Throughout the pandemic people have changed how they shop, where they live, how they learn, and, for many, how they work. Hybrid work is familiar territory for some, but a seismic shift in how work happens for many organisations. Regardless of how your company defines its policies, this blend of on and off-line interactions means we have to think about the needs of people as they adopt a new way of working, and how the workplace and technology need to change to help them be successful.
Hybrid work may be challenging initially, but there’s never been a greater opportunity for organisations to reset their culture.
The flexibility — and the trust it requires — can be a catalyst for new ways of working and can redefine how the office can help people thrive. In a recent Steelcase webinar, Prototyping the Future of Work, 59% of nearly 1,000 attendees said the biggest benefit of hybrid work is the ability to attract and retain talent. The biggest threat is cultural erosion (54%).
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Everyone, everywhere struggled with a feeling of isolation while working from home. Combine that with the sense of whiplash many people feel from the ups and downs of Covid caseloads, return-to-office delays and conditions that seem to change daily, people’s wellbeing has suffered. Organisations that have returned to the office found people need to be reenergized and rebuild their “muscle memory” for being in the workplace. They’ve also found that reshaping their culture is essential to create new norms for how people will work together going forward.
The workplace can become an infrastructure for fostering a resilient hybrid culture by providing spaces which not only support increasing collaboration between in-person and remote workers, but also help people feel a sense of belonging and connection to their teams and the organisation, regardless of location. Steelcase research shows that feeling part of a strong community actually helps people achieve more and boosts productivity, engagement, innovation and retention. Many leading organisations are making changes before team members return to the office so people can see and feel their organisation cares and is taking action to meet their needs in a new era of hybrid work.
5 Things People Need For Hybrid Work
Physical safety continues to be paramount. People need to know their organisation is doing everything possible to keep them safe and mitigate the spread of disease. Workers are particularly concerned about air quality and 62% of respondents to a recent McKinsey study said that improved air filtration could decrease the stress they experience from returning on-site.
Psychological safety is increasingly important at a time where work is changing. Employees need to know that it’s ok to speak up, share ideas, ask questions and make mistakes during this shift – regardless of where they work and without negative ramifications.
In a time where people are working from diverse locations, people need their workplace to help create community and “social glue” that builds cooperation and team cohesion. Strong communities have a sense of shared purpose, as well as shared leadership. With high levels of trust and engagement, communities allow people to learn, adapt and demonstrate resilience in the face of changing circumstances.
Hybrid work will require new spaces and technology to help people be effective. People need places for 1-on-1 or small group video calls, either enclosed or with greater acoustic privacy at their desk. Groups need places that support both in-office and remote participants equally – where everyone can see and be seen, hear and be heard. Spaces should be designed for a better virtual presence with important elements like cameras, acoustics, content and lighting.
Physical comfort is critical for hybrid workers, especially if they are spending a lot of time on video. People’s wellbeing has suffered, and they need places and experiences that help them rejuvenate and reset throughout the day. People also need to be comfortable with how work is changing, how to use new kinds of spaces and new technologies to collaborate with hybrid teams.
Living through a crisis and changing ways of working, people crave more certainty. They want to be able to have more choice and control over:
- Where they work within the office
- When they work at the office or home
- How they work, alone and with teammates
Although it will look different for everyone, hybrid work is, perhaps, the biggest opportunity organisations have to reinvent their culture. People and leaders need to adjust expectations about how work happens, adopt new behaviors and rethink the role of the office going forward. But thinking about a hybrid workplace as a community designed to support the needs of the people as they embrace new ways of working and interacting can be a dramatic and positive change that emerges from the pandemic.