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COVID-19 and the future of the hybrid workplace

The pandemic turned everything we knew on its head, and while some sectors can return to how things were, the office will never be the same again. Being forced to work remotely opened the door for new ways of working. We already see a dramatic shift in the workplace, but the workplace transformation is far from finished. So, what should we expect as the workplace continues to evolve? What will the future hybrid workplace look like? Let’s take a look.

What is a hybrid workplace?

The idea of a hybrid workplace isn’t a new one. Even pre-pandemic, some businesses were using some form of hybrid working model to unlock a broader range of talent from freelancers and non-local employees. Advances in technology coinciding with an unprecedented need to work remotely have made hybrid working a widely adopted and simple way to manage working.

As the name might suggest, a hybrid workplace is a hybrid of traditional, in-office working and remote working. Most businesses prefer their workers to perform their duties in the office, while workers have had a taste of how simple remote working can be and the benefits it offers them. Hybrid working offers a compromise that works for both parties.

What hybrid workplace models are there?

There are many different ways of implementing a hybrid workplace. As we continue to evolve, the future of hybrid working is unclear. The model you choose now may not work in the long run, and maybe the perfect hybrid workplace model for your business hasn’t been established yet. For now, there’s no concrete answer on which is the “best” hybrid workplace model. It’s just a case of finding which model works for your organization. Currently, we are seeing several models that include:

  • True 50/50: Office workers split their time equally between remote and in-office working
  • Remote first: Organizations look to embrace remote working, with the option to work in-office a secondary concern.
  • Individual flexibility: Businesses empower their workers to choose what works best for them, regardless of their decision.
  • Fully remote: Everyone in the organization is required to work remotely. This allows businesses to reduce their outgoings by downsizing office space.

For an in-depth look at the different types of hybrid working models and examples of how businesses have made it work, see our previous article.

How COVID-19 has shaped and continues to shape workplaces

The past two years have been a confusing situation for companies. It seems that every time a plan is ready to go, the COVID-19 switches things up and puts us right back at square one.

Even the biggest businesses on the planet are struggling to adapt. Trying to build a return to work strategy has been extremely tough as new COVID variants, new government regulations, and employee feedback forces businesses to reassess their plans.

HSBC have required a small number of their staff to continue working in-office during the pandemic. They quickly implemented a desk booking system to help manage capacity and enforce social distancing. This allowed them to use the system’s analytics to identify patterns and understand why some workers were happy to return to the office.

As they uncovered employee reasoning for returning to the office, they were also able to uncover how employees could stay happy, motivated, and productive while working from home. HSBC’s US COO, Jennifer Strybel, noted, “Sometimes people are sitting at their kitchen table, and their computer is less than five feet away, and they have a hard time separating work from home.” Understanding how remote workers were feeling helped guide new policies, including a company-wide ban on Friday afternoon meetings to help employees wind down and reflect on their week.

Ultimately, Strybel understands that the future isn’t set in stone just yet. As such, she states, “We as an organization will continue to embrace flexible working.” The key word to focus on there is “flexible.” They’re not committing to return-to-office, remote or hybrid working. They are focusing on learning and adapting to the needs of their employees.

Demand for flexibility

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These forced periods of remote working uncovered something that no one expected: productivity can improve with remote work. This revelation naturally caused some workers to question why a return to the office was needed and opened up a discussion between employees and employers on the best way to work post-COVID.

The answer? Employees want flexibility.

A global survey conducted by the Boston Consulting Group found that 89% of respondents would work fully or partially remote if given a choice. While this highlights the importance of offering remote working options, it also highlights the need for flexibility, as not everyone is happy to continue working from home.

In a world where it’s impossible to please everyone, offering flexible working options is the perfect compromise.

Changes to the layout and space of physical office space

The future hybrid workplace means that organizations need to reassess how they use their office space. With hybrid work models, there will be fewer people working in the office at one time, leaving lots of wasted office space. Real-estate accounts for an enormous portion of a business’s expenses. Wasted office space equals wasted money.

As the way we work continues to evolve, so will the way we utilize office space. Implementing hot-desking and dedicating more space to social and collaborative spaces will help prevent wasted space and encourage people to come back into the office.

At this early stage, it’s important to make sure any layout changes are flexible to help manage future changes in the workplace.

Approach to mental help

You may be wondering why we’re choosing to go through all of this effort. Why not simply bring everyone back into the office and continue on like we used to? The traditional ways were working just fine, right?

It turns out that, no, everything was not fine. The pandemic has highlighted — and in some cases eliminated — some of the hidden struggles workers were facing. Workers have had a taste of how remote working can improve their lives by removing the daily commute and increasing the time they have to spend with friends and family. Simply forcing workers to completely give up those benefits and return to the office full time will only create unhappy workers, low employee retention rates, and a drop in productivity.

Discovering these previously hidden issues has also encouraged businesses to further their efforts to support those facing mental health issues. This comes at a pivotal point for businesses as Millennials and Gen-Z take a stand against unhealthy work practices. Younger generations are far more forthcoming about their mental health issues than previous generations, and they’re not afraid to leave a job that doesn’t fit in with their ideals.

A pre-pandemic study found that, despite a general feeling that workers cannot bring their mental health issues into the workplace, half of Millenials and 75% of Gen-Z had left roles for mental health reasons. After years of being told to leave your problems at the door when you come into work, we’re finally seeing companies switch their focus to actual mental health support. This is a step up from hanging “motivational” posters with weak platitudes like, “It’s okay to not be okay.”

Larger talent pools for recruitment

Businesses can take advantage of remote working now that they know it’s a viable option. Recruiters are no longer limited by location, and those offering remote positions are more likely to see a larger response from applicants than they usually would. This means that businesses can look to hire the right person for the job rather than settling for the best the local area has to offer.

The ability to widen your search radius is extremely advantageous given the current hiring climate. According to Vox, the ratio of open jobs to hires has never been higher, with 8.4 million unemployed potential workers and a record 10.9 million jobs open. Despite this, some qualified candidates are struggling to link up with recruiters.

Alongside the struggling recruitment landscape, workers realize their value and are no longer willing to settle for a local job with poor pay and zero benefits. There is also a lasting concern surrounding employee health, making it difficult for recruiters to find suitable talent. For these jobseekers, remote working offers a chance at a truly fulfilling job.

The pandemic may be coming to an end, but the changes to our workplace are only just starting.

Over the next few years, we will see the way we work continue to evolve in ways we may not be able to predict. To prepare, organizations must keep flexibility at the forefront of everything they do.

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With Smartway2, businesses can get ahead of the curve. Not only does our platform make office management simple, but it can also provide crucial analytics about how your team works so you can recognize patterns and make changes as you go. Request a demo today to see Smartway2 in action!

Daan Wonnink
Author

Daan Wonnink

Daan loves to be a pioneer and create new ideas. As a marketeer, he is always looking to gain new insights, validating these insights with data. He is driven by long-term vision.
Last updated February 21, 2022