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“Work from Anywhere” is here - for decades, progressive firms permitted and encouraged remote work. But their positive experience with it was immediately questioned elsewhere; hardly any conservative company dared to implement the concept. Today, remote and hybrid work are business as usual – and it generally works for those that can do it. Productivity has increased, many colleagues are happy to no longer spend up to two hours a day commuting – and in the end, the new system makes both sides happier: supervisors and employees. Yet, it’s important to talk to people and find out what their needs are. The office will always be there for those who need it. But those who prefer to work from home should be allowed to do so, even after the pandemic.
Addressing the challenges of hybrid working – this is top of the priority list for a lot of HR professionals this year, and indeed, for organisations as a whole. So how do you address challenges around isolation, collaboration, employee burnout and wellbeing. Organisations do need to set boundaries and guidelines as part of their hybrid working policies, but these need to be set differently than before.
In this context, it is important to first take a closer look at flexible working arrangements. There is an ongoing debate that reduced working hours make workers happier and doesn’t harm productivity. What sounds too good to be true and has been touted for years has now been examined more closely for the first time by a number of companies, including Microsoft. In Japan, 2,300 employees of the software giant were given every Friday off for a month, with full pay. The result was significant, in that although working hours fell by 20%, productivity rose by 40%.
I am not suggesting everyone moves to a four-day week, but we do need greater flexibility in employment arrangements. Sure, permanent employees in a corporate office are important for a functioning organisation. But this doesn’t apply to every job and every workforce - spatially de-limited work pools also mean you have access to more talent – and that talent has certain demands on working hours, types, and benefits.
Talent Management: Caring Over Managing – There is a significant transition happening in the way leaders and managers need to manage and lead their teams. As one of my colleagues often says, most organisations are over-managed and under-lead! A 2021 study by Indeed, examined the impact of the pandemic on employees’ mental well-being, and came up with shocking results: More than half (52%) of respondents are feeling burned out and more than two-thirds (67%) believe the feeling has worsened over the course of the pandemic. According to Indeed, those who work virtually are more likely to say burnout has worsened over the course of the pandemic (38%) than are those working on site (28%).
While HR professionals in 2021 were still primarily considering what tools they needed to provide and connect their virtual employees, priorities have now shifted: Their work is now much more about the topics of resilience, psychological stability, and safety. Where the natural distance is greater, the effort must also be intensified to enable participation, increase visibility, and establish equality. HR can lead the way here with initiatives, incentives, appropriate points of contact and more education.
Don’t drop your focus on quality and performance - in the end, the hybrid world of work is increasingly about quality focus. You don’t necessarily need more people, more digital support teams, more training offerings, or more products created as a result. What you need is a better working culture, better people, better digital infrastructure, better data, better-aligned training, and ultimately a better business outcome.
HR has a key role to play in all of this, and in responding to some of the trends highlighted above; and in getting the most out of this powerful lever for productivity in the hybrid world of work.