“Has the Pandemic Transformed the Office Forever?”, wrote the New Yorker magazine in the beginning of 2021. The pandemic forced employees and employers around the world to embrace digital work models wherever possible. Now, as the “pre-pandemic” life comes back slowly, the future of work is highly discussed. Is it necessary that employees regularly go to the office? Is “remote work” becoming “the new normal”? How do organizations manage to build identity and ultimately loyalty with less face-to-face interactions?
With these questions on my mind, I participated at the World Class Workplace Transformation 2021 in Frankfurt. Exciting times! My first live event in 2021 and lots of interesting sessions and people to discuss with about the future of work. No matter if I was talking to representatives from large corporations or small organizations: It became obvious that everyone is trying to establish a sustainable model that offers flexibility to the employee and resilience to the organization.
Hybrid work could be the answer over the mid and long term. This requires an evolution in the way we lead and which role we will attribute to the office. We will have to rethink the physical workspace and assure a robust and standardized IT infrastructure.
In a recent study, Capgemini identified that over half of the employees feel burned out as a result of working remotely which has an impact on their engagement, satisfaction and productivity. Even though everyone is connected in a virtual manner it is not the same as being physically in the office. You cannot grab a coffee and sit with your colleagues on the terrace to chat about work (and sometimes life). Every appointment is a scheduled appointment. Can you be creative by pushing the creativity button? Organizations suffer from a lack of innovation as these random and coincident exchanges do not happen in an environment that is completely remote.
Hybrid work allows employees to work partly remote and partly in the office which could be an ideal scenario for both, employer, and employee. What is true for managing remote teams will also be true for hybrid work: Leaders need to adopt an agile leadership style that encourages autonomy, empathy, and transparency. A new work culture that is built on mutual trust and new collective rituals are needed. Employees will have to change their mindset as well. Do they require a personal desk and a parking space if they go to the office only 1-2 times per week? Hybrid work models include desk and office sharing. Organizations shifting to hybrid work will start to organize the office space differently.
Equipping employees with a laptop will not be sufficient to make the hybrid workforce ready for the future. An interesting concept I learnt about at the World Class Workplace Transformation 2021 is activity-based working. Work is split into different activity profiles: execution, focus time, innovation & development, planned meetings and spontaneous meetings. Through a questionnaire the activity profile is calculated for every employee. Adding in the number of days the employees are working from home results in a calculation of desks needed in the office for execution and focus time and collaborative spaces where planned or spontaneous meetings can happen. In addition, activity-based working foresees space for brainstorming and creative tasks in different teams.
In addition, robust IT infrastructure is needed to enable seamless hybrid working including a standard set-up at each desk in the office and the right tool to access devices and files remotely. It will take time for employers to come up with a set-up that is right for their organization.
And finally, the role of the physical workspace will need to be redefined. Hybrid work will require employers to reframe employee touchpoints, digitally and in the office. There is great opportunity in making the office a place that people love to go to and where successes are celebrated. Employees that have a feeling of purpose and belonging will come to the office. Not because they have to, but because they want to.
There are huge changes ahead of us and it can be perceived as a great challenge to figure out what is best and how to proceed. However, there is also a chance to change something for the better. What I would like to highlight is that as much as the employers and leaders are in charge, it is everyone’s responsibility to create the work environment and the work culture of the future. Without the contribution of every individual team member change cannot happen. And the future will be nothing without human interaction.
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