The future of hybrid work

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This article was contributed by Tim Rowley, CTO and COO at PeopleCaddie.

If you’re still thinking about when, or even if, the working world will return to a pre-pandemic ‘normal’, you’re wasting precious time. All signs point to the emergence of a new professional paradigm that meets workers in the middle, integrating remote working and greater flexibility into traditional models. The most forward-thinking companies are already thinking about the best way to support employee work-life balance. The future of hybrid work has arrived.

Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, recently told CNBC that her survey found that 56% of American workers have jobs that can be done at least partially remotely. But what does this mean for employers? What does hybrid work look like – or rather, what should hybrid work look like so that companies can create the most productive work environments and attract the best talent?

The answers will depend on the industry, the company and to some extent the expectations of the employees. But if business leaders want to get a clearer picture of hybrid work within their own organization, it’s best to start by thinking critically about the following questions:

How will the evolution of technology affect hybrid operation?

In the past two years alone, we’ve witnessed massive large-scale changes in the way we use technology to accommodate remote workers. But the future of hybrid work isn’t just about landing on the next version of Slack or Zoom. Embracing this new paradigm means thinking not only about technological developments that improve productivity, but also those that support or enhance the increased flexibility that workers seek in their lives. For example: simpler, more integrated communication that at the same time takes more account of employees’ time and privacy outside the branch.

How does a company support a hybrid work model?

Today, we better understand the downside of the “hustle culture” and the risks of workplace burnout, which is why employers should welcome the benefits of hybrid work. (Did you know that employees who are offered a remote option tend to be more productive?) Still, synchronizing employees’ schedules for meetings and collaborative project work, creating opportunities for unplanned but casual professional interactions, and finding ways to Promoting social engagements that are helpful in building productive and lasting working relationships under this new model are valid concerns for most companies. Technical solutions and smarter planning offer some simple strategies for keeping the lines of communication open and ensuring that employees work with integrity. Remember, employers looking to inspire (and retain) high-quality employees need to think less about all access and more about optimizing appropriate overlap in employee schedules.

What are some ways to make the workplace more flexible for employees without sacrificing productivity?

This may trigger some managers, but it has to be said: start scaling back meetings. Too many conference room conferences and Zoom calls are frankly not worth the time and mental shift required of frontline workers. If possible, reduce the total number of meetings, ensure that invitees are only those employees who are mission-critical, and limit meetings to a fixed time block per day. Make them shorter. Institute no-meet Friday. Building in the flexibility for employees to work from home at least one day a week or come home early for family dinners and children’s activities contributes greatly to employee satisfaction and retention.

How can hybrid models influence diversity initiatives?

Remote and hybrid working are helping to democratize the workplace in ways the average employer may not see. Employees with children at home, employees with disabilities, and those who do not have a car or are priced away from the office will benefit greatly from this new paradigm. And remote working makes the workforce accessible not just to people outside the company’s environment, but to employees around the world. That opens the doors to new perspectives and lived experiences that make for a richer, better-equipped workforce. New AI-based tech solutions can track female speaking time and accented voices in remote meetings. Hybrid work doesn’t just ensure equal representation – it supports diversity within a company.

Given the flexibility that workers seek, could contract work be a legitimate solution in an uncertain labor market?

Absolute. Most larger companies already outsource certain streams of their business or employ freelancers to provide specialized services. It shouldn’t be a huge leap for organizations to consider contract workers for at least a percentage of the workforce that was long believed to be solely the domain of permanent staff. Whether a food distributor needs on-demand IT consultation or an accounting firm needs to temporarily bolster its seasonal workforce, contractors working remotely or on site offer employees unparalleled flexibility.

As we begin to see hybrid work as a more permanent feature in all industries, it is important that business leaders avoid clinging to outdated models in their mindsets. Hybrid work can differ per department or within a team. It requires establishing clear guidelines for when and how often employees are expected in the office or available to communicate remotely. But the new paradigm is here. Employers who recognize that hybrid work is the future of work — and plan accordingly — have the best chance of attracting and retaining the best workers available.

Tim Rowley is CTO and COO at PeopleCaddie.

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