Hybrid is the Future of the Workplace – and It Faces a Lot of Challenges

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The jury is no longer out. Two years after COVID-19 triggered a set of in-shelter policies for the public while instituting city-wide or state-wide lockdowns, companies and their human resource (HR) departments are coming to terms with the reality that the Hybrid working model is indeed the future of the workplace. Employees will alternately be working from home and at the same time spending a certain amount of time in the on-site office. However, while it may be the more practical and realistic scenario now for many corporations, implementing Hybrid is not as easy as it sounds.  Every HR Manager and their executive leaders will be facing unprecedented challenges, and they should be preparing their solutions ASAP.

One thing they should realize is that Hybrid is fast becoming the norm for many employees who had learned to make their personal and familial living spaces their workplace. Many of them found this new arrangement a respite from former stressors like the traffic gridlock or the long commute. Others rediscovered the joys of bonding time with their spouses and kids. They simply cannot be forced into reporting back into their brick-and-mortar offices without risking a significant drop in morale—or at worst, a lot of resignations.

More workers prefer hybrid

The numbers will just keep rising. The most recent quarterly survey from the Future Forum, as reported by Bloomberg, covered about 11,000 workers from countries that are about to throw off the economic shackles of COVID-19: Australia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States are activating their workforce. About 68% of the respondents have said that they prefer a hybrid working model. Another 95% declare that they want to maintain flexibility when they do work. Only 30% of the same respondents actually visit the office and stay there to do their job.

Now, while employers do not want resignations or a disgruntled workforce on their hands, they simply cannot agree to this preference without instituting mechanisms that will not just maintain morale but high productivity. Employee burnout, depression, and other mental conditions caused by a claustrophobic work-from-home environment have risen during the pandemic. Another is unreliability which has hit productivity;  workers who blur the line between their personal and professional spaces report irregularly, disappear from their desks without informing anyone, or respond to communications very infrequently.

Engagement in hybrid

How then do leaders, especially HR managers, create the necessary balance that addresses the concerns of  both executive management and the workforce—and in the process, make the Hybrid working model an institutional success?

First, give the employees good and exciting reasons to come back on site. Simple enforcement and citing the company guidebook do not work anymore. This young Millennial and Gen-Z workforce are moved by meaning, something which the pandemic has greatly reinforced. At the same time, they thrive on activities that stimulate their mind while reminding them that they are part of a greater community.

Significance and the roles they play in impacting society should become present in every form of communication. HR should take the lead in informing the employees the values that the company stands for, and which are made tangible and evident in corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects. Brands should walk their talk. For example, if the company is actively involved in the fight against climate change, how can employees who believe in the same thing contribute once they get to their on-site office?

Larger community-driven activities that also can reflect how their workforce is valued. For example, Eigen Technologies Ltd.’s holds special cheese-and-wine events for everyone in the home office. Planning sessions are also held in luxury hotels where staff can enjoy a very comfortable rest-and-recreation (at company expense) in-between sessions.

Second, conduct regular Activity-based Working that will encourage daily engagement from the employees and motivate them to go on-site, says CEPro. A series of short-term workshops, gamified training, mentorship programs, or casual meet-ups can build on what the community-driven activities had laid out as a foundation. Team members will see the value of face-to-face meetings and reconnect personally with their colleagues in ways that had not been possible during the pandemic. They will also have a bit of fun in the process.

Finally, employ AI to create flexible working arrangements that monitor performance and productivity.  HR managers should see AI as an ally in this campaign, and not an enemy that will take over half of the workforce’s jobs, says VentureBeat. As stated previously, there is no cookie-cutter program that will fill all the requirements of the new Hybrid set-up. Some departments might demand a more on-site schedule than others. Creative talents might ask for more flexible arrangements where they can work in a café instead of taking the long commute to the office.

AI’s capabilities on how it can provide a variety of solutions is still unmined. It can employ chatbots who can conduct on-going conversations with teams both who are onsite and working from home, making sure that the communications and messages do not break down. It can track with great accuracy and on-real time the movements of all the workforce, their current locations, their log-in and log-off times. It essentially creates an overview that lets HR see what the employees are doing at any given time and if they are meeting their deliverables. Or if a slack in movement is detected, it can explore a possible breakdown and see if the employees concerned need help.

Hybrid is here to stay in a state of constant transformation as HR managers study ways on how it can be tailor-fit to increase the productivity and morale of the workforce—as they work both at home and onsite.

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