From the office to home to hybrid working
With the emergence of COVID-19 last year, offices worldwide had to close their doors. To ensure that workers could continue to do their jobs to the best of their abilities from home, organisations and their leaders crossed many hurdles. From setting up hardware and software to restructuring processes and creating endless video conferences. For some employees, the step to the home office made them thrive, while others were struggling to keep themselves motivated.
Despite setting up the home office being a necessary first step, it didn't fully do the trick for all employees. Yes, many tasks are accomplished just as well, virtual meetings are just fine, and costs of real estate are reduced. Yet, there's still this sense of loss among employers and employees. To make sure all employees can thrive in a future-proof pro-pandemic work environment a combination of working from the office and from home is needed. Introducing the "hybrid workplace".
The organisation; creating a hybrid environment
Before the pandemic, organisations saw the office as the place where employees got their work done. But a year of working from home has taught us that tactical tasks are just as well accomplished from home and that the office has never been just about getting work done. It's the place where employees get creative, meet, socialize and connect. As a result, employees will increasingly work according to the so-called hybrid structure - alternating between working from home and working in the office. As an organisation, you need to be aware of the role of your office(s) and rethink your current workplace design to make sure it facilitates both ways of working efficiently.
Based on recent research of Harvard Business Review (2021) the office fulfils three roles. As the social anchor of the organisation, the office facilitates direct interpersonal contact resulting in commitment, support and cooperation among employees and teams. The second role is the role of "schoolhouse" where employees learn by interacting with their peers. Finally, as an environment for unstructured collaboration employees from different departments accidentally run into each other, talk about projects and cross-pollinate.
Ultimately the office facilitates what your organisation needs from your employees; being motivated to cooperate, develop themselves and be creative.
For a future-proof way of working, your organisation will have to decide on the one hand who can work at home and when, focusing on tactical activities instead of roles and functions. On the other hand, you need to create a stimulating office that encourages social interaction and cooperation. To achieve your future hybrid office, you will have to make sure that you meet three characteristics.
- Designed for human interaction; Use open structures and designs combined with options where one can withdraw.
- Customized technology; develop or implement technologies that on the one hand facilitate employees in taking work home that can be effectively done individually and on the other hand stimulate social interaction with colleagues.
- Encourage connections; define policies that encourage managers to ensure employees they can socialize when they're in the office. Besides implementing these policies, leaders should stimulate this by frequently and openly being present and socialize in the common areas.
The manager; engage your team
Around a year ago many managers were struggling with setting up their teams for working from home. Setting up hardware, software, and education on how to use them seemed to be the main hurdles to take. A year in, many managers know that this was yet a first step towards creating an effective working environment for their remote team. Other challenges were at bay, like motivating individual employees and managing the major differences in effectiveness between them. This last challenge is an important one as remote work will become an important part of the future hybrid workplace.
Motivational levels while working from home vary between teams and individual employees. Although it's important for you as a manager to remember that work itself can boost employees' motivations, it's even more important to know that this is only achieved with the right balance between tactical and strategic work. It is very understandable that, when managing a remote team, you quickly fall back on strict procedures and standard processes. But if your focus is too much on processes and tactical work, your team and employees will be demotivated and tend to stop problem solving and thinking creatively all at once.
So how can you effectively track your teams' and employees' activities, while at the same time stimulate them to be creative? The answer is engagement. Engage your employees in their work by making their work engaging. This might sound a bit like hocus-pocus, but we assure you it has an equally magic effect.
A very powerful manner to do so is simply giving your teams or employees the chance to experiment with solving real problems that matter and have an impact. Problems can vary: how do we increase customer satisfaction? Or how can we let our organisation or department grow even in these times of crises?
By combining the experimentation with face-to-face interaction at the office, employees are even more stimulated to cooperate and think creatively and their feeling of purpose and potential is fuelled by solving a problem that matters. Ultimately leading to increased motivation.
But before you start problem-solving with your teams or employees it's important to measure your peoples' motivation by, for example, letting them fill out internal surveys on work satisfaction. Next, you'll have to make sure there's plenty of room for experimentation and problem-solving. Create a pre-set amount of time in their weekly schedules for problem-solving and other activities that aren't tactical ones and actively manage and stimulate this.
The employee; find your purpose
Most employees thrive for work that's meaningful on some level. They want to make an impact, a difference and contribute to the greater good. And while most employees are passionate about their job, finding inspiration, meaning and purpose amidst a pandemic can be a bit of a challenge. Nonetheless, it should be the top priority as having a professional purpose is an important part of giving your life meaning and motivation.
Working from home has taken quite a toll on employees. The lack of interpersonal and face-to-face social interactions and increased focus on tactical activities have resulted in a loss of connection, motivation, and purpose. But what can you do as an employee to take back the steering wheel? How can you rediscover your purpose? Quite a few things to be exact and we'll introduce you to them.
- Reflect on your values; actively remind yourself what drives you in your work and what part of your job makes you feel energized. Ask yourself questions like: "Why do I get out of bed in the morning? What drives me? What are my strengths?"
- Offer your help; Ask colleagues if you can help. Helping others and feeling to contribute increase purpose while helping also strengthens relationships with your team or colleagues. Win-win!
- Craft your job with a vision towards purpose; search for potential new contributions that can be created in your current job so your presence in the organisation feels and is more meaningful.
- Seek out and connect; Finally, try to interact and connect with your team or colleagues. Developing certain relationships make you feel more connected and part of "the gang", increasing your feeling of belonging and purpose.
Currently working from home is still the norm and will be in some form post-pandemic. This shift from regular offices to home offices and eventually a combination has a huge impact on the way we work in organisations, the way we manage and cooperate in teams and the way we do our daily work activities. We've learned that there's no one best way when it comes to the location at which we work and that a hybrid workplace can offer the best of both worlds if done correctly. And now we know how you can make a hybrid workplace, work for you.