Forrester’s JP Gownder discusses the steps employers need to take to get the most out of the new world of hybrid working.
As employees across the UK and Ireland steadily make their way back to offices, it’s becoming increasingly clear that those workplaces won’t look like they did before Covid-19. Neither will the working style, technologies or management demands of the people within them.
Far from a return to business as usual, Forrester predicts that 70pc of companies will pivot to an office and remote work hybrid model in which at least some employees can work anywhere they want at least two days a week while spending the remaining days in an office. This is a model that even the most reluctant leaders need to embrace to capture an array of business benefits.
Lower talent attrition and better recruitment successes will be driven by the improved employee experience of hybrid work. For employees, offers of increased flexibility, autonomy and lessened commutes will prove an attractive draw. As a result, while the benefits of remote work may appear small at first, the compound effect will accrue over time.
And yet, jumping too quickly into remote work than your company is ready for can be just as damaging as not adjusting at all. While organisations adapted heroically in 2020 to support mass working from home, the results were uneven.
Well-run companies saw productivity gains but poorly run companies saw declines. The same will be true for hybrid work. Not all companies are ready to seize all the benefits of hybrid work immediately, but there are actions that leaders can take to determine both how ready they are and what areas require investment to fully support hybrid work.
Ask the right questions and ask them again
Which roles or functions are suited to remote work? What percentage of employees worked flexibly or remotely pre-pandemic? What percentage of employees could potentially work remotely long-term? What’s the relationship between knowledge and frontline workers? How will customers be impacted?”
These are some basic questions you need to be asking around your potential readiness. But be aware that answers to these questions might change over time or be impacted by environmental influences, so they need to be regularly revisited.
Also ask questions of your employees to assess how they are adapting to new tools, processes and values at work, and be prepared to spot signs of burnout, which is common among remote workers.
Encourage balance and connectivity
To drive a culture that supports hybrid work, you must reinforce key values. Employees must be individually able to adapt easily, enabling them to adopt new tools, processes and values at work. They must feel happy and proud to work for your company.
Burnout is common among remote workers, so companies need to focus on programmes that encourage balance, as well as investing in engagement and motivation programmes to keep teams connected and charged.
Align with your business goals
To gain the full extent of benefit from remote work, your business needs to align with the goals that will drive value in the first place.
Ask yourself how important goals relating to employee performance and retention, customer experience, ability to recruit the best talent, cutting office rental costs and securing business continuity are in the context of your business. Then ensure you have metrics in place to measure, track and understand them over time.
Invest in technology for remote work
For hybrid work, you need to reach a level of technological maturity around key tools, keeping employee experience front and centre.
Leaders should focus on collaboration tools, conference room technologies, cloud and software-as-a-service and security technologies to underpin successful distributed work.
Furthermore, employees must have access to personal technologies like laptops, webcams and 4G/5G to equip them for success.
Ultimately, assessing your readiness will be the start of a conversation among leaders and employees about the best path forward for a gradual return to offices. But it’s not a one-time event, more of an ongoing work in progress.
By JP Gownder
JP Gownder is vice-president and principal analyst at research and advisory company Forrester.