Although parts of life have been put on pause due to the pandemic, our relationship with work hasn’t stalled away from the office. But working from home has profoundly changed the structure and flow of work. Employers and employees are collaborating to define what “workplace” means in 2022 and beyond.
One of the biggest challenges facing organizations today is how to prepare leaders and teams to succeed in this new world of hybrid work while balancing safety, well-being, and productivity.
Leaders are wrestling with floor space reconfigurations to accommodate fewer people at any given time. Some have given up on the notion of a physical office altogether. Others are dealing with diverse workforces, where “return to work” means transitioning employees back into customer-facing environments while navigating COVID-safe requirements.
Everyone is trying to create more moments of human connection and figure out how to better collaborate within and across teams—all while balancing the safety requirements a post-pandemic environment demands.
Work is taking shape in new ways
Over the next decade, organizations across the Asia-Pacific region will face significant skills shortages. But it’s the immediate threat of a mass talent exodus driven by a desire for change and rising job dissatisfaction that has put employee experience (EX) front and center.
Burnout and stress are among the top reasons employees say they’ll look for a new job. Asana’s Anatomy of Work Index 2021 found 77% of employees in Australia and New Zealand experienced burnout in 2020. With many struggling, organizations are challenged to keep teams productive and engaged.
It’s worth remembering that productivity, at the center of every hybrid discussion, is a two-way street. Managers must be able to trust their people to work effectively, regardless of location. At the same time, employees can’t keep pace if much of their day is spent performing low-value tasks, dealing with bottlenecks, and trying to find information in fragmented systems.
The data is clear: Engaged employees contribute more, according to a Human Resources Director article. Whatever the industry, this has a direct impact on customers, patients, and citizens.
The “Great Resignation” is timely recognition that employees thrive when they’re empowered to choose how and where their work gets done. It’s a reminder that the post-pandemic landscape isn’t about solving a binary-location equation of either return to work or work from home—it’s about being empathetic to employee needs, wherever they are.
Meet your people where they are
When the near-universal shift to working from home took place at the beginning of 2020, it revealed significant gaps for many organizations. Even companies that had been flexibility front-runners before the pandemic had to rethink their practices and perspectives.
At a Trans-Tasman Business Circle roundtable, Hisham El-Ansary, CEO of Bupa Asia Pacific, explained the past 18 months confirmed his belief: Employers must respond to these new expectations to get the best out of their people—and to attract and retain great talent in a tight labor market.
With 85% of Bupa’s 22,000 employees operating in front-line roles—including aged care homes, medical centers, dental clinics, and optical stores—working from the spare bedroom or kitchen table is not an option for everyone. But maintaining connection to the company and to fellow employees wherever they are has never been more vital.
Employees expect managers to support individual needs. Parents are desperate to separate home and work life. Employees who’ve flourished while working from home are wary about returning to office distraction. That’s no surprise, given it takes more than 23 minutes to get back to work after any kind of interruption, according to the University of California, Irvine.
Roundtable attendees across public and private sectors agreed: The future of work requires businesses to foster greater levels of trust in their people and embrace different ways of working as a competitive advantage to recruit, retain, and motivate.
Build from a place of trust
It’s not uncommon for companies to find themselves implementing rules to “police” and manage risks for noncompliance while unintentionally stifling contribution and innovation from others. It’s an old script that hybrid working has flipped. The majority of workers want to show up to work each day and do meaningful work—it’s up to leaders to lay the right foundation to make that happen.
The post-pandemic workplace requires a unified experience across all functions—from IT to HR, facilities to legal, and the hundreds of connecting processes in between. It means accommodating contractors and partners with the same level of support and focus.
Digital workflows are the not-so-secret sauce in hybrid models, seamlessly blending virtual and physical interaction to deliver brilliant experiences. Employees should be able to access information, systems, and support from anywhere: at home, on the go, or in a workplace.
Government agencies around the world have revealed new roadmaps to reopening, including guidance for employees returning to the office. However, the onus is on businesses to keep their people safe. Workers are counting on their employers to put the necessary tools and workflows in place to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Data-driven contact tracing and a real-time view of workplace readiness will be prerequisites for many businesses. Some, like Uber, are already using Safe Workplace apps to reopen offices globally.
“In the future, workplace apps will become widespread to manage flexible working,” says Eric Swift, vice president and managing director at ServiceNow Australia and New Zealand. “These will include features like interactive maps so people can navigate around any work site or office they visit, and the ability to let colleagues know what days they will be in and what desk they will sit at, so it’s easier for teams to come together.”
Hybrid work is here to stay
According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, more than 12 million Aussies have taken part in the great work-from-home experiment, triggering the biggest social shift in the nature of work since World War II. Now, as we prepare to leave lockdown restrictions behind, a clearer view of the new world of work is emerging.
Employees are looking for seamless, easy-to-use workplace experiences that mirror the best consumer-facing apps they use in their lives every day. The right tools not only make it easier to get things done, but they also:
Promote well-being and safety.
Actively fuel productivity.
Whether you’re all-in remote, trying a mix, or balancing the complexities of front-line, fieldwork, or head office environments, digital tools will be the foundation for any successful hybrid workplace. By adopting the best of what we’ve learned during the pandemic, leaders can create healthier, safer environments where employees really can do their best work.
Learn more about the new world of hybrid work.
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