Remote May Not Be the Workplace Model of the Future
The pandemic has unleashed an unprecedented time of disruptive change in how, when and where we work. A major difference defining this moment is that employees are co-creating the workplace of the future versus one driven by the past.
While much of the discussion around the workplace has been about remote and physical workplaces, and whether hybrid workplaces — a combination of the two models — are really possible, there's also the question of whether hybrid will become the "destination" for enterprises, as some expect them to be, or whether they will merely be another step in the evolution of work.
The Future of Hybrid
According to Emily Klein, director of enterprise transformation at global IT company Capgemini, hybrid workplaces will continue to be part of the future, an evolving paradigm that fuses digital and physical workplaces, one that leverages an augmented workforce where companies increasingly adopt AI/VR technologies to spur greater innovation and productivity.
“We collectively don’t know the outcome of what this will look like yet, as this is a highly experiential time,” she said. “What we do know is that leading employers are fully embracing these changes, and with it, the opportunity to reshape what the workplace can be.”
Since the pandemic started, Klein said, company executives have been having more conversations about corporate cultures than ever before, evaluating how success has been incentivized and rewarded and discussing the steps to further invest in fluid, hybrid workplaces. Doing so offers greater autonomy, freedom and choice in where employees want to work on a daily basis.
It also enables companies to implement a more distributed leadership model that fosters more equal voices in problem-solving and decision-making about overall workplace experiences.
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Hybrid as the New Standard
For Michael Cupps, senior vice president of marketing at Argyle, Texas-based ActiveOps, hybrid will quickly evolve to become a standard HR benefit that employees will request — and demand.
"Coming out of the pandemic, the employees have leverage, and the Great Resignation/Reshuffle allows them to pick and choose. This will drive hybrid work to be a standard of leading companies seeking the best talent," he said.
In that scenario, however, operations and HR managers need to implement new control and measurement systems to provide visibility for managers and support their ability to forecast workload management and outcomes. The focus of performance management will also need to shift from time spent sitting at a desk to the quality and impact of the work itself.
All these systems will have to be developed in a manner that ensures a level playing field across the workforce, whether an employee is working remotely or in the office. By having everyone measured by the same standards, seamlessly and in real-time, this can also prevent the FOMO (fear of missing out) effect.
Regardless of the approach, there will certainly be interesting times ahead, and managers will need to learn new skills quickly to adapt and avoid losing top talent.
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Hybrid as a Destination
- Today's technology has made it possible for people to work from anywhere in the world.
- There is a growing trend — and greater demand — toward more flexible work arrangements.
- The traditional workplace is no longer as relevant or desirable as it once was.
The traditional workplace is based on the concept of having everyone gather in a fixed location, every day, to work together toward the same goal. It has long been viewed as the best way to drive productivity. Yet, employers have come to realize, with the COVID-19 pandemic, that employees can be as, if not more, productive when working from their "best location," wherever that may be in the world.
It's a win-win: employers can save money on office space and equipment, and employees enjoy greater flexibility in their work hours, thus boosting productivity and engagement.
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Overcoming the Downsides with Remote and Hybrid
Sara Cooper, chief people officer at Canadian company Jobber, said that although remote and hybrid have become workplace models, there are downsides to which companies need to pay close attention. For one, companies may want to address the lack of interaction between employees and managers because that can directly affect engagement, performance and retention.
Having dedicated people in employee experience and engagement roles can be a great way to keep abreast of issues developing, and many companies have already implemented the function. The role itself, Cooper said, is likely to become more standardized across the HR industry as best practices are established from early adopters.
Other issues to address include the investments made in employee mental health. HR leaders are increasingly engaging with their benefits providers to create new resources for employees. A popular one at the height of the pandemic was virtual access to mental health professionals — a practice that is likely to remain and even grow in popularity. More sophisticated organizations may also invest in mental health first aid training to help create an environment that can identify those employees who are struggling and direct them to the appropriate resources before the problem worsens.
Furthermore, providing employees with the flexibility to work from anywhere opens doors to a more global workforce. While an attractive concept, it also brings with it challenges around compensation equalization, communication and relationship building. Companies will need to create programs to address these challenges as well.
Companies that do not manage the transition successfully will be tempted to bring their employees back into the office. “We’ve seen this happen already, and I have no doubt that it will happen again," Cooper said. "These companies will likely have had difficulty facilitating creative work, measuring performance and finding ways for employees to have meaningful impact. [But] they may find themselves struggling to attract and retain talent depending on how they approach this return to the office.”
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The Future of Work Is Distributed
But there is more to the workplace than hybrid, remote or onsite work, said Matt Redler, CEO of Tampa, Fla.-based Panther. The future of work is distributed. This means that hybrid work is neither a destination nor a pit stop toward the future. Rather, it's one category of distributed work.
“In the future, yes, you'll see some teams that are working part-time in the office and part-time from home. You'll see teams that are fully remote,” he said. “But you'll also see teams that have different policies for each of their global offices. And you'll see teams that let some employees work fully remote, while requiring others to come into the office full-time.”
In other words, the future of work is not remote vs. hybrid. The future of work is distributed. And what's best for one company might not be the same for another.
One thing's for sure: the future of work is not the traditional office. Most teams will no longer be in the same location together all the time. How we approach this new way of working, however, will vary by company — and that may not a bad thing.