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The Future of Work is Hybrid

Khair Ull Nissa Sheikh(Executive Director at World Trade Center) - April 18, 2021 - - 0 |
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The Future of Work is Hybrid

The future belongs to the ‘Hybrid Work Model’

The COVID-19 pandemic state of affairs has changed the way we work and commute, in our day-to-day lives, on a global scale.

While there was already a degree of acceptance, about the practicality of working from home, prior to the pandemic, the favorable reaction now by governments and large corporations has accelerated this trend considerably.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, almost overnight millions of people were asked to stay at home, for safety reasons, avoid commuting, practice physical distancing, and work from home.

Many had never worked from home in the past, but a sizeable number were already experienced in this regard. Most people were grateful to be able to keep their jobs while working from home.

During the peak COVID-19 pandemic days, many realized that working from home is both a safe and productive option.

We overcame less-than-ideal WFH setups and adapted our lives to the rapidly evolving new normal. These times presented a challenge for even seasoned WFH workers because they were not just working from home, but were doing so in a packed household during a pandemic. Still, people managed to be productive and deliver results.

Many issues were disregarded and glossed over during this period, resulting in a number of organizations concluding that, a total work from home strategy is not a feasible long-term option. This could be due to factors such as the nature of the work undertaken, or the variation in the type of work their employees undertake. The option of WFH seems mainly applicable for the service sector.

Off late many organizations as well as employees, have come to appreciate the flavour of WFH. With businesses in the process of opening, organizations are evaluating the options of “Work from Home” (WFH), “Work from Office” (WFO) or even a combination of the two, for a long-term benefit. The reactions have been mixed. While few find it a blessing, there are folks who find it challenging!

The ‘Office’ is not just a place where we come to work. It is a melting pot-of people, ideas, and conversations. The coming together of people with diverse skills and experiences is what makes an office more than just a place of work.

Offices may now be seen as places geared towards fostering collaboration, holding meetings, and building culture, rather than locations to attend for work. In fact, this could be a clue to the hybrid model; for example, “I am not going to the office not just to review documents or write proposals, but rather to take part in a brainstorming session, meet with my team or attend a social event.”

While virtual meetings can be effective, they are not conducive to instantaneousness interactions that the workplaces have thrived on for decades. This is one of the reasons that many organizations currently seem to be fostering a feeling that a ‘hybrid’ model is the way of the future.

WFH cannot be the rule. It is an exception.  It was pragmatic to keep a safe distance from each other by not going to the office as coronavirus was spreading and threatening our lives. Not returning to office at all is neither realistic nor good both for business and our livelihoods too.

Two people standing face-to-face, looking at each other squarely in the eye, reading one another’s body language, interacting naturally within the same physical space, sensing syncopated biorhythms, feeding off each other’s energy — that causes real magic in life!

In WFO situations, socialization, camaraderie and interaction are critical factors, with brainstorming leading to higher productivity, innovation, and creativity. WFO encourages teamwork, building up collective energy thereby helping create a corporate culture.  Effective leadership is all about presence and persuasion. The best mentoring happens close-up, with a senior executive encouraging a younger associate, and with the associate embracing the unique opportunity to offer his or her own perspective to the leader. It is that irreplaceable intimate element of mutual mentoring that is lost outside the office.

So, what is the best option, going forward? What is your preference as an individual? What is best for your organisation? What are the related financial implications for a business? Like everything in life, all options have their pros and cons.

For some companies, remote work worked better than for other companies. But it is not a one-size-fits all panacea for the future either. While there are both pros and cons to the working from home (#WFH) versus working from office (#WFO) model, there remains a need for workers to congregate at an office or meet at a location to interact and share knowledge and experience, as well as simply connect with other humans.

 

Pros of WFH & cons of WFO:

For Employees

·      Flexibility

·      Saving on travel cost

·      Goodbye to traffic jams

·      No more hassle of travel and time saved

·      Family time

·      Developing hobbies and other interests

·      A huge blessing for new mothers

 

For Organisations

·      Significant reduction in infrastructure costs and fixed overheads, translating to higher profits

·      Savings in other employee related costs

·      Minimal conflicts between teams / people

·      Reduced chances of other employees becoming COVID positive / restricting the spread

 

General

·      Lesser levels of pollution

·      Lesser people in the major cities and growth in tier-2 and tier-3 cities

·      Real estate prices could get more realistic

·      Potential of tapping into the available women workforce

 

Cons of WFH & Pros of WFO

For Employees

·      Striking right balance between office work and home chores

·      Over worked and stressed as there is no boundary in timings

·      Expectation of employee availability round the clock for work requirements could be high

·      Mental stress levels for employees can be high

·      Missing the face-to-face interactions

·      Being a Couch Potato / glued to the computer with no periodic breaks

·      Lack of human interaction

·      Emotional stress on being confined to home

·      Possibility of family abuse

·      Prey to distractions like Television, serials, movies etc.

·      Winning the trust of the boss on effectiveness of WFH

·      Missing employee perks like plush office to snacks to other office facilities

For Organisation

·      Employee related performance issues including meeting targets, delivering on time, quality etc.

·      Possible impact on productivity, which could result in lower revenue

·      Collective energy of team is lost

·      Communication gaps between teams

·      Spontaneity, where teams would come unplanned in a common area, gets lost

·      Lack of team spirit

·      Recalibration of expectations towards corporate and individual goals

·      Lack of bonding between teams / colleagues

·      Challenge for the manager to handle the teams remotely

·      Getting things done remotely

·      Internet connectivity of employees could impact productivity

·      Engaging employees in a meaningful manner

·      Accountability by the employee on the work allocated

·      Misuse of the flexibility options by the employee

·      Managing employee availability during working hours

General

·      Impact on the real estate industry

·      Virtual connections may not be the same as connecting in person

·      Building of human long-term relationships could be impacted

·      Smaller businesses (like caters, coffee vendors, stationary suppliers and the like) could be forced to shut shop.

Apart from the above, there could be instances, exclusive to each individual/organisation.

While in WFH, incremental personal involvement got overlooked due to limited visibility. In some ways it dehumanized people. We all want affirmation of our presence and our contributions. On the other hand, remote working helped many corporates to cast a wider web for talent acquisition not inhibited by geography or distance.

For a lot of companies, a way forward is to have half of its employees in office space, and half at home. This epitomizes the Hybrid Model. This model offers the best of both worlds. An organisation should calculate the financial impact, both short term and long term before opting for either way.

Importantly, organizations need to look beyond the financial impact, as there are other humane aspects like mental & emotional stress of employees that need to be addressed. Display empathy.

However, this new model will require ongoing refinement in order to evolve from a current trend into a sustainable model for the future. Some of the areas that will need to be addressed include:

•         Cyber security issues

•         Insurance and OH&S issues, including suitability/resources in the home office (or lack thereof)

•         Management systems

•         Communication protocols

•         Type of work performed

The effects of this shift will have impact upon landlords, employers, and service providers, with leases being required to be more flexible.

Workplaces will also need to become more accommodating, while gearing towards collaboration, meetings, and social interactions. Flexibility and communication tools will become imperative, and systems will need to be established.

Regardless of working from home or working from the office, employees need to communicate with their teammates with their manager and with senior management. Employees need to connect. We are eager to espy what the future holds!!

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