By Paul Sleath, CEO of PEO Worldwide
Working 9–5: what a way to make a living. Well, maybe not anymore…
The workplace, as we once knew it, is going through a paradigm shift. What was once a rigid, primarily in-office model has now become altogether more flexible and remote.
Although droplets of this new way of working were already starting to trickle through pre-2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the working-from-home movement — changing the workplace dramatically in the space of months, not years.
But as government restrictions start to ease and the economy opens up again, what will the world of work look like post-pandemic?
A matter of choice
Preparing for the return to the office won’t be a seamless transition. In fact, ‘the office’ may never be the same again.
Businesses across many different industries have proven that they can, in most cases, do the working-from-home thing very successfully. But although remote working has caught on more quickly than many anticipated, companies had no other choice over the past year. Now, they do. Which means employers will have some complex questions to consider as they lay their pathway out of the pandemic…
Some employees will prefer the comfort of home, whereas others enjoy the buzz of an office setting and the boundaries of a commute. According to a recent global study by Slack, 72% of works would prefer a mix of remote and office work — with the remainder split evenly between wanting to work exclusively from home or exclusively from the office. As a result, we’re likely to see many organisations take an increasingly hybrid approach going forward.
However, this approach is not without challenges, and employers need to consider how a hybrid model will impact communications and processes. Companies will also need to find a new balance of how employees use the office and why.
Finding the right balance
There’s a lot of talk about offices becoming meeting hubs — a place to come together — rather than traditional workspaces. But for staff members hoping to work exclusively from the office, this creates a problem.
Privacy was often an issue in the workplace. Although open floorplans can offer an enhanced team experience, noise and lack of privacy can be detrimental to workplace productivity. And now that workers have become accustomed to greater privacy at home, they’ll want to maintain it in the office.
People typically also prefer having their own allocated desk space, but this may no longer be practical for all workers if they’re only in the office 50% of the time. As such, organisations will need to utilise space effectively around employee and team schedules — striking the right balance between open/private and individual/group spaces.
While working from home, many employees around the world have also found that their home environments provide better environmental adjustability and comfort, as well as access to the outdoors. Employers will, therefore, have to work harder to establish how their offices and workplace policies can support employee health and wellbeing.
Managing cross-country working
Fortunately, global businesses already have a leg up when it comes to hybrid working — they are hybrid by nature. And most international companies will be accustomed to hosting meetings where some employees are physically in the room while others appear on a screen.
But given the increasing demand for choice, how can organisations manage cross-country working situations where not all workers have the same level of choice? For example, although a company may have operations in multiple jurisdictions, it may have just one physical office — the HQ — meaning only employees based in that location will be able to visit the office regularly.
Digital interactions don’t offer the same emotional connection as in-person ones. As a result, remote workers could be at a disadvantage compared to their colleagues who frequently visit the office and develop stronger relationships. International businesses, therefore, need to be hyper-aware of the nuances in relationships and seek opportunities to maintain a consistent culture and build connections between teammates no matter where they are in the world.