Embrace, adapt, renovate and innovate. You had just begun to get used to ‘living and working with covid,’ and now as our economies start to reopen, it’s time to make that move again. Are you ready to return to work or have you decided to choose hybrid- juggle between your home office and the boardroom?
Whether you choose to stick to the old or adapt to the new, whatever you choose, being prepared for it is half the battle.
“The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes. … The systems that fail are those that rely on the permanency of human nature, and not on its growth and development.”Oscar Wilde
Don’t be shocked! Be Prepared!
Businesses that were better prepared for a natural calamity fared better than those that had no emergency protocols in place. According to research conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST); out of 1300 Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) 76 % implemented some adaptation/coping strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic and 66 % implemented natural disaster resilience planning in the past (pre-COVID-19), of which 23 % note use of natural disaster resilience actions to address COVID-19.
While remote work came as a shock to many, natural disaster preparedness such as telework readiness helped others to cope better.
As you prepare to return to the office or to some sort of normalcy, understanding how you can best operate in a post-covid work environment is your first step into the unknown.
Wisdom to step into the unknown
The covid-19 pandemic has offered enough evidence to debunk myths that make businesses rigid and less efficient. It’s time to debunk myths such as “You can’t trust employees if you can’t see them.”
Businesses need to be ‘composable’ in order to succeed in the post-covid age of digital transformation. What is a composable business, you may ask? Well, according to Gartner, a composable business means “creating an organization made from interchangeable building blocks, that can scale up or down or swap out, according to the context.”
Put simply, focus on your workforce, their productivity and the their method of work.
Now ask yourself, how can you structure your business to thrive in a post-pandemic world?
Safety and wellbeing
As leaders it is important to understand your responsibility towards your employees, they must feel comfortable and safe to transition back to the workplace. What are some of the measures that you can take to ensure maximum safety and productivity?
Plan to mitigate risks at workplace- Automatic Contact Tracing confined to your workplace can help provide privacy and identify risks of exposure quickly. Introduce automation to help you better manage the safety of your employees.
Plan a phased return– To think that the existing remote work strategy will work for a hybrid workforce is naive. Remote work strategy came into play as an exception until we would return to “business as usual”.
However, the post-covid workplace will never be ‘business as usual’. When things do go back to normal, nearly half the employees will want to work remotely, at least for some time post-pandemic. According to the Second Annual National Remote Working Survey, over 95% of workers now favour some form of remote working, with fewer than 5% wanting a full-time return to the office.
Therefore, a hybrid workforce needs a new model defined by data and a people-first approach. Plan a return-to-workplace plan by site, type of job, and assess the risks that may arise at each worksite.
Determine who needs to return to the worksite- According to PwC US CFO Pulse Survey, 54% of the CFOs plan to make remote work a permanent option for roles that allow it. Ensure that your return to work plan addresses the needs of those who will work from office, or remotely on a temporary or indefinite basis.
Ensure Mental wellbeing- Leaders can play a huge role in the wellbeing of others in their organisation. Some leaders may unknowingly diminish employee wellbeing resulting in a lack of motivation and poor productivity. Key signs and signals of mental distress can be missed when one is not physically present with employees, therefore leaders need to evolve their skillset of managing people remotely and being able to identify when an employee/colleague is struggling. Leaders must be trained in identifying signs of struggle such as social withdrawal, poor performance and know when to refer an employee to a professional.
Remote work has had its pros and cons, but a hybrid workforce strategy requires an overall strategy that puts people first.
The pandemic has given businesses an opportunity to reassess traditional processes, and foster growth and productivity through change, adaptability and flexibility.
Contrary to the popular pre-covid belief that employees are less productive outside the office, remote workers have reported high performance and have gone above and beyond to deliver results. (Gartner)
Leaders and managers need to change their narrative from whether employees can be productive to what you need to provide for them to be productive. Commitment of a) resources b) skills support c) managerial support, will help employees succeed. According to Gartner, “70% of businesses are allowing employees to bring home work equipment, and 58% have supplied new hardware.”
What can you do?
- Automate, accelerate your moves to digital – Ask yourself, what processes stand in the way of operating efficiently? Improve or replace those processes. Adopt technologies and processes that enable your employees to be more productive.
- Consider how and where people work – a hybrid workforce plan is your chance to evaluate your real estate footprint. “Consider what might be permanent or will last for another year- will you have reduced worksite capacities and an increased number of permanently remote positions? Use data driven insights to pinpoint where you can reduce costs.”
- Training is essential- Plan and provide training on new safety measures for returning workers. Incorporate virtual training for remote workers who are in for the long haul. Expect problems and be prepared to offer solutions.
Hybrid for Culture and D&I
There is no right or wrong when it comes to experimenting. The Covid-19 pandemic is an opportunity for businesses to do away with the old, bring in the new and improve. Debatable as it is, a hybrid workforce model won’t hamper corporate culture.
“The first step towards success is taken when you refuse to be captive to the environment in which you first find yourself.”
Change begins with mindset, limitations only inhibit growth.
Will remote working dilute corporate culture? The truth is that “Culture itself isn’t constant, it adapts to dynamics in the organization” Cultural values are subject to change; lead that change with an open hybrid workforce mindset.
Significant cultural values in resilient organisations that don’t relate to physical locations are: Collaboration, agility and trust. Cultures must be viewed as ‘dynamic and co-owned by leaders’.
Diversity and inclusion (D&I)
Employees feel disconnected from their colleagues while working remotely, this stems fears that colleagues separated by design will undermine diversity, equity and inclusion.
The truth is, regardless of a hybrid model the imperative must be to target “unconscious bias in talent recruitment, development and performance management processes and demonstrate inclusion and equity.
Whether it’s a traditional workforce model or hybrid, organisations need to be committed and intentional about D&I initiatives.
A notable fact is that employees provided with flexible work options are more likely to bring their authentic selves to the workplace, this will certainly improve engagement and performance.
What can you do:
- “Ensure everyone is heard in a virtual meeting.
- Assign work impartially and review how work is assigned.
- Listen to the employees – ask employee groups what they need from you as a leader or from the organization to feel connected and heard.
- Identify new practices, from flexible work schedules to additional hardware or software for differing needs.”
All that you need to get started is a set of clear and concise guidelines, clarity for both the employer and employee.
Communication is Key
If you’re thinking of modifying your remote working model to devise a new hybrid workforce model, unfortunately, you’re not on the right track.
Hybrid workforce model goes far beyond remote work. In a hybrid model, communicating clear concise goals is key. Employers and employees agree that business objectives – the goal of achieving the highest levels of productivity and engagement — are what determine where, when and by whom the work gets done.
Leaders need to provide multiple channels of communication and must train employees to use them effectively. Internal channels i.e., phone, chat (IM), collaboration, video meetings, video conferencing, email and face to face; save time, resources and foster collaboration leading to productivity.
Conclusion: Ebbs and Flows
For any model to work successfully, the employer and the employee must be in agreement. For the Hybrid model to work, organisations need to identify the tasks that can be done remotely, and then work with employees to understand their preferences and needs.
For those who want to work remotely, provide the resources they need. Set expectations around what they can do anywhere, when and why do they need to come to the office, and how often will they be expected to do so.
Mobilize a transition office focused on return to the workplace to deliver on all aspects of the plan: workforce, customers, workplace needs, health and safety, and revenue and cost modelling, among other areas.
Like all other matters of life, sometimes everything flows perfectly and takes us closer to our hopes and dreams, and sometimes it flows away. In periods of flow, life is easy and full of meaning and movement, the ebbs exist to deroute, examine what’s not working, improve, or replace.
“Sometimes the end is just the beginning.”