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The next big change for businesses is Hybrid Working – Are you ready?

The year 2020 changed work forever, impacting every person and business across the globe. Now, with widespread vaccinations in sight, many argue that we’re on the brink of a disruption as great as last year’s sudden shift to remote work: the move to hybrid — a blended model where some employees return to the workplace and others continue to work from home.

We know two things for sure: flexible work is here to stay, and the talent landscape has fundamentally shifted.

Remote work has created new job opportunities for some, offered more family time, and provided options for whether or when to commute. But there are new challenges ahead. Teams have become more siloed and digital exhaustion is a real and unsustainable threat. The opportunity now is to build on what we’ve learned over the past 12 months to create a workplace where everyone can thrive.

Many business leaders now argue that with over 40 percent of the global workforce considering leaving their employer this year, a thoughtful approach to hybrid work is critical for leaders looking to attract and retain diverse talent.

Flexible work is here to stay

Employees want the best of both worlds: 73 percent of workers surveyed want flexible remote work options to continue, while at the same time, 67 percent are craving more in-person time with their teams. To prepare, 66 percent of business decision makers are considering redesigning physical spaces to better accommodate hybrid work environments.

The data is clear. Extreme flexibility and hybrid work will define the post-pandemic workplace. Employees want control of where, when, and how they work, and expect businesses to provide options. The decisions business leaders make in the coming months to enable flexible work will impact everything from culture and innovation to how organizations attract and retain top talent.

Create a plan to empower people for extreme flexibility

The decisions leaders make today will impact your organization for years to come — from how you shape culture, to how you attract and retain talent, to how you respond to changes in the environment and future innovation. It’s a moment that requires a clear vision. Every organization will need a plan that puts people at the centre and encompasses policy, physical space, and technology.

It starts with answering critical questions: How are people doing and what do they need? Who will be able to work remotely? Who will need to come into the office, and for what amount of time? When people do focused work, where will they do it? What about collaborative work? In a world where ongoing disruption is part of the new normal. Leaders need to be prepared to respond to sudden changes.

Codify the answers to these questions to formulate a plan to empower people for extreme flexibility, then provide guidance to employees as you experiment and learn.

Many organizations have already stepped forward with strong stances on flexible work. And at Microsoft, we’re starting our journey, too. This month we’re beginning our transition to hybrid work at our headquarters in Redmond, Washington.

Invest in space and technology to bridge the physical and digital worlds

We can no longer rely solely on offices to collaborate, connect, and build social capital. But physical space will still be important. We’re social animals and we want to get together, bounce ideas off one another, and experience the energy of in-person events. Moving forward, office space needs to bridge the physical and digital worlds to meet the unique needs of every team — and even specific roles.

Most organizations will require a mix of collaboration, meeting, and focus space, in addition to spaces that encourage informal social interactions. Gale Moutrey, Vice President of Workplace Innovation at Steelcase, says the company’s research shows that — second only to proper safety measures — workers expect a post-pandemic office to be a compelling and energetic space that creates a sense of community they can’t get working from home. Many companies will also need space set aside for focused work. “If workers can’t get both of these things by commuting into the office, there’s going to be a gravitational pull to work from home, because on the surface, it just seems easier,” Moutrey says.

Office space no longer stops at the office. It extends to thinking about work from home. Our research shows many people are still without the basic supplies and adequate internet connection to be successful working from home. Moving forward, companies will need to take more responsibility for employee home offices. This will be essential to making remote workers feel included — particularly for those who are early in career, and those with fewer resources.

“Along with physical spaces, organizations need to invest in technology that enables people to fully participate from home, in the office, on the go, and from the manufacturing floor. This includes creating inclusive meetings experiences where everyone can contribute regardless of location. Our vision at Microsoft includes changes to meeting room layouts with the addition of multiple screens to create dynamic views of participants, chat, whiteboards, content, and notes. We’ll also enhance in-room technologies to help remote workers track and participate in the flow of the meeting,” says Jared Spataro.

In addition, “moderators and facilitators will be more important in managing remote people and making sure that they get included,” Dr. Sean Rintel advises. “The moderator’s job is to be the remote person’s advocate and proxy in the room, helping them come in on difficult topics, making sure that they seamlessly integrate into and out of workflows.” Moderators will help ensure that each meeting participant feels included and able to participate as equally as their in-person colleagues.

Overall Conclusion

The choices leaders make in this next phase of hybrid work will impact an organization’s ability to compete for the best talent, drive creativity and innovation, and create an inclusive work environment for years to come. It will require a significant mental shift to rewire your operating model to meet new employee expectations.

Successful organizations will embrace an experimental, agile approach. As George Anders of LinkedIn says, “Be ready to build a new plan — not just once, but maybe two, three, four times. What worked for your people and business in April may not be the same as November.” And as the research reveals new insights on how work is changing, Anders believes the best business owners will “keep realigning the balance between caution and enthusiasm, which is bound to waver over the course of 2021.”

There’s no doubt that challenge and uncertainty lie ahead. But this moment also offers leaders a powerful opportunity to unlock new ways to achieve everything from wellbeing and work-life balance to an inclusive and authentic company culture — and experience better business outcomes along the way.

Here at DISConsulting we believe that if we embrace extreme flexibility, follow data insights, and continue listening closely to employee needs, together we can create a better future of work for everyone.

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