solutions to be in play to ensure all present voices, whether physical or virtual, feel heard and seen and are able to participate.
For hybrid to work, employees must have digital access to all the resources they need – data, Wi-Fi, applications, team channels, audio and video equipment etcetera, so that they have what they need no matter where they are.
It brings to mind the old joke reserved for helicopters, they are just a collection of parts flying in loose formation. Is that how you view your workforce? A collection of consciousness loosely making their way towards the same general direction?
Businesses that fail to implement technology exhaustively to create a highly productive hybrid workplace will fail to harness the opportunity of a truly empowered workforce.
Not all technology is created equal
Technology didn’t just help weather the pandemic storm; it reshaped itself for the pandemic. Today more innovative solutions exist released specifically for businesses and employees alike to optimise hybrid working across both physical and virtual environments.
Hybrid working has often been defined by an upsurge in virtual meetings. In fact, since February 2020, Microsoft reports that the average Teams user saw a 252% increase in their weekly meeting time and the number of weekly meetings has increased by 153%. Workforces need to be armed with the right technology solutions to meet the demands of hybrid work, solutions that empower productivity, individual ways of working and help to manage cognitive load on the brain.
Combined with the upsurge in meetings, hybrid working has proven that modern life poses an increasing subset of challenges in the environments where we are now taking calls and meetings outside of the office. From the background noise of road works, the buzz of a noisy café, or interruptive flatmates and family – working from home or on the go is not always as simple as it might seem. But for truly hybrid organisations today, audio issues can be a thing of the past.
Since the commencement of school year, I have participated in many meetings during a school run, or in the waiting room of an allied health professional. I have sat outside my son’s school whilst remoted into a client to resolve complex technical issues. My manager has embraced #wfh and accepts the my unstructured #wfh routine is what makes me so effective. In return for not needing to be tied to a desk, I can easily airdrop into meetings to help out other resources.
For employees, the onus falls on business leaders to better equip their workforces with the solutions they need to work effectively.
The EPOS research and development teams are working on solutions that are designed for hybrid workforces. Hybrid workers require versatile and dynamic collaboration solutions that can keep pace with working styles, and for business leaders, it means investing in solutions that can stand the test of time.
As part of any hybrid working strategy, business and IT decision-makers need to invest in technology and collaboration solutions that marry up to worker needs. Ultimately this means optimising performance and minimising sub-par audio experiences. With so many solutions on the market, decision-makers need to make sure they are investing in equipment that features future-proofing technologies like active noise cancellation or AI for enhanced voice pick up.
While it may be tempting to choose cheaper collaboration tools at a time where budgets are constrained, this is often a false economy – one that causes a drop in efficiency and risks equipment needing to be replaced quickly.
Re-defining what productivity means
In the pre-pandemic world, productivity felt definable. There simply was no question about where work could get done and how we could collaborate with colleagues. But the hybrid world is different, and in a changed world we cannot apply the same frameworks to codify how we work and live – the shift to hybrid necessitates a more expansive definition of productivity. Therefore, there is both a need and an opportunity for businesses to become more intentional by re-evaluating what productivity means and where and when it happens.
Businesses have now built high levels of trust with their employees and hybrid work models have boosted productivity and performance. By empowering employees through a truly hybrid model, one that entrusts employees to manage their time and ways of working using collaborative technology – new levels of productivity are made possible. But productivity isn’t just about getting as much as you can out of each day. It’s about achieving the work you have set out to accomplish.
The correlation between hybrid working and improved companies’ performance has been well documented, and it can sometimes be tempting to equate higher levels of employee activity with business success. But to adopt this thinking risks overlooking the factors conducive to longer-term innovation. Re-defining productivity in the hybrid era comes down to assessing individual business compromises between the following: individual wellbeing, work styles, business needs and the culture and social connections of an organization that can spur innovation.
Leading from the top
Redefining a company’s culture is a complex task. From a day-to-day perspective, it is important for business leaders to define a hybrid strategy that has clear and intentional tactics for employees creating greater balance between work and life and encouraging people to connect by coming together at physical sites to get the social and cultural interaction they crave.
In the longer-term, it also means investing in collaboration solutions that enable hybrid strategies to succeed, particularly as more and more businesses recruit talent across a more geographically diverse network. That’s why business leaders need to be intentional when it comes to equipping workforces with collaboration solutions for hybrid working, this means tailoring tech solutions to the specific requirements of a role as well as individual preference.
But despite the ways in which technology has changed the workplace, it is not a substitute for leadership and culture. Leaders today face the challenge of harnessing the capabilities of technology while retaining a sense of culture and community that can keep employees engaged and motivated for the long term.
Business leaders who can deliver on this type of hybrid strategy will be well positioned to secure future talent as it enters the workforce by offering flexible work, well-connected technology solutions and meaningful cultural experiences.