As organizations start to design post-pandemic workplaces, many are offering flexible remote working arrangements. This is creating to a hybrid environment, with some employees in the office and others working from home. A distributed workforce is bound to impact day-to-day operations, and leaders and their teams may need new habits and systems.
“In March, we all boarded a coronavirus time machine to the future,” says Jeff Schwartz, founding partner of Deloitte Consulting’s Future of Work practice and author of Work Disrupted: Opportunity, Resilience, and Growth in the Accelerated Future of Work. “The tools that would have taken five to 10 years to develop and launch took five weeks or even five days. Now as we think about what it means to go back to the office, we can’t use an old map to explore a new world. COVID has not been detour. It was an onramp to a new way of working.”
Maximizing success in a hybrid setting requires embracing practices that were accelerated during the pandemic, as well as developing new skills going forward.
Flexible working hours
Remote working merged our professional and personal life into one, and flexible hours became the way employees could adjust.
“We used to think we could have work life on one hand and our personal life on other,” says Schwartz. “During the COVID era, we saw the end of work/life balance as our personal and work lives became integrated.”
Employees will most likely want to keep the integration as we move into the future, which offers a better way of scheduling work, says Schwartz. Having the flexibility to move tasks around in order to deal with personal responsibilities will remain important.
Virtual management skills
“Last summer we were asking, ‘Who are the people that need to be in the office to do their jobs and how do we get them safely back?'” says Schwartz. “The question now given a year of working remotely is, ‘What are ways employees like to work and how do we understand their preferences?'”
Schwartz says workers will fit into new personas, such as a homesteader, office dweller, and coffee shop traveler, and managers will need to properly manage distributed teams.
“Find out from employee what works for them at this time in their life,” says Schwartz. “Some may value the social interaction of the office, while others may have kids learning from home and an ability to work remotely is important to them. But once kids are back in school, their preference may change. Managers need to know what workers want and be able to support them.”
Learning how to manage your time is an important skill when you’re working from home. In a hybrid environment, employees and managers need to set priorities hour by hour, day by day, and week by week, and structure their time to address the most important tasks.
“Worker productivity data rose during the third quarter of 2020 and one reason was that workers were taking advantage of flexible ways of working,” says Schwartz. “The challenge now is for managers to be clear on what it means to be productively engaged. Technology fatigue can happen in a virtual office, and an employee’s ability to set aside time for self care is more important in a hybrid environment. Not everyone may have created a home working environment that supports that.”
A redefined workplace
As more employees return to the workplace, employers need to determine what they need in the office and what they need to work in virtual ways. For example, if an employee is sitting in an office or cubicle to complete their work, they could have easily done the task at home.
“Many office tasks can be easily done at home,” says Schwartz. “When employees go back to office, campus or lab, leaders need to ask, ‘What should we do differently?'”
Since humans are social beings, the office will be a place to build relationships and engage, which requires more common spaces. “We need to be deliberate and look at how we move back and forth between virtual remote and physical environments,” says Schwartz.
During the pandemic, what became important was not what an employee was hired to do, but what they capable of doing, says Schwartz. For example, an engineer whose job was making complex automobiles was suddenly challenged with creating ventilators.
“There was a new need in the marketplace, and organizations needed people who had potential,” he says. “A job used to be your job description. And training gave you a way to follow a career ladder. COVID flipped that model on its head. COVID recovery will focus on the importance of creating work environments where potential is a valuable skill.”
Hybrid arrangements require that organizations reinvent their workplaces and employees expand their skills. “It’s like trying to work through a Rubik’s cube,” says Schwartz. “It’s not about going back to what we did before. It’s not a return; it’s a departure. It’s a back-to-the-future kind of story as we all figure out what’s next.”