Enabling a successful hybrid work environment

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If the world of 2020 was in uncharted waters, the world of 2021 is taking formative steps to get back to some form of normality. The past year, organisational leaders have been struggling to cope with the dynamic changes in the work order. They had to deal with a complete remote workforce last year, but the post vaccination situation is still fluid and changing. 

The new normal

A recent Barco survey is a telltale sign indicating the keen interest of employees to return to their office workstations after confinement at their homes for more than a year. The survey report says that more than half (58%) of Asia-Pacific (APAC) respondents are ready to return to the office, while 75% expected to be back in the office by the end of June 2021. Employees want to work less from home than they did six months ago. 

Now industry leaders are facing an unusual work environment involving remote employees and in-office employees – what is popularly termed hybrid workforce.

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This has forced leaders and workplace performance teams to start preparing for a hybrid environment that is highly motivated and productive. The need of the hour is the coordination and cooperation of employees, where seamless collaboration over distance, and association between teams in a work room is an imperative for this to be successful. 

As workers return cautiously, observing social distance, following health check procedures, organisations implementing staggered hybrid workforce environments need to review barriers that may prevent true organisational success and productivity.

Major roadblocks posed by remote work
  • Hampered creativity – Brainstorming – traditionally a cradle of ideas where individuals interacted freely and spontaneously – is no longer an option in the remote work order. Online strategy sessions now require coordination and are sometimes hampered by unreliable internet connectivity. Creativity suffered and productivity with it.
  • Shortcomings in innovation – The successful and thriving workplace is an innovative, collaborative workplace. As humans, we are continuously looking for new stimuli, ideas, and significant ways to contribute. Unplanned interactions foster innovation; for example when talking with a co-worker, we see a problem or an idea in a different way or are inspired by an overheard conversation. These were not possible with remote work.
  • Lack of a shared purpose – According to research by the Society for Human Resource Management, 65% of businesses are having trouble maintaining employee morale. Remote working has disconnected employees from everyday events at work which affected morale in denying employees the feeling of shared purpose.
  • Increase in mental stress and health difficulties – Similarly, research has shown that due to the prolonged remote work, around 41.6% of respondents reported a mental health decline since the COVID-19 epidemic. Remote work increases feelings of isolation, of being disconnected, and loneliness, and has been linked to depression and other mental illnesses.
Adapting to the new normal

These hurdles associated with remote work boil down to one thing: a lack of genuine and meaningful connections between individuals. In a hybrid setting, two corporate cultures may form, one dominated by in-person workers and management who continue to profit from the good aspects of co-location and in-person collaboration, while the virtual workforce’s culture and social cohesion deteriorate. 

When this happens, remote workers might quickly feel isolated, disenfranchised, and unhappy, as a result of accidental behaviour in an organisation that failed to develop a consistent model of virtual and in-person work, as well as the skills to support it. The sense of belonging, shared purpose, and shared identity that motivates employees to do their best job vanishes. As a result, organisational performance suffers.

Here is a three-point checklist for leaders and workplace managers to note:

  • Put people at the heart of work redesign

    Begin with the people.

    In meetings, connected employees are interested, agile, totally involved, ultimately collaborative, and motivated.

    Hybrid meetings with in-person and remote attendees need to ensure all participants feel involved in every aspect of the meeting. The access to everything that is being presented and shared – including side discussions and conversations – make it more realistic and recreates the sensory environment of a physical meeting. As a result, participants, especially remote attendees, feel engaged and contribute significantly. 
  • Invest in the technology for your people

    All meetings cannot be considered equal. Employees have diverse needs and expectations for collaboration and meetings, so there is no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all solution.

    The variance in factors including generation, gender, department, and seniority means organisations must devise workplaces that allow this level of flexibility and enable their workers. Bring Your Own Meeting (BYOM) or Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) technologies are a necessity and may be your employees’ preferred choice of working as they are simple, seamless, and wireless; and improve the meeting experience.
  • Engage your employees

    As far as organisations and businesses are concerned, their people are the most valuable asset. Thus ensuring that employees are actively engaged in meetings is critical. People demand a more seamless transition between group and individual work in both physical and digital environments. This can ensure increased employee productivity levels.

In summary, we are all social beings, requiring social, emotional, and psychological cues and feedback in order to survive and to be creative problem solvers. This once-in-a-lifetime existential event has compelled us to alter the way we work, connect, and collaborate.

While technology meets an immediate need, it is still an underappreciated instrument for promoting and driving true innovation in a collaborative, communicative, and creative setting.

While going through a crisis is difficult for everyone, it has caused people and organisations to reflect on our common humanity and what we want to accomplish as a group. We can take this opportunity to reimagine and redesign a workplace that is more than simply a place to do work; it can also be a place where people can feel a revitalised sense of belonging, resilience, and purpose.