Focusing on how we work, not where we work, is the key to transitioning the workplace out of the pandemic, writes Vanessa Manipon.

The dust is settling on hybrid and flexible working and most businesses are finding their new rhythm of working. But are companies using the hybrid method as a quick fix rather than seeing it as a continual evolution of the workplace?

It is time to stop waiting for a return to ‘normal’ and embrace workplace change, for the good of business and each other. Being half in and half out of hybrid working, turning it on and off as national circumstances change, or business needs change, isn’t conducive to a happy, functioning-on-all-cylinders workforce.

The workplace is no longer static, and our working environments must continue evolving beyond the initial changes we saw when the workforce began to return to the office this year. Business leaders now have an opportunity to take stock of the strategies that worked well during the pandemic, and formally embrace the hybrid model and the renewed function of the office — with confidence.

In pockets, this re-evaluation is already underway. Several companies have dramatically reduced their desk space, committing to ‘digital HQs’. And some countries are launching pilot schemes to trial four-day working weeks.

The temptation to ‘wait it out’ will quickly prove damaging for organisations. We must refocus on how we work, not where we work, and take steps towards making hybrid working the new normal we’ve all been waiting for.

The onus is on leadership

Leaders have opened relevant dialogues with their employees over the last two years, and how quickly everyone adapted is remarkable. There was no best practice guide to refer to. Managers and key business functions like HR have learnt on their feet, adapting their styles to get the best from their teams, and meet the expectations of business leadership. No easy task!

Despite the steep learning curve, the remote and hybrid working experiments demonstrated that employees were productive and felt empowered outside of a traditional office-based structure. In fact, it enabled individuals to work effectively, strike a healthier work-life balance and find an approach that focused on outcomes.

It is this level of trust, adaptability and personalisation that must remain as businesses seek to solidify their ways of working. Simply rewinding time to pre-pandemic operations or reverting to five-day-weeks would be a huge, missed opportunity. As work-from-home guidance begins to ease, now is an opportune time for teams, in partnership with HR, to formally evaluate working approaches, and embrace the progress that has been made.

Employees are looking to leaders to offer a clear path forward, an acceptance and enthusiasm for hybrid working and a commitment to adapt working styles, modes of communication and office environments to meet this commitment.

Prioritising people

A change in mindset is critical and must happen across the length and breadth of an organisation. Through our own research last year, we found that employees value ‘team, people and culture’, over competitive salaries. Business leaders, people managers and HR experts alike are now under the microscope to no longer see hybrid working as a means to an end but embrace it as our new working reality.

Citibank, for instance, have announced that they are setting up a hub for junior analysts in Malaga. The analysts at this hub will work eight-hour days rather than 95-hour weeks, and have their weekends protected. Citi hope that this will attract a younger generation who care about their work-life balance to the company.

And with that, the purpose of the office is also changing. People want to use the office space differently – some to focus, and some to collaborate. Workspaces must be activated to meet the needs of individuals, whilst maintaining a company’s culture.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. We’ve already seen Google announce that it will spend $1 billion on setting up an additional workspace in London, whereas Lloyds of London is considering saying farewell to its iconic HQ. This divergence is to be expected and encouraged as the hybrid model is adopted across the marketplace.

Where once HR determined such changes, employees are now increasingly becoming their ‘customers’ rather than ‘followers’. Striking a balance between the needs and preferences of individuals and those of the business will be one of the greatest challenges in formally embracing hybrid working.

However, the businesses that get this right will reap the benefits of retaining motivated, happy employees and attracting the best talent.

As the coming months continue to remain uncertain, businesses must choose to find solid ground from which to build and grow, for the good of their people and their bottom line. Waiting for a return to ‘normal’, may prove disappointing, and unnecessary.

For many, the hybrid experiment was a success and poses a fantastic opportunity for organisations to work with a renewed purpose. It now remains to be seen who takes the next step and makes the great hybrid experiment a reality.

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Vanessa Manipon is Regional Director for US-West and Asia Pacific, MovePlan