Historically, organizations around the world have been unenthusiastic about letting their employees work remotely on a full-time basis. Although there are several studies that prove the efficacy of work from home stating that it enhances productivity and employee satisfaction, only a handful of employees have been able to reap the benefits of working remotely. With an increased focus on maintaining productivity, companies have been reluctant to shift to a work from home setting. Also, organizations feel proud to have a prime office space in cybercities, urban centers etc. In fact, the employees also take pride in commuting to fancy offices every day.
Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on remote working
The COVID-19 pandemic has indeed taken the world by storm, forcing people to move to a work from home scenario almost overnight. Organizations were prompted to shift to flexible work models in order to adjust with the pandemic-induced situations. In the last ten months, the world has witnessed a seismic shift in the way people view work and their workplaces. That’s what we now call the ‘new normal’.
With new work from home trends becoming a reality, it is imperative to understand the ‘next normal’ – the remote working trends and the future of work in 2021. While several organizations have considered and implemented the model of remote working in pre-pandemic times, the last ten months have made businesses realize that it is indeed possible to run businesses remotely. A report by BCG states that employees surveyed (in US, Germany and India) stated that they have been as productive during the pandemic as they were in pre-pandemic times.
Having said that, it is a fact that technology can never fully replace in-person interactions. Remote interactions lack that essence of flavour and impact that in-person interactions carry. Certain business functions such as retail sales can’t be carried out remotely and they are most efficient when done face-to-face. This highlights that the future of work will be a blend of working from office and remote working – a hybrid workplace.
Future of work is hybrid
As the acceptance of remote working continues to increase, it is expected that the future of work will be hybrid in nature. Of course, the ‘traditional office’ won’t retire, but it will indeed transform into a workplace where people divide their time in order to work from both home and office. Keeping that in mind, organizations must re-purpose their offices/workspaces so as to adjust to this new arrangement of work. Going forward, companies across the world will have to focus their tech spends on the right technologies that enable AI-driven high-quality video conferencing, helping virtual meetings feel as real as possible etc.
Organizations are concentrating on providing their employees with the best workplace collaboration tools that can help them reduce distractions and increase productivity. In 2021, many companies will start paying attention to the final outcome rather than focusing on the number of hours worked or the location.
Work from home during the lockdowns has had its own set of pros and cons. Employees as well as the employers have expressed a mixed reaction towards it. Organizations must incorporate the right strategies and rules that can help their employees strike the right balance between work and personal life. Employees are looking forward to work with companies that have transparent and flexible work environment. Sitting on office desks is now a thing of the past. Now employees prefer to work from any location – fueling the trend of ‘work from anywhere’ and ‘working anytime’.
A hybrid workplace model
A workplace model that supports both working from office and home is known as a hybrid workplace model, allowing employees to work from anywhere. The model also allows flexibility in terms of numbers of hours of working at a stretch – where employees have the freedom to choose the hours they want to work, unlike the traditional 9 to 5 working hours. This allows the employees to schedule and manage work around their personal lives, ensuring a work-life balance. A study conducted in May by Stanford (SIEPR) reveals that at least 55% of employees would prefer to work in a hybrid setting. According to Alicia Tung, an employment expert, in China it is predicted that in 10 years, the split of onsite and remote work will be 60/40.
The coronavirus pandemic has indeed accelerated the formulation of hybrid organizations. At the moment, organizations across the world are managing their businesses in varied ways. A majority of them have allowed their employees to continue working from home until at least 2021 while others have recalled their workforce in staggered groups. Companies are letting individual workers decide their preferred location for working.
Companies are now beginning to think long term, including the formation of alternative ways of work communication, working hours at both home and office etc. According to Marco Minervini, an organisational design researcher at business school INSEAD in Singapore, amidst the ongoing uncertainty, companies are beginning to build different models of hybrid working that blends both office and remote work.
Ideally, a hybrid working model is a combination of best of the both worlds – flexibility and freedom on one hand, and sociability and structure on the other hand. The procedure for going hybrid is to first designate specific working days for in-person meetings and interactions, and remaining days for remote work involving focus time for individual tasks. This model grants employees more autonomy to fashion their work around their lives, rather than planning their weekday lives around office logged-in hours. With this workplace model, the future of work will be more flexible.
Benefits of a hybrid workplace
- Freedom to work from any location
- Health and safety standards can be maintained easily
- Increased focus on outcome-based work instead of hour-based
- Increase in employee confidence
- Flexibility to hire the right talent from anywhere across the globe
- Reduction in infrastructure and operational cost
Disadvantages of a hybrid workplace
- It can potentially magnify the gender gap (as women are expected to take up the responsibility of house chores)
- Teams which are partially distributed usually face communication problems
- Risk of teams getting divided into two groups – office goers and those at home (in-group and out-group)
- Some people might not be able to adjust to this type of working model (Majorly those who appreciate a fixed routine)
- Reduced collaboration and increased conflict due to in-group and out-group dynamics
Hybrid working in a post-COVID-19 world
According to multiple surveys conducted by BCG, it has been revealed that neither employers nor employees are interested in following the pre-pandemic work models. Hopefully, the pandemic will subside one day, but by then it will be too late for companies to start redesigning new workplace models. Organizations with a farsighted vision have commenced capturing this opportunity to place them at better positions in a post-COVID-19 world. There are several ways to make hybrid working helpful rather than harmful:
- The entire team must try to be in the office on the same days so as to avoid any divisions in the team.
- Leaders must aim for equalization, with equal face time as all other employees.
- Leaders must be aware of the harmful effects of in-group dynamics.
- It is important to have increased consistency and clarity on procedures to avoid conflict.
- Dividing an employee’s time efficiently (also known as modularization), where tasks are bifurcated according to the type of work. Some tasks that can be done independently without requiring other colleagues can be taken up at home and the rest which require frequent collaboration can be completed in the office.
- Companies must understand that in a hybrid workplace, it is not necessary that employees work at the same hours, and at same pace all the time.
The silver lining in the coronavirus pandemic is that it has prompted organizations around the world to explore new ways of doing things. It has pushed companies to adjust to remote working and further to hybrid working. In the future, when the vaccine helps us overcome this pandemic, the key learnings from this year will continue to shape our ways of working. Hybrid work is expected to become the most prominent trend of 2021. Even though there are various challenges with new workplace models, there are various opportunities also associated with it. To make this a model a success, it is crucial to build a strong culture, offer flexible working locations and invest in technology that enables workplace collaboration.