Companies that refuse to be flexible when it comes to work models, or that excel at managing their flexibility, might be doomed to failure. That might sound harsh, but it’s the reality of today’s business environment.
While human resources and operational executives—as well as workers themselves—have been talking about the importance of flexibility and work-life balance for years, the concept has taken on a new meaning and higher level of significance since the pandemic forced an upheaval in the way people work.
For many organizations, the hybrid work concept is here to stay. The key to success with this model is effectively managing the flexible workplace to enable the company and its employees to thrive.
Today, many companies are still adapting to the return of employees to the office as more and more people get vaccinated and become comfortable with the idea of working with others again. Management is learning about the need to give employees the option to work in the corporate office when they need to or work remotely.
Suppose they don’t provide flexibility and threaten to fire employees for not working at headquarters full-time. In that case, they risk losing vital skills and experience at a time when good labor is getting more challenging (and expensive) to come by. Even if employees stick around, their productivity is likely to decline along with their work satisfaction. And attracting talent to a company that lacks workplace flexibility will be extremely difficult.
Recent polls show that employees are returning to the office in more significant numbers now, mainly white-collar workers. This development is largely a good thing as most people don’t want to work strictly from home; they want options. Gallup’s State of the Workforce study provided strong reasons for employers to consider bringing remote workers back to the office in a hybrid fashion. The study polled more than 9,000 American workers and found 54% of employees who work at least part of the time remotely say they would ideally like to split their time between working at home and in the office. Not having to commute, the flexibility to balance work and personal obligations, and improved well-being are the top reasons for preferring remote work.
HYBRID WORK BEST PRACTICES
One of the best practices for managing flexibility in the workplace is empowering employees to communicate and collaborate. People want to feel they are part of the team, regardless of where they are working.
Giving people access to information about where their colleagues are working on a given day (or even part of a day) can streamline communications, cut down on misunderstandings, and help boost productivity.
Online meetings have been a staple of the work-from-home (WFH) model, enabling continuous collaboration even during a time of workplace turmoil. But in the hybrid work model, such meetings only go well if everyone who needs to be part of them can attend. Companies need to make sure they have their collaboration technology set up so key participants can access the meeting when it starts and contribute.
Although management will have a much better handle on corporate facilities than on employees’ remote workspaces, they also need to make sure people have what they need to work from home. That includes devices, software, networking, security, and other components, as well as services to help people set up and maintain their home-based IT infrastructure.
Getting regular employee feedback is also crucial for success in this new work environment. Management needs to know how people feel about working in the company office, how many days of the week they would prefer to work there or remotely, and their comfort level with attending meetings in person.
Perhaps most importantly, managers need to ask for feedback about what’s working well and not. Then they need to use the input from employees to make improvements wherever possible. It might be due to the current office configuration, safety protocols, the equipment provided to remote workers, the policies for workplace behavior, or other elements.
Regardless, the sentiments of the workforce are crucial to getting flexible work right. Armed with real-life workplace metrics, companies can make decisions that result in higher employee retention and increased productivity.
One additional good practice that management should not overlook is training. Much of this flexible work model is still new to everyone. Employees might need to learn new skills, new processes, and new technologies. By investing in quality training programs, companies can avoid problems down the road that can lead to lost productivity or abrupt resignations.
And senior-level managers should not be exempt from these learning programs. Arguably, they need them more than anyone because people will be expecting them to take the lead on how to function well in this new environment.
The pandemic changed the way people think about work. The so-called “great resignation” is a reflection in part of how people feel about being forced back into the office. Executives need to grasp the idea that hybrid, flexible work models are here to stay.
Carl Oliveri is the CRO of Robin, the first workplace platform that puts people before places.