To say the concept of hybrid working is on everyone’s mind, would be an understatement. Over the last 18 months, COVID-19 has shattered the traditional image and perceptions of how work should be conducted. Employees have proven that work can be done practically anywhere - provided the right tools, software, communication and clear direction could be provided by their employers.
So it's no surprise, as we navigate our return back to the office workspace, 85% of UK employees working from home, have expressed their desire to want greater flexibility in where, and how they work in the future.
So how can companies find the right balance between remote working and office time without negatively impacting their employees or their customers?
Your employees need flexibility
The first place to start is listening to the needs of your employees.
Of course, employees benefited from more flexible working arrangements which allowed them to get a better balance of both work and personal commitments such as making it easier to do school drop offs and pickups, or fit in personal tasks such as drying the laundry during the day.
But so did employers.
Remote working allowed for employees to spend less time commuting to work, and time loss moving from meeting rooms to other office interactions, which led to less down time.
These employees who have proved being remote and productive can work, and are more likely to want a hybrid working model - research shows that only 8% of them would like to return to the office full-time. Remote working also allowed for employees to spend less time and money commuting to work, especially in larger, more expensive cities.
In fact, employees are ready to leave if they don’t get flexibility. In the midst of what some are calling “The Great Resignation”, more than a quarter of employees in Europe and the UK would be likely to switch jobs if they feel flexibility is not offered by organisations. Tech companies in particular - including Twitter, Facebook and here at Zendesk - are responding by introducing more flexible working models. Twitter, for example, sent a survey to their employees in which 95% of them said they wanted to keep flexibility around work post-pandemic (compared to 3% pre-pandemic). As a result, the company is now focusing on not only providing flexibility, but also ensuring that employee experience is equal regardless of location.
Organisation must change the way they lead
The good news is that leaders across the world are introducing hybrid working models, offering their employees the flexibility they’ve been looking for. In fact, C-level staff aim to re-introduce office attendance 1 to 4 days a week. Google is currently introducing a hybrid working system that consists of approximately 3 days in the office, which will vary between departments.
However, 40% of organisations have struggled to communicate their plans for office re-opening and what that would mean for their employees, causing stress for their employees. And while there has been an increase in productivity levels over the past 18 months, it’s no surprise that an approach of “wait and see” will threaten these levels and risk employee burnout. After an extended period of uncertainty, employees are turning to their leaders for certainty, and companies that have communicated information regarding future working models have seen their productivity increase.
In response, most leaders have been training their managers to build better teams and create better relationships with their employees. These leaders have faced new challenges over the past 18 months - from learning how to understand the remote work of their teams without the benefit of a shoulder tap, to recognising that working through a crisis requires new levels of empathy and understanding. We want our teams to bring their whole self to work, but that requires managers who are trained to manage the person as much as the deliverables - all in a virtual setting. From empathy training to inclusive leadership and virtual hiring practices, we’ve offered a range of training tools for managers to build better, connected teams and further develop open and transparent communication.
At Zendesk, we developed different employee resource groups which have a strong influence on company policies and action and encourage employees to embrace and celebrate their differences. Following the death of George Floyd in 2020, we have been providing support to our employees through open empathy circles and empowered managers to have these open conversations.
We not only track our diversity measures, but we want to understand how employees feel about inclusion, so started an Inclusion Index last year to track this and hold ourselves accountable.
Where technology meets hybrid working
The increase in employee collaboration during the pandemic would not have been possible without the development of certain technological tools. In fact, organisations in the UK have recognised that employees were not as connected and engaged as in offices, as nearly half of UK agents and managers did not have the right tools to work from home. Consequently, companies in the UK have primarily invested in ways to improve engagement and collaboration such as conferencing tools (eg. Zoom), new collaborations tools (eg. Miro) and new workflow and performance evaluation tools. Connecting these apps together can help to simplify the work process too. For example, with Slack, integrated with our support platform, teams can easily share information and “swarm” issues faster through different Slack channels, without having to navigate away from the agent workspace. Tools like these can help replicate the “tap on the shoulder” we miss from the office, so we can all keep collaborating and learning from each other asynchronously.
And while technology has improved digital collaboration, it can also be used to streamline certain aspects of a business. Even in a post-pandemic world, many HR recruiters plan on recruiting candidates virtually as well as moving the onboarding process online. Companies are also considering permanent remote working options for certain employees, such as employees who do not live in the same city as their designated office. This presents many benefits for both the company and potential candidates:
- It reduces the transportation costs for potential candidates.
- It can save on relocation costs.
- Companies can hire talent outside the boundaries of a specific city.
Hybrid working is an experiment for most companies around the world, and finding the correct strategy that suits all employees will be a learning process. How can remote employees get the same amount of visibility as in-office employees? How can companies keep employees engaged when working from home? Can digital collaboration truly be equal to physical collaboration? The answer to these questions will come as companies experiment with hybrid working, and as technology is being developed to blur the lines between remote and in-office employees.