In recent times, there has been a lot of research done into the post-pandemic work practices. The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and advances in technology collided in a once-in-a-generation transformation of the workplace. The paradigm shift has been seismic and everyone is scrambling to adapt to the fall out. What many are seeing now, and there is little doubt that the divide is great, is business leaders and employees entrenched in opposing views of life and work and how the two should be intertwined.
Hybrid working is here to stay and, as such, businesses and employees must map out ways to make the uncharted new world of working practices, well, work. Because the change to hybrid has been both rapid and unplanned, what it looks like on a long-term basis is still in a state of evolution as it becomes more sophisticated in practical terms for businesses. Onboarding, HR disputes, Work Health & Safety, IT and systems capabilities, and staff well-being are all massive challenges for businesses with staff no longer in the office full-time, while staff have become more content with reduced commute costs and times, better work-life balances, and working in their slippers.
Leaders who struggle to embrace and adapt to the empowered workforce faces new global phenomena like “The Great Resignation” and “Quiet Quitting“. Further, macro-economic events such as the energy and cost-of-living crisis, and rising inflation, are acting as additional forces which influence the ways in which we view income and work. And we’re not even talking about the four-day work week movement.
The EPOS research report, “The Workplace of the Future“, was conducted in conjunction with Foresight Factory. The report explores how intentional planning can define a hybrid strategy that will be effective in the long term.
Businesses now have opportunities to reshape the future of work, to not only make the new world work but differentiate themselves in an evolving market. The key themes of researches remain familiar as it has since the onset of the pandemic:
- Hybrid work is her to stay
- Business must achieve “hybrid harmony”
- Work culture is evolving
- Employee wellbeing is top priority
- Culture of work has evolved
- Training for the future
The Hybrid Business World
I am currently working in many verticals across many entities. The conversations I have with clients generally start with, are you on-site or remote working? The answer affects my expectations on how to proceed because my own work is predominantly remote. But, overall, much of the people I liaise with are expecting to have the flexibility to work from home.
Research found that 38% of global hybrid workers say their biggest challenge is knowing when to work remotely and when to work in-person. For many businesses, the necessary structures for businesses and employees to best manage the evolution to hybrid working are not there, yet, which is leading to confusion and leaving ways of working open to interpretation.
The situation is reminiscent of cloud services. What are cloud services? Some decade and more on from the term being introduced into mainstream technology services, the definition is still as nebulous as ever.
It is the job of business leaders to balance employee interests with the success of the organisation, aligning everyone around the most impactful work.
Speaking on the matter, Satya Nadella, Chairman and CEO, Microsoft, says; “Thriving employees are what will give organisations a competitive advantage in today’s dynamic economic environment.”
An “intentional” approach to hybrid working begins with listening to the needs, wants and motivations of the workforce. Businesses need to think about the what (delivery), but also the who (employees) and their why.
Microsoft has coined the phenomenon “productivity paranoia” where, in the hybrid world, leaders fear that lost productivity is due to employees not working, even though hours worked, number of meetings, and other activity metrics have increased. In the Microsoft’s annual Work Trends Index Report, 81% of global employees say they are as productive or even more so compared to a year ago. However, over half (54%) of global leaders fear productivity has been negatively impacted since a shift to remote or hybrid working. Business leaders must pivot from worrying about whether employees are working enough to helping them focus on the work that’s most important.
A commitment to intentionally drive a positive, inclusive and effective hybrid culture has to be built on the voices and views of the workforce.
Shifts from traditional motivators
There was, until recently, a conversation about the cost of the transport like rail and fuel on salary. This has shifted to now being overshadowed by the increasing price of energy. This economic shift is redefining conversations about being able to afford to go to work.
“What’s happening now, and I’m sure we all appreciate this, with this cost-of-living crisis and energy crisis, so many people who are used to working from home, with the lovely hot sunshine in the summer, are now migrating back to the office because it’s cheaper for them to travel than it is to heat their homes.” Simon Thorpe, Managing Director, Expressions Partnership, UK.
Indeed, in Australia, similar can be said, where office buildings in summer offer the cool of air-conditioning and saving staff from having to cool their homes while working.
Trends in our hybrid world
In a post-pandemic world, the way the workforce see “work” is changing again. What was once a recruiter’s market is now an employee’s market.
The need for a salary remains the primary focus for many, but there is now far more “purpose behind the paycheck”. Work-life balance and job enjoyment are becoming just as important as paying the bills.
While 50% of global leaders say their company is planning a return to the office full-time within the next year, 52% of employees say they are considering a switch to remote or hybrid in the year ahead. It is likely that if the possibility to go hybrid doesn’t come from their current employer, they will find an employer who can offer it.
The doomsday clock is edging closer to midnight in the workplace, with a continued risk of The Great Resignation as people look for ways to find roles that give them the balance they need to be happy. Almost a third (30%) of people say they intend to change career paths to improve their overall happiness and over a quarter (27%) say they intend to retrain or go back to study to improve their overall happiness – meaning they aren’t just potentially going to move jobs, they could leave industries entirely.
The stress and strain of a life in lockdown, working from home, and separated from loved ones at a time of international crisis, left many feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope. As a result, wellbeing has become a key priority for many.
The awareness of our wellbeing remains a focus as life gets back to “normal”. Over half of workers (53%) globally say they are more likely to prioritise their health and wellbeing over work than before the pandemic.
Hybrid working, and specifically working from home, could lead to feelings of isolation. By ensuring the right technological solutions are in place, it can help employees feel and be more connected.
Research in USA, UK, Germany and Australia shows that around one fifth of workers believe their mental health has worsened in the last year. The feeling of burnout among employees, which reached new heights during the COVID-19 pandemic, is continuing as the pace of life and work accelerates. In fact, 36% of global employees say they have suffered burnout in the last 12 months from “working too hard.” This is a feeling that is greatest among Gen Z and Millennials. This has a very real impact on the stability of workforces, with a quarter (23%) of global employees saying they have taken a career break due to burnout.
“Corporate mental health policies have become more robust and more proactive. Wellness programs are paid for by companies, and this was rarely heard of before COVID – it might have been something your insurance company would provide or reimburse you for, but now companies are really proactive in saying, ‘hey, we offer you this subscription, we’d like you to participate in this program,’ so there is a general trend across all employers. This proactivity is much needed for folks that work hybrid or 100% remote, as mental health is a real challenge.” David Cook, Talent Acquisition Specialist, Lane Construction, USA
The role of the physical office has had to adapt to people working either remotely or on a hybrid basis. An emerging trend is for the office to be designed to be more flexible, feel more comfortable, and look more inviting. Workspaces are, in effect, being turned into a ‘second home’ for employees. Not only for the benefit of those who cannot work from home, but to encourage those who have the flexibility to choose to come in.
Research from the Foresight Factory has shown that globally, half of employees (50%) feel they miss time spent with colleagues in person now they can work remotely. But what is changing is that the time they do spend together isn’t just about collaborative working now. The office is fast becoming a place to socialise and build relationships.
Younger people are especially keen to use the office to establish themselves as part of their workplace community and feel more connected to their co-workers: younger generations are particularly looking to connect with senior leadership (78% of Gen Z and Millennials vs. 72% Gen X and older) and their direct managers in person (80% Gen Z and Millennials vs. 76% Gen X and older).
For decades I have personally been part of the digital revolution in homes and offices, but all of that seems to be child’s play as we move into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As we spend more time away from our desks and offices, our reliance on tech solutions is only set to increase.
Business leaders and IT decision makers need to ensure they are creating equitable workplaces – one that provides the same opportunities – and visibility – for remote and on-site employees. Technology will evolve from being a specific team of people, to in some degree being part of all our roles.
With a background in engineering, lifelong learning is a mantra that was drummed into me from Day 1.
Finding ways to grow and learn new skills was a big part of the social conversation during the height of COVID-19. Around the world, people of all ages are keen to keep learning. Of those working full-time, over 60% of people say they have a strong or moderate need to learn more.
As employees embrace a new “worth-it” equation, they’re increasingly turning to job-hopping, the creator economy, side hustles, and entrepreneurship to achieve their career goals.
This need for self-development translates directly to the workplace, with almost half (44%) of global employees who want to stay at their current company saying they want to progress or upskill for a new job at the same company.
A confident and united leadership team is fundamental to lead this change and future-focused companies are ensuring that digital leadership is dispersed throughout the business. This shift has led to a repositioning of the role of IT within the workplace.
In one of my early career roles, I was mentored to treat IT to be “at the core of the business, but not the core business”. What my manager meant was that we work as internal consultants to empower the organisation with technology that drives the organisation forward. Let’s be honest, I couldn’t stand the guy but he was very strategic and forward thinking.
What has traditionally treated as a cost center and a service department is now indispensable to a smart business.
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.
As employees will likely end up being split across different approaches and work locations, both between and even within companies, tech-based solutions are sought after to bring cohesion and collaboration to – and avoid feelings of exclusion in – desynchronised work environments.
It will be crucial to listen to employees needs and demands, particularly when it comes to technology and collaboration solutions. There is no one approach to hybrid work that will work for every organisation. To foster a long-term hybrid work strategy, businesses must reconsider what we know about office design, work culture and digital transformation. At the core of a connected and productive workforce lie communication and collaboration tools that allow teams to connect and work together effectively, regardless of time or location. Businesses need to tailor investment to match the function and needs of employees.
The scope of the digital leadership role within any organisation is going to change, and technology leaders will need to play a critical role in shaping
hybrid strategies. That’s why business leaders need to be intentional when it comes to equipping workforces with collaboration solutions for hybrid working.
The full report is available here.