As companies around the world continue to reopen, leaders are once again facing the challenge of creating a workspace that keeps business moving forward and accommodates the needs of employees. For many, that will be a blend of in-office and remote work – a hybrid approach for individuals, teams, and even entire functions or departments.
In fact, our latest Future of Work report, to be released in July, surveyed more than 2,000 senior executives globally about their post-pandemic work environment. The executives reported that post-pandemic they anticipate 27% of their workforce will utilize remote work, while another 29% will utilize a hybrid model, alternating between remote and a physical location. This tells us that remote or hybrid work will dominate the workplace of the future. And while this mode of working offers many benefits, it also comes with its own unique challenges from a culture and employee experience point of view.
Indeed, as Leagh Turner discussed with industry leaders and peers at the FORTUNE Global Forum in June (See the full video below), this transition has placed many companies in uncharted waters. If leaders are to navigate them successfully, the workplace must be designed with the human experience as the priority to create a space that works best for employees, not the organization. Here are four approaches to consider:
Hybrid means flexibility and choice. The pandemic accelerated a trend that was already underway: The rise of the worker. Gig economy, on-demand pay, and successful remote workforces are just some of the proof points that employees have more power – and deserve more trust and independence – than ever. Companies that fail to acknowledge this and respond accordingly are at risk of losing their people.
Over the last year, employees have established their own rhythms and habits around when and where they work. A hybrid work environment must embody and extend that same flexibility and choice. Find ways for teams to work together across times and locations, and continue leveraging technology to guide KPIs, with a focus on outcomes over inputs.
Stay focused on wellness. Overnight our personal well-being was pushed to the fore and has stayed there ever since – and expanded. Wellness was immediately defined in terms of physical and mental health. But we also learned quickly that financial health was increasingly at risk for many workers. Thankfully leaders are responding. Of those we surveyed, 44% plan to invest in technology to better support employee financial wellness, specifically on-demand pay. Companies need to continue to take this sort of holistic approach to wellness, supporting the employee, and by extension their families, across various areas of their lives.
Build in more diversity and inclusivity. Of the senior leaders surveyed, 71% agree they will hire more remote employees in the next two years, and 63% agreed they will hire outside of their country in the next two years. The idea of hiring people from anywhere in the world, many of whom won’t visit an office, was once inconceivable. Now, it’s the reality of the global talent ecosystem. Lean into that opportunity, draw from that global skill space, and utilize artificial intelligence to help build a more diverse organization.
The distance that was forced upon us during the pandemic has changed how we manage remote work, and technology has played a central role in making that possible. For example, the chat feature in video meetings gives everyone a voice that can be heard without having to be the loudest in the room. When the meeting ends, it ends for everyone, and no one is excluded from the sometimes-critical carry-over conversations that can happen with in-person meetings. Find ways to preserve that inclusivity.
As a final thought, there is an element of this world of post-pandemic work we need to name and codify:
Managing hybrid right. This is where equity, culture, and empathetic leadership will be crucial. How do we avoid inadvertently creating a culture of hybrid haves and have-nots? How do we make sure that employees who choose to stay fully virtual can do so without worrying if the lack of in-person face time will impact their career? Women carry the majority of the childcare responsibilities and the mental load for running a home. There is a good chance they will choose to remain virtual given the option. How will leaders ensure they aren’t unfairly impacted? Double down on support and training for managers and leaders and equip them with the new skills and tools needed to support their people in this new world of work.
Culture cannot run on autopilot, and it is not the sole purview of HR. Across the organization, managers and leaders at every level must creatively reinforce the company’s culture while sending a consistent message: Let’s do what’s best for you.