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Reskilling for a Hybrid Workplace

It was only a matter of time before the natural progression of the status quo workplace life coincided with the rapid rise of technology and it took the COVID-19 pandemic to act as the catalyst to facilitate change. Almost overnight we were forced into the unknown as suddenly working from home became the norm. Although at times it may have felt like we would never return to some form of normal, we now find ourselves debating if a return to the ‘old ways’ would be at all beneficial. There are arguments for and against full time remote working but the generally accepted view is that organisations will and should opt for a hybrid workplace.

What is a Hybrid Workplace?

A hybrid workplace is a flexible workplace model that is designed to support a distributed workforce of both in-office and remote workers. Before the pandemic a remote/in-office split was not unheard of, but unpopular. Where the split may have been 10/90, the pandemic quickly flipped these numbers. Out of nowhere employers found themselves at a crossroads trying to ensure their team had all the resources necessary to maintain their productivity and sanity while still hitting organisational targets. This paved the way for the hybrid workplace.

Organisational culture, efficient communication and successfully maintained relationships all needed to be transferred to the working-from-home world. Technology assisted with this process, Zoom,  Microsoft Teams and Google Docs had allowed us to accomplish most of our daily functions from home. What was soon discovered was that many of the jobs that people did in office, they could do even more effectively remotely. Now as we progress into a post-pandemic world, returning to the office full time seems unlikely for most organisations and so we are left with the hybrid workplace and time spent both remotely but also in office.

The Cracks are Beginning to Appear: Why is a Hybrid Workplace Important?

Every single person reacted to the last 24 months in a different way and still people are struggling or perhaps flourishing because of their differing experiences. This is just as significant in the working world and leaders must try their best to accommodate all for the foreseeable future. Many still find the thought of returning to the workplace daunting, some just prefer working remotely, but a lot of us would prefer face-to-face collaborative social environments. Ultimately, handing the responsibility to the individual means leaders can get the best out of their workforce. However, this will be different for every organisation as every organisation operates differently.

Certainly, in many cases, issues with working from home have started to arise. The current technology supporting remote working conditions is only effective to a degree. Remote workstations are relatively ill-suited for the collaborative and innovative interactions that are most efficiently fostered through face-to-face environments. For example, while the accounting team may function well through asynchronous communication, the marketing team may rely more heavily on the type of synchronous communication that is best facilitated through in-person collaboration. The issue is, if a hybrid workplace is not implemented well, it could threaten culture, collaboration and innovation. On the other hand, a well-executed hybrid workplace can be an attraction that brings people together and helps us work better than ever before.

Preparing for a Hybrid Workplace

The pandemic has caused us to rethink the purpose and the meaning of the office and many leaders have concluded that the office is a place for collaborative work. There must be a balance whereby matters that require judgement, reflection and a deep change of assumptions will require people to come together and will require physical interaction. Transactional affairs can be done at distance but deeply interpersonal issues rely on personal chemistry.

It is important to understand that to influence the workforce to come into office we must offer a better experience than what they have at home. Since employees and their well-being is at the centre of the workplace transformation, the first step is to understand what your employees expect and want. Most remote working policies were implemented overnight due to strict compulsions, with no room for the inclusion of diverse voices. Communicating and engaging conversation with the workforce, enabling a feeling of inclusiveness and giving the individual a choice is a start.

The future office will be a competitive advantage for organisations who take advantage of the now and implement a successful hybrid workplace. In preparing for a hybrid workplace, it is important to help managers and leaders ready themselves with new practices and norms. Leaders need to be trained on how to move from a culture of somewhat surveillance, oversight and approval towards being more supporting, trusting and transparent. Furthermore, time management features need to be a significant part of the new normal, especially if employees are working on flexible or different timings. Ensuring healthy social interaction is crucial in elevating engagement and although there has been some form of virtual interaction working from home, it can never accurately emulate that of a face-to-face environment.

The hybrid workplace will be a common feature of the working world for the foreseeable future and there is no doubt we will make mistakes along the way; it is an entirely new concept for most of us. This is not something to fear but embrace, be brave enough to make mistakes and learn from them as only then will we reach a tried and tested, successful hybrid working format.

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