A changing workforce: the future is hybrid, but what do we need to do?

he world has awakened to the idea. We’ve all dealt with the surprising problems that had never been considered until the pandemic, however, now with a co-located workforce working in both the home and office again, there are more avenues to consider and problems to solve.

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As we move into a world that’s changed hugely due to a global pandemic, our working life has also clearly changed. Working from home is here to stay. Seeing videos of meetings gone wrong and embarrassing home situations was all quite new until the world went into lockdown, but now the idea of working is perfectly normal. The impact of this shift in thinking on the workplace has been felt across the globe.

The world has awakened to the idea. We’ve all dealt with the surprising problems that had never been considered until the pandemic, however, now with a co-located workforce working in both the home and office again, there are more avenues to consider and problems to solve. The pandemic allowed us to work in a new way and there are yet more significant – and ongoing – changes to how we manage our day-to-day working lives and with a wide range of opinions. Most recently, the CEO of WeWork stated that his own workers were less engaged with the organisation than if working home.

Employees’ needs are constantly evolving and ever varied, and it seems the hybrid workforce is now a staple in our working life. With this, there are many considerations that you should take into consideration as a leader. An office employee now has more responsibility taking the Children to school (not to mention the pick-up) – and they may be excited about the prospect though can adds extra stress. Understanding the pressures that come with working from home can help interactions with employees, it’s easy to forget quickly how working in a home environment can put staff under immense pressure, it’s certainly not all plain sailing.

If you implement a hybrid system, how will working from home be perceived by the rest of the office? This can cause anxiety – there has been plenty of negative attitudes towards the WFH model and general scepticism of ‘how much work is actually done’ and the fact staff will go unmonitored. Showing trust in your employees will give them confidence and reduce anxiety, ultimately contributing to better outcomes for the business.

Discussing the structure of your employees’ days with your staff, with genuine interest, promotes a balanced, flexible approach that will get the best out of your employees. Giving employees a chance to work from home shows the confidence and belief you have in your team as well as showing willingness to treat employees with deep consideration and respect. This is a healthy workplace and working environment. Finding out what your employees need is a positive step to embracing the new working world.

The flipside to this is if you don’t seek to manage these situations and show leadership, you risk losing good staff who enhance your organisation and help the bottom line. The work will get done if expectations are clear.

Another factor is Proximity bias. This is the idea that employees working in the office are more productive than those working from home, which is in large part due to seeing staff, in a physical sense, and therefore we ‘feel’ they are doing more work. However, this is not the case, and it is solely based on perception. The water cooler is but one testament to this. It is important to recognise that there are clear distractions in both workplaces and productivity varies from employee to employee. Enabling a fair and supportive workforce can alleviate such issues. It is simply a leader’s responsibility to ensure this.

All employees should be treated equally and the goals for each employee should be created with their personal situation in mind. The goal is to maximise efficiency to help your bottom line, guaranteeing a successful business with highly engaged staff. Facilitating these ideas with all employees can help staff reach an understanding of everyone’s individual preference and their situation outside of work, to help the situation inside the business.

Recognizing employees will also engage staff. This is not something new but with a hybrid team, there may be a tendency to give more credit to your on-site workers. Rarely is it about money or winning a prize, but more about how they are perceived by their peers and being publicly recognised will work. Motivation may wane under these conditions but it is a fact that health gives you three times better returns to shareholders. and as a leader, staying on top of this will bring your employees in while also improving productivity, and their mental health.

In any organisation, employees should be – and feel – a part of the organisation. Working in different locations brings with it many issues to overcome but with understanding and empathy, much can be achieved in this new type of workplace. With strategies to move beyond, your team can become a better whole and work better and more efficiently to support each other while also offering flexibility. From here, your organisation can be a benefactor of the trust you give as well as preventing the wide-ranging impacts of working from home that we have all faced in the last year although the hybrid workforce will be with us for many years to come. It’s a new world – so be the better part of it.

 By Dave Trendall

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