What is your company view: continue to work remotely or go back to the office? Many businesses appear polarised. Pinterest has recently paid $90m to end a new lease obligation in favour of a more distributed workforce while CEO of Netflix Reed Hastings pans homeworking, saying that he does not see ‘any positives’ at all. The reality is that a third way is emerging. In this hybrid model, businesses are looking to combine the best of both worlds with employees spending part of their time in the office and the rest working virtually, depending on the tasks that they need to fulfil.
The hybrid model is a desirable one – according to a global study of 8,000 workers this May by Adecco Group, 74% think such a mix is the best way forward, and there are a host of benefits. It allows teams to be together a few days a week in the office and collaborate on projects, brainstorm ideas, meet clients, mentor new recruits and, of course, socialise at the end of the day. Teams then get to spend the rest of the week working where and when they choose, whether that’s from home or a third place such as a neighbourhood office, hotel or coffee shop.
Achieving a successful hybrid model does require significant change to workplace design, operating processes and the provision of technology in order to create the seamless, omnichannel working environment that employees and clients need for the long term. A new generation of meeting rooms is emerging, with plug-and-play access to Zoom and Microsoft Teams and furniture and lighting layouts more compatible to multi-locational discussions and team collaboration. And as the hybrid way of working becomes established employees will expect instant interaction with virtual colleagues without having to book a time for a chat on Zoom. The model also raises questions of corporate responsibility, such as a business’s role in covering the cost of workers’ office spaces at home, their liability for protecting those working remotely, and rules governing at-home surveillance of employees.
Defining the ideal mix of office and remote working is a live debate. Stanford University economics professor and expert in remote work Nicholas Bloom has proposed that, after the pandemic, working from home between one and three days a week would be the optimal balance, to ease the stress of commuting and create space for focussed work. His research also emphasises the importance of choice and letting employees define their own agile work schedules.
Delivering an efficient, agile workplace is not about reverting to business as usual with some people working from home. It has financial, operational and cultural implications that cannot be ignored.
So where should you start?
The key is to put your people at the heart of your agile strategy. If they are not motivated by new ways of working and see no benefit to them, they will walk. Here is a checklist of questions which will be on the minds of your employees during this period of seismic change:
1. Is the shift to agile working going to strengthen the culture of our business and do I feel informed, inspired, motivated, valued and trusted?
2. Is this still a great place to work and do business, both physically and virtually, for me, my team and our customers?
3. Do I have all the tools I need to do my job well; interact with team members and exceed customer expectations, whether working in the office or remotely?
Answer these three questions and you have the basis of a successful agile strategy.