Making the optional office a new reality

The line between work and play is slowly disappearing due to restrictions on movement and social interaction during the COVID-19 global pandemic. For most, longer working hours have become the new norm, as employees work during hours previously used commuting to and from the office. Moreover, everyday technologies such as email and video conferencing platforms used for both professional and personal uses, are further blurring the boundaries.

According to Gartner’s 2021 Hybrid Work Employee Survey, the current virtualised work design models are damaging employees’ wellbeing and productivity. To succeed in a hybrid future, organisations need to stop trying to duplicate office-centric practices in a virtual setting and instead shift to a human-centric model. In the new era, the physical office is – and will continue to be – optional. 

With the heightened importance of employee wellbeing during this challenging time, we explore how technology and a collective change in mindset can help businesses cultivate healthier cultures in the long run, no matter where employees are based.

Global pandemic spotlights the importance of wellbeing

There are several issues that plague employee wellbeing, including always-on technologies fuelling 24/7 work expectations and heightening levels of stress. The Singapore Government has even issued a tripartite advisory on mental wellbeing at workplaces, outlining practical guidance on measures that employers can adopt to support their employees’ mental wellbeing. A more recent Study on Future Workplaces by the Monetary Authority of Singapore found that adopting technologies to streamline operations can allow employees to focus more on their wellbeing and increase work flexibility, helping industries prepare for the next pandemic.

With this in mind, businesses have redirected focus and resources to improving employee experience (EX) at home and at work. COVID-19 has shown leaders that there are many compelling business reasons to commit fully to employee wellbeing. For example, higher EX may translate to higher customer experience (CX), which in turn affects upsell and cross-sell potential. Marketing efforts can be heavily supplemented through employee advocacy, especially on social media platforms. Human resources teams have refocused on teambuilding exercises, regular catch-ups, and ensuring flexible feedback channels, especially in relation to remote work.

Bridging the tech-human chasm 

The next question becomes, can technology help businesses achieve this goal of employee wellbeing? For many years, there has been a misconception that technology will somehow replace certain job roles, rather than being seen as a tool to add value or fill existing gaps in the business. 

Ambitious business goals are often hampered by small, manual administrative tasks and time-consuming processes that ultimately get in the way of success. Business leaders must identify areas of inefficiency within the business caused by manual actions or processes, and prioritise automation. By doing this, they not only increase efficiency, but they also free up staff to focus on strategic, revenue-generating projects – in turn, impacting employee engagement, motivation and satisfaction levels.

Rather than viewing technology as a cost centre, businesses need to view technology as an enabler, especially facing an uncertain and ever-evolving business landscape. Consolidating core business functions and systems into a single, unified enterprise resource planning tool, for example, helps drive greater efficiency, improves visibility and leads to better, more informed decision making. Moreover, against the backdrop of a global pandemic, better decision making could be the difference between survival and extinction for businesses.

Cultivating a healthy team culture

Having been catapulted into the work from anywhere era by the global pandemic, top talent around the world now expects – even demands – flexibility in the workplace. However, with a distributed workforce, others are facing an increasing sense of social isolation. Growing tired of the new working model, some individuals are excited by the prospect of being able to enter a physical office and interact with their colleagues in person once again. With the new hybrid working models affecting employees in different ways, how would business leaders move forward effectively?

The answer lies in organisational culture. For businesses to truly succeed, it is not enough to look at capabilities or talent; the team must also be culturally healthy. Organisations typically neglect the overall health of their team – physically and especially mentally – because it isn’t quantifiable or measurable. However, by defining and communicating values and priorities clearly, business leaders can attain the competitive advantage that a “healthy” organisation has over “unhealthy” ones. Companies can start by building a trusted ecosystem focused on growth across all aspects of the business – be it growth in the customer or client base, growth in staff numbers, growth in revenue, personal growth of team members and professional growth of a department.

Culture can be a key differentiator in a crowded marketplace. With a healthy team culture within a technology-powered business, setting foot into the new working landscape does not need to feel like a giant leap. Instead, it is simply another step in the right direction for businesses to thrive in this new, on-demand digital world.