The impending return to office has been a point of media attention and employer-employee contention. Understandably so—when COVID-19 availed the conditions for a global experiment, the positives and negatives of at-home working became clear quickly. The initial pride of ‘pulling it off’ led industry giants like JP Morgan and Facebook to announce bullish plans toward full-time remote work, shedding company real estate in the first months of the pandemic. But after eighteen months of trial and error, the answer is becoming more and more clear: there are important benefits to both.
Gaining popularity, the hybrid approach to WFH comes with meaningful promises. It’s the path that nine out of ten post-COVID employers have picked. Perhaps the most important promise is the opportunity for professionals to balance corporate work with kin work; as young and aging family members remain in need of support, maintaining a standard of flexibility in regards to schedule and location is a crucial part in achieving an equitable recovery within the workforce.
The Physical Office
Ideally, the backbone of the physical office will give the perfect form to that flexibility, supplementing the corporate must-haves that get left behind with at-home work. Having a space to relate, create, and collaborate has proved crucial to visionary functioning. Onboarding employees in a physical space, and allowing organic mentor relationships to be the result of coffee-breaks or in-office lunches; these are things we would be remiss to leave behind.
In theory, a hybrid strategy is the intuitive solution—the freedom of home, and the connection of the office. But in practice, achieving a true best of both worlds might be harder than we think. What’s more, the consequences could be far greater than employers are imagining; the term ‘the big quit’ has popularized since more than half of workers have reportedly thought of leaving a position that didn’t offer some version of remote working. Getting this right is imperative for employers and employees alike; below are a few important areas of focus for realizing the full power of the hybrid workplace.
The Post-COVID Balancing Act—A Communication Project
The first key to optimizing the hybrid strategy will be opening the channels of communication between team members, team leads, managers, and employers. Currently, the term ‘hybrid workplace’ is being used as if ‘hybrid’ is a destination, or a final state that can be arrived at all at once. In truth, a hybrid strategy will be a constant balancing act. One that requires honest feedback on the part of employees, and key performance indicators on the part of team leads and employers. Researchers at McKinsey & Co found that among the more productive companies, hybrid plans were more likely to be reconsidered and tweaked, while less-productive companies show no signs of evolving and/or reconsidering their working process. Establishing those channels of communication and those conditions for success will be a crucial part of implementing long-term hybrid success.
A Place and A Time
Three important questions will be at the core of hybrid-work productivity: when, where, and why. With proper attention turned toward those answers, productivity will increase exponentially. It will be that exponential efficiency that makes the whole of hybrid working add up to more than the sum of its parts.
The struggle will come when the answers are different. A software programmer might find the quiet of night the perfect setting for deep, uninterrupted work, and prefer to have their mornings empty and their afternoons full of meetings to accommodate that preference. Working parents might prefer to stack all their in-person appearances during one day of the week. Others might crave the normalcy (and the quiet) of designated office space.
The ability of team leads to identify and then coordinate those preferences will be the success of the hybrid approach. It will be the individual who knows how they work best. Compromises will certainly need to be made. But the more a team can cater to the strengths of its individual members, the better. When employees are given the chance to speak up for when they prefer to do which tasks, where they’re best done, and why, they’re more likely to be both more productive and more fulfilled within their role; a hidden benefit of a hybrid approach that shouldn’t be overlooked.
A Tech-First Approach To Bridging The Gap
With proper communication and skilled task scheduling, teams will begin to operate with more efficiency. But that efficiency is lost if employers aren’t able to bridge the gap between their in-office and at-home teams. To this end, technology is by far the best answer we have. Video conferencing technologies need to be seamless; the quickest way to ruin a presentation, or stagnate a meeting, is to be unable to support the contributions of virtual participants. Luckily, it’s never been easier to integrate intuitive and cost-effective technology. File sharing, cloud collaborating, and video conferencing should be seamless. And this should be a top priority for employers who are looking to win and retain post-COVID talent.
In conclusion, everything gets better when the individual professional is empowered to contribute to their fullest extent. The role becomes more fulfilling, the employer sees increased productivity and engagement, and the company begins to benefit. Slowly, on a larger scale, a real recovery will begin. All of this begins with honesty, openness, and encouragement. Employees should be given the space, time, and freedom to explore the hybrid structure that best works for them. They should then come together with their teams and work on integrating that schedule to maximize the time and space for collaboration. Those solutions should then be supported by the employer, along with the technological investments that they require. The end product should be nothing short of a win-win.
About Zain Jaffer
Zain Jaffer is a tech entrepreneur and CEO of Zain Ventures. Zain is an active investor and mentor, engaging with startups at an early stage in the span of their journey.