Over a year of remote work has changed how workers and employers alike look at the physical workplace.
Some companies are slowly opening their offices and encouraging employees to make their way back to their desks, while some are adopting a hybrid approach. While others are completely adopting remote work indefinitely.
But, pre-pandemic, companies have spent time and money making headquarters or regional offices an atmosphere that encourages collaboration and focus for employees. That begs the question, how should companies adapt to the new era of offices? And, what will the future of work really look like?
The Future of Work: Are People Going Back to the Office?
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the workplace during 2020. The short-term effects were devastating for many, where companies were forced to furlough or lay off thousands of employees and make cuts to their budget.
For others, they were forced to adapt to a work-from-home routine as offices were closed until further notice and cities and countries enforced mandatory lockdowns and stay-at-home orders.
But, as vaccinations increased, executive teams were forced to consider how to safely bring their workforce back into the office. Some companies even started to offer new perks to entice employees back like free lunch, on-site gyms, ping pong tables and more.
Pre-pandemic these perks would’ve been a differentiator for job-seekers, but is that really enough in the post-pandemic world? Job-seekers and employees alike are asking recruiters and hiring managers hard questions about flexibility which is forcing executive teams to take a look at their workforce strategy.
The hybrid model of working
The hybrid model of the workplace is mentioned often but what exactly is it and how could it work for companies?
Essentially a hybrid work model is a plan that offers a mix of in-person and remote work options. Employees have the opportunity to choose when they go into the office and when they stay at home for work.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to hybrid work. Companies are tasked with developing a strategy that works best for their workforce. Three popular models are often adopted by offices:
1. Remote-first approach
This approach is being considered by many executives and it means that the company’s operations will closely mirror a fully remote workforce. However, there are some expectations that make this approach hybrid.
First, most companies that approach this model will keep their physical office spaces for employees to work from. Additionally, this approach encourages remote work first so the same privileges of in-office work will not be available to every employee. This means that some employees will remain remote, potentially indefinitely.
One of the benefits of this approach is that it allows employees the freedom to locate to other areas, away from the physical office’s location.
What’s more is that even though companies that adopt this model prioritize remote work, it doesn’t mean that teams never see each other in person. Companies that have adopted this model have carved out time for annual retreats, allowing for more flexibility in how managers plan their team-building activities.
2. Office-occasional approach
Other companies are eager to get back to the office–whether that be because of the investment made in improving the workplace or to encourage deeper collaboration between teams.
The office-occasional approach encourages employees to come into the physical workplace a few times a week. These policies can be looser, for example, employees are required to come in twice a week on the days of their choosing. Or there could be firm guidelines like employees must work Tuesday through Thursday in the office and can remotely work Monday and Friday.
The main difference between this approach and the remote-first approach is that employees are required to be in the office for some time during the week instead of the company prioritizing remote-first work.
3. Office-first, remote allowed approach
Another option that is being considered by executive and leadership teams is to keep both the physical office space and remote work as options, however, the physical office space would be the primary working location for the workforce.
This approach was common pre-COVID-19, where a small percentage of the workforce was remote while the majority returned to a physical workplace every day. Additionally, this approach is common when the entire leadership team is based out of the same office, allowing for deep collaboration and conversations to happen in person.
One of the pitfalls of this approach is that remote workers could miss out on important conversations and opportunities to collaborate with the greater team or leadership.
Read more: Why create a digital workplace?
How to encourage the workforce to return to office
As leadership teams grapple with how to navigate the workplace of the future, every hybrid approach requires an option for in-person working. This begs the question, how can companies encourage employees to come back to the office, if not full-time, at least a few times a week?
There are a few strategies that HR teams can implement to make coming back to the office worth it for employees:
1. Offer flexibility (with guidelines)
It’s no secret that employees appreciate the flexibility of remote and hybrid work. One of the best things HR teams and companies can do is to continue to offer this flexibility post-pandemic.
A great option for companies is to allow flexible options (like choosing when they want to come into the office or the ability to rent office spaces that align with their work style). This strategy can make coming into the office more enticing for employees.
2. Find new ways to connect in-person
Pre-pandemic, most in-person interactions happened around the water cooler or coffee machine. Or, it was simple enough to walk over to someone’s desk if there was a question.
Now, with the adoption of a new workstyle, interactions currently look and will look different. This introduces an interesting challenge for leaders, forcing them to rethink how to create a work environment that allows employees to connect with peers.
Companies can, for example, set up group hobby opportunities, like company football or tennis teams, book clubs or outdoor outings with the team.
3. Offer mentorship and training opportunities in the office
As companies begin to return back to normal, training and development opportunities will slowly start to come back. During the pandemic, these expenses were likely part of budget cuts but leadership teams are now using them as leverage to entice employees to make their way back to the office.
Hosting formal training programs at your company’s headquarters is a great way to get teams and colleagues back together. Additionally, mentorship is an important part of career development and creating formal mentorship programs can help increase employee engagement but also provide a reason for people to return to a physical workspace.
4. Create personalized employee experiences in-office
Every employee has a different reason as to why they choose to work or not to work in the office. Further, if employees are being encouraged to return to a physical space, there are clear expectations as to what should be provided.
Companies will see that all of their employees will expect different things from the office. For example, some people might be looking for a quiet place to work to escape the distractions from their homes. Others might be making their way into the office specifically for social interactions.
Ultimately, the workplace will need to be reimagined to accommodate both types of working environments. Leaders will also be tasked with ongoing workplace usage monitoring to ensure that their physical office space investments are sound and that the space is evolving with the needs of employees.
The future of work is here, is your business ready?
Navigating the next chapter of the workplace is proving to be uncertain and difficult for many leaders. The traditional way of work is likely to not return any time soon and companies are being forced to adapt to keep their employees happy.
Adopting a new work model, such as hybrid work, seems like the best option for companies and employees alike but that is not without challenges. Whatever model that your company decides to adopt, it’s essential to pay attention to these key things to ensure that this approach is working.
Pay attention to where leadership works
If leadership teams spend a majority of the time in the office, it’s likely that the workforce will naturally do the same. It’s essential that as a leadership team, you spend time voicing expectations and developing a plan for how to encourage employees to adopt whatever work-style model you want to implement.
Be aware of who is promoted and recognized
With a hybrid model, it’s important to recognize employees equally–no matter where they decide to work. Managers and leaders need to avoid prioritizing their in-office employees and treat their teams equally. This provides another unique challenge for HR teams to facilitate training on how to identify bias of remote employees and how to give fair performance reviews to those team members.
Offer a consistent experience for employees
Whether employees are in-office or remote, experiences should be the same. This can be done by offering virtual options, for example, using virtual meeting links so remote employees can tune into game breaks or happy hours. Further, adopt a technology-first approach to communication so remote workers are aware of what’s happening in the organization.
Workplace flexibility is key in the new era of offices
Whatever approach teams decide to take, flexibility is key. Ensure that executive teams, managers and other leaders are checking in with their teams and the organization. Understanding how your employees prefer to work and what is or isn’t working for them will allow you to make better decisions for the future of work.