The hybrid era of work: 5 strategic opportunities for HR

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The pandemic-driven work revolution has brought a lot of changes. One of the most consequential ones is the shift in people’s expectations of how, when and where they want to work. 

The trend towards creating more individualized workplaces is not a new phenomenon. It was in the making long before the pandemic (especially among tech companies and other innovative organizations). 

But it wasn’t until COVID-19 triggered the largest global remote work experiment that we began to see many more companies offering more customized work experience. They have begun to experiment with what we now call hybrid or flexible working. 

Is the hybrid model here to stay?

The hybrid model, which encapsulates, among other things, the mix of both onsite and remote work, is proving popular with: 

  • Companies – according to a TinyPulse survey of HR leaders, 62.8% see hybrid work as the most productive approach to their companies and as per Accenture’s findings, 63% of high-growth businesses work in a hybrid way.

Given this popularity, hybrid work is here to stay,  for the time being at the very least. This means our workplaces will need to adjust. And because HR departments will be in the driving seat of this transformation, they need to be one step ahead of the curve. 

To that end, we have identified five major consequences of hybrid work for our workplaces, which also present five golden opportunities for HR to make a positive lasting impact on their organizations as we enter the new era of work.

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Five ways hybrid work is changing the workplace 

#1. More emphasis on collaboration

When the pandemic struck and many employees were forced to switch from the on-site to remote setting, one of the first concerns was whether people would be able to collaborate remotely. But while we have now largely adjusted to this reality (with seemingly no negative impact on productivity), the issue of collaboration has not gone away. Three-quarters of CEOs (78%) say remote collaboration will be one of the most enduring trends to come out of the pandemic. 

One of the challenges going forward, however, will be to ensure that collaboration can effectively take place in not only remote environment alone but in both the on-site and remote settings at the same time. Having previously overseen the switch from the on-site to remote work due to COVID-19, HR is well-placed now to also take a leading role in helping companies shift towards hybrid working.

#2. The role of the office has shifted

Connected to the issue of collaboration is the changing role of the office. Pre-pandemic, the office served as the main (and oftentimes only) place of work and collaboration. Today, however, workers are more deliberate about how they spend their time in the physical workplace. In other words, to come to the office, people need a purpose and reason. Some choose to come to the office because their work can’t be done from home; others lack the necessary equipment, they long for social interaction, or they find it easier to collaborate with colleagues face-to-face. One way or another, workers no longer want to work from the office merely to be present. They now come to the office to be productive. 

This means the layout and purpose of the physical workspaces need to reflect these changes. In the hybrid era of work, office spaces should no longer be merely about providing dedicated full-time workstations for all employees, but should rather be more about facilitating collaboration, connection, and team-building. In essence, the office should help workers do what they do remotely even more effectively.

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#3. Creating emancipated workplaces 

More flexibility also means more ownership. Having learned to work more autonomously, many workers now resent the old-style, control-heavy (micro) management. While 86% of employees say they want to work for a company that prioritizes outcomes over output (i.e. they want their work to be measured by the added value they bring rather than the number of emails they send or hours they work), 70% of organizations are still not willing or able to match this expectation of more emancipated workplaces. 

This change calls for an overhaul of leadership and management style, and HR should drive this change.

#4. Resetting the work-life balance 

After a crisis such as COVID-19, people are bound to reconsider their priorities – both in their private and professional lives. That is why we’re currently witnessing what experts have dubbed the Great Resignation. As restrictions began to lift, many people came to the conclusion they expected more from life than the 9 to 5 grind. While resetting one’s work-life balance is but one of the many reasons why people are leaving their jobs, it is one of the more prominent explanations. To keep some of the recently acquired flexibility and freedom, many workers are prepared to go as far as to give up part of their pay in order to be able to continue working remotely. But hybrid work has also impacted non-office-based workers. Workers in the food industry, for instance, have also demanded more flexibility and benefits and companies such as McDonald’s are now offering child care and tuition to attract or retain employees. 

In the job-seekers’ labor market, companies will need to invest a lot more effort in helping their employees find a work-life balance that better suits their needs. 

#5. Multigenerational differences diverging

Younger workers, in particular younger Millennials and Gen Z’ers, struggle most with remote or hybrid ways of working. Not because they don’t have the digital skills to work remotely – after all, they are the most tech-savvy generations;  instead it’s because they have missed out on the office experience which allows them to interact more with co-workers and management, and learn by observing their colleagues. This has had a knock-on effect on their expectations and outlook for the future. 30% of young people expect to end up in a dead-end job and 34% feel ill-equipped to join the job market. As a result, young workers feel stuck between a rock and a hard place: most of them would like to take advantage of working in a hybrid way, but are worried about seeing their career stall unless they head back into an office. 

Going forward, HR departments will need to be more conscious of the diverging needs of their multigenerational workforces and will need to ensure their hybrid models reflect the demands of all their workers.

HR is helping companies chart a new path forward 

Many companies are flying blind into the hybrid era of work. But there’s one department that is able to help them see, at least where their employees are concerned: HR. And as these HR professionals begin to chart a new path forward for their organizations, they will need to carefully balance the interests of as many employees as possible (and in doing so, understand the changing nature of the world of work and employee needs). Only then will they be able to identify priorities and propose meaningful solutions. 

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