By: Jeremy Myerson
Now that the dust is beginning to settle on patterns of work after the global pandemic, there is a growing consensus that hybrid working is the way forward. This combines some office attendance with days working at home or in other spaces such as a local satellite or coworking venue. But what makes hybrid working successful and what are the pitfalls facing employers as they try and institute a new hybrid working policy?
How to create a successful hybrid work strategy, Jeremy Myerson
There are three cornerstones of a successful hybrid strategy: people, place and technology. The secret to hybrid working lies in getting the balance right between investment in each of these categories in order to provide a high-quality working experience.
Technology – enabling inclusion and home working
Rapid deployment of technology created the conditions for the hybrid model. But while digital tools are the great enablers, there is also growing recognition that technology can itself be a barrier to flexible new ways of working.
For every workplace study that highlights the productivity benefits of a seamless digital experience and the use of data to create a feedback loop for continuous improvement, another will share horror stories of frustration and time wasted due to poor equipment, faulty systems, and failure to upgrade physical settings and user protocols.
Technology for hybrid is not about tech for its own sake but about the impact on employee performance and wellbeing. After an initial honeymoon period in the pandemic, unprecedented access to digital tools in the home led to employee overwork and burnout. Now, as companies bring people back to the office as part of a hybrid model in which the home still features, there is a need for careful balance in terms of the quality of digital tools that companies provide, how they are used by employees and how they are deployed across a more distributed and diverse landscape of work.
Place – making the office a destination
Technology might enable working outside the workplace, but the office still continues to play an important role in worker’s lives. Companies should repurpose their office space to avoid the ‘hybrid hell’ of an ocean of empty desks that nobody wants or uses. But how far they switch to social and collaborative space depends on what the company does – it is all a question of balance.
Hybrid means more choice in how and where people work. So, the office ‘place’ must become a destination that people choose to go to. Mandating people back to the office has not been effective. A better strategy is to create a superior workplace experience through great design and helpful amenities that acts as a magnet.
There is growing evidence that people want space for privacy, focus and video calls in the new hybrid office as well as for face to-face collaboration and socialising. Even pre-pandemic, workers often complained being unable to concentrate in open-plan offices. Two years of working in splendid isolation at home has only emphasised the potential distractions caused by other people.
What is not in doubt is the drive by companies to relocate in high-quality, greener buildings that support health and wellbeing. In addition, research from Japan suggests that productivity might improve when using a diverse range of workplaces rather than a more binary home/office setup.This supports an argument for a more polycentric approach to workplace strategy, with multiple places to work on offer at all times.
People – listening to feedback and creating wellbeing
It’s one thing to transform your office and update your technology, but if you’re not listening to what your employees say they need, then you aren’t providing a good hybrid experience. Companies should work with their employees in a transparent and open way to collect the data needed to inform the hybrid decision-making process. This is not an exact science, it is based on trial and error, and constant feedback is important.
Many organisations are already mapping their customer experiences in great detail, but they have yet to place the same emphasis on their own employees’ hybrid working experience. This must change. The more you know about how your employees tick, the easier it becomes to allocate the right roles to the right people and smooth the transition to hybrid. Lack of trust between managers, who tend to think hybrid can happen seamlessly, and employees, who often feel under pressure and under-valued, is currently undermining many businesses.
The pandemic interrupted normal lines of communication. Trust needs to be rebuilt from the ground up and it is of the paramount importance that employee wellbeing is a key consideration in any decisions around implementing hybrid.
‘Hybrid heaven’ can be achieved when the three cornerstones of hybrid working – people, place and technology – are working in harmony with each other. Lose focus on any one of them and the hybrid model can quickly start to unravel.
Jeremy Myerson is Director of WORKTECH Academy, Professor Emeritus in Design at the Royal College of Art and the co-author with Philip Ross of Unworking: the Reinvention of the Modern Office (Reaktion Books 2022)
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