As organizations the world over are transitioning to what is hopefully the tail-end of the pandemic, questions abound on what the contours of this new workplace would look like.

A recent survey undertaken by health insurance company Cigna indicates "an increasing appetite to work from home among 52% of office-based workers in the UAE and KSA". The findings reveal that employees appreciate the flexibility, safety and cost savings that work from home offers. At the same time, they fear it could lead to overworking.

The downsides of the "always-on" remote working culture, according to the survey: excessive workload, higher screen time, less sleep and the general lack of a routine. People have complained about virtual meeting fatigue.

From a sustainability standpoint, back-to-office means re-starting commutes and increased pollution from vehicles, increasing imports to metropolitan cities, and heightening carbon footprints. On the hiring side, a return to the office limits companies' ability to hire talent from any location.

While there is no one formula that fits all, what is becoming clear is that it is critical for businesses to establish an effective workplace model that enhances both in-person and virtual collaboration, provides improved quality of life for employees, and encourages business growth.

How are companies approaching 'hybrid' now?

World over, there is more awareness now about giving employees the freedom to decide where and how they want to work. Different companies are approaching this differently, keeping in mind the unique requirements of the industry and the geographies they operate in.

Some have chosen to go completely remote. Some are taking cautious steps to provide a safe and open office space for employees to return to work confidently.

Some are using this as an opportunity to re-draw the contours of their operation - by opening spoke offices in smaller cities, where many of their employees returned during the worst days of the pandemic. Apart from allowing employees to continue to live in their hometowns, this shift of focus away from big cities also provides a larger talent pool to choose from for many global organizations.

Collaboration as the key to a successful hybrid workplace

Global connectivity has been critical in enabling remote and hybrid work and will continue to define the dynamic workplace. While technology has given us the ability to accomplish work efficiently, new and improved collaboration tools have only made this transition easier.

Cloud-based technology has enabled employees to work from anywhere and still have a sense of connection through online meetings, chat apps, and other collaboration tools.  Additionally, using integrated software has aided businesses in automating tasks that were previously done in person. Technology has been embraced by most businesses in some sense throughout the last year, and it's important that businesses think about how to harness these smart collaboration tools no matter what workplace model they choose.

While remote work, and even hybrid work, have created an uptick in individual productivity, there's no doubt that in-person collaboration has taken a hit. Businesses must take this into consideration when putting their hybrid/remote plans into place and remember that finding the right solution will take time. Think of this transition as similar to that of the transition from mainframe to the internet. This is where a centralized system went to distributed systems. It will be similar on a human level. It's important to listen to employee's needs, use tools that evolve with these changing models, and figure out the best way to connect to your employees.

Benefits of a hybrid workplace model

The hybrid work model blends the best of both worlds by giving employees the freedom of flexibility, while also catering to in-person collaboration and teamwork.

  • For small businesses, one of the biggest benefits of the hybrid approach is cost savings. By doing away with a large corporate office, companies can save money by opening smaller offices in more cost-effective areas or go remote completely.
  • By opening an office in areas where your employees live, hybrid work enhances employee satisfaction. Employees now have a better quality of life by living in more affordable regions, eliminating time-consuming commutes and promoting flexible work hours to fit their lifestyle.
  • Historically, talent has always moved towards opportunities (case in point: Our burgeoning cities), but with the shift of focus now, opportunities can go in search of talent - wherever they are available.
  • In some regions, this also throws open avenues for sustainable growth in towns and villages. Employee volunteering and participation can provide a welcome impetus to the development of local communities.

We now know - more than any past period in history - that work can be done from almost anywhere. So whether your company wants a full return to the office, full remote work, or a unique mix that's all your own, take inventory of how your business will grow in an ever-changing environment and economy, and note how that growth will directly impact the quality of life of your current and future employees.

By taking note of employee satisfaction while planning for unpredictable futures, businesses can establish a future workplace that is fluid and alive to ever-changing demands of the times.

© Opinion 2021

Any opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own

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