How businesses organise and support their workforces has been moving through profound change. The pandemic has forced business leaders to totally re-think their organisations and re-draw their digital transformation roadmaps. As we enter the post-pandemic era, workplaces that have radically altered will be transformed into new working spaces, with work itself also changing to fit this brave new world.
Before the pandemic, how work was organised was already changing. However, the right to flexible working meant a shift was taking place where traditional working patterns were being swept away replaced by hybrid approaches to work. Indeed, according to the Owl Labs report into the future of work, 66% of business leaders are redesigning their office spaces to support hybrid working, with nearly three-quarters (73%) of their staff wanting flexible working to become permanent.
Kurt DelBene, Executive Vice President, Microsoft, says: “With our hybrid workplace model, we will provide employees an exceptional place to work, create greater collaboration and community for over 160,000 people who work at Microsoft, and showcase an example of the modern workplace that is both flexible and hybrid.”
A more individual approach to work and the space it occupies was reiterated by Alan Price, CEO of BrightHR, who told Silicon UK: “The fundamental components of a post-COVID workplace is something that will be very much individual to each business. What I see the general themes as being, however, is a strong move to flexibility in working patterns and location, a rejuvenated focus on HR and wellbeing offerings, as well as new ways of interacting with colleagues and clients.”
The adage that work is something you do and not a place you go to is more apt today than ever. As a result, businesses are redesigning their processes and how their workers fit into this strategy.
According to findings from the 2021 Work Trend Index, 40% of the global workforce is considering leaving their employer this year. Therefore, a thoughtful approach to hybrid work is critical for leaders looking to attract and retain diverse talent.
In addition, the report warns: “Last year’s move to remote work boosted feelings of inclusion with everyone working in the same virtual room. The move to hybrid will break that mold and there will be a new and important objective to a) ensure that employees are given the flexibility to work when and where they want, and b) to give everyone the tools they need to equally contribute from anywhere.”
However, according to NTT, less than half of employees (45%) of businesses feel their employees have the tools they need to be productive. In addition, results are stronger among those that have defined and agreed on their future workplace strategy (52.4%) than those that have not (37.2%).
Speaking to Silicon UK, Romanie Thomas, CEO and founder, Juggle Jobs, says: “The critical aspect of a post-COVID workplace is giving professionals the autonomy to define and ‘own’ their ways of working. One of the key learnings for business over the past year is that flexible working doesn’t mean less productive employees – in fact research suggests it’s entirely the opposite. When people find their careers most rewarding, they master flexibility, and they become what I call, ‘flexperts.’”
Lucy Minton, Co-founder and COO of managed office platform Kitt, also points out that tailored working arrangements will be the future of work: “We are seeing a migration from a one size fits all design to a focus on personalised, tailored spaces that ultimately facilitate collaboration.”
Minton continued: “As we slowly return back to the office, businesses are looking create a space that embodies their company culture, prioritising social interactions above simply the workspace. A lot of our clients typically only use 20-30% of their offices for fixed desk space, so as we return it is a great chance for businesses to have fun with their layout and create multipurpose areas that can be used for an all-hands meeting, one-to-one catch ups or a happy hour the next.”
In a rush to support remote mass working, the technology stacks put in place were in many cases lacking integration and robust security. Workers were also asked to use systems and applications they had no previous experience using in their day-to-day tasks. Enterprises need to ensure they have a fully integrated tech stack to support permanent remote working.
Businesses do understand they have to invest, with 70% of respondents to the Owl Labs report stating they intend to increase their spending on IT infrastructure with 64% also acknowledging they will also have to spend more on training and education to ensure comprehensive ROI on this spending.
The use of ‘hot desking’ may have fallen out of fashion until the pandemic but now offers the levels of flexibility a hybrid workforce needs to support them. Collaborative spaces that meld the physical with digital channels – all integrated into an efficient whole – will become the norm for many workforces. Here’s it’s essential to pay attention to what came to be called ‘Zoom fatigue’ as the number of virtual meetings exploded as the pandemic took hold. Post-pandemic, digital channels need to be rationalised and placed within the context of hybrid work.
Alex Louth, CEO at Logicalis UK&I, explained to Silicon UK: “Companies have the freedom to determine what hybrid working means for them based on their business, customer, and employee’ needs. How they deliver hybrid working to their workforces will be crucial. To maintain high levels of productivity and engagement, regardless of where they are working, businesses must deliver secure, fast and accessible technology for their teams. If not, problematic IT can lower employee productivity by up to 40%. Partnering with an experienced services provider allows businesses to leave the complicated and expensive IT challenges in the hands of experts, while leaders and teams focus on their day-to-day responsibilities.”
With Lydia Kothmeier is Vice President of Operations at enterprise CMS Storyblok, also outlining how a new workforce strategy means connecting tech with its users in unprecedented ways. “The best companies have always invested in creating tailored environments to attract top talent. One of the reasons tech has led the way with employee perks is because it is such a competitive market. Indeed, Storyblok was founded as a fully remote company to attract the best and most diverse talent from across the world.
“The shift we may be seeing due to the pandemic is an economy-wide raising of worker expectations – especially regarding flexible working. Some businesses may find that if they have rigid office-only working practices, they will struggle to attract the best people. However, flexible working is just one of a whole host of programs companies can and should offer. Additional education, training and tailored home office equipment will create happier and consequently more productive workers.”
As we move out of the pandemic, the significant risk for businesses is how their employees see their working environments. Microsoft found that 41% of the global workforce is likely to consider leaving their current job if their employers aren’t proactively developing their approach to structured work. Simply offering remote work isn’t enough.
Work is multifaceted, with many elements that need to be integrated together. NTT found that 86% of organisations say the future workplace will be designed around employee enablement. A hybrid approach is certain to become the norm, but so too will be more inclusive working and a rationalisation of the digital tools and virtual spaces workers will use.
Tom Helliwell, Regional Principal of Workplace Strategy and Change Management at Unispace.
Based in London, Tom leads the strategy discipline across Unispace EMEA and is vastly experienced in workplace strategy and change management. Having worked on multi-scale projects across many sectors, his expertise lies within articulating and translating client aspirations and business objectives into unique working environments, responding to the individual culture and values of our clients.
What are the fundamental components of a post-COVID workplace?
“The fundamental components of a post-COVID workplace are flexibility and variety, but this will mean different things to each business.
Ultimately, decisions on the workplace will be determined by the role that the office will play in a business moving forward – is it going to be somewhere people must be or want to be? So there is a real need for companies to get to grips with understanding their workforce’s needs and what value the workplace holds within their organisation.
Regardless of the answer to those questions, the workplace must be inclusive of everyone – including employees that are not physically there. Therefore, tech solutions to hybrid working must facilitate the employees working in and out of the office, to ensure its suitable for a growing proportion of the workforce.”
Has the pandemic reinforced the idea that work is something you do, not a place you visit?
“The pandemic has definitely reinforced that for most, work is an activity and not a place. But, on the other hand, we’ve demonstrated that we’ve got the tools, connectivity and understanding to work outside the office day in and day out.
This has probably been the most telling for industries that previously struggled to consider remote working as an option – but it’s worked, and now there is an acknowledgement that work can be done outside the traditional ‘workplace’ environment.
Also, this change brings an interesting shift: the influence is now from employees who can choose whether to go in or not and because of that, workplaces have to work harder to get their subscribers. If the workplace isn’t offering something personal or unique, employees simply won’t use it.”
Are businesses being challenged to define what hybrid working is and how they deliver this to their workforces?
“Businesses are being challenged to define what hybrid working is, but there isn’t yet a clear, universally agreed answer. It’s a work in progress, and all businesses must trial, adapt and evolve as time goes on, with immediate, medium- and long-term solutions requiring implementation at different points.
With regards to the flexibility aspect of hybrid working, businesses can still choose to set parameters for employees, for example, a percentage of time per week spent in the workplace; however, if employers try to keep too much control over the workforce by implementing too many guidelines, then the policy immediately becomes inflexible.”
Are we focusing too much on the technical aspects of work (how digital tools are delivered and used), forgetting the mental and physical effects that the massive changes to work have bought to employees?
“The focus needs to be people-first, above all. Businesses need to understand the experience that they want to create, and then find the technical solutions to bring it to life. If any technical solutions are implemented, research needs to be conducted first, and only if the tools allow employees to better perform their jobs should they be put into place.”
Is it a mistake to believe all employees want a remote, flexible working structure? Is ‘hybrid working’ also about balancing and integrating these groups into an effective workforce that can deliver the enterprise’s stated goals?
“Not all employees want the same thing. Flexible, by its definition, means that it varies between different situations, and it won’t mean the same for everyone. For some, flexibility will mean never coming into the office, for others, it might mean working from home once a week, and being in the workplace for the rest of the week. Employers need to decide culturally and functionally what works for both the business and its people. No business’ goals are the exact same, so it’s important for employers to not be swayed by others’ decisions.”