The Economist magazine called hybrid work the worst of both worlds. The Eat Sleep Work Repeat podcast with Bruce Daisley suggested that companies are confused about which days people should be at the office. The Guardian suggested that inequality in the workplace is further enhanced by hybrid work.
The common theme here is confusion. Companies went from 100% in-office to 100% work-from-home (WFH) during the pandemic and now canâ€™t seem to manage a blend that embraces the best of both worlds. And some businesses are losing patience. Amazon has said that hybrid should be treated more like office-based with some flexibility – so the majority of time should be back in the office. But if you look at employee surveys taken over the past couple of years, the prevailing sentiment is clearâ€¦. most employees want to WFH (for at least part of the working week).
Is the problem really that companies are trying to do hybrid on the cheap?
Take a look at who is commenting on WFH and hybrid issues in the media. It is almost always the Human Resources (HR) leaders, with the debate focusing heavily on things like: the health & wellbeing of employees, potential hybrid working obstacles and contractual issues (such as employersâ€™ potential liability for workplace health and safety), how to connect colleagues to each other (and to their managers), and what â€˜skipping the daily commuteâ€™ really means from an HR perspective.
While unquestionably important, are these the main issues companies should be concerning themselves with?
For example, what about the question of whether businesses need to change the way they manage remote teams. Whether career progression plans need to be re-designed. How managers should measure and improve the output of WFH colleagues. Whether tech can be used in new and exciting ways to help businesses communicate more effectively with their remote teams. Homeworker security and compliance. Or how teams and individuals can be scheduled to better deliver business efficiency and an improved work-life-balance.
Are these operational and tech issues â€“ many of which are at the heart of WHY businesses and individuals are interested in WFH and hybrid â€“ equally, if not even more, important?
Embracing WFH and making it really work, even if your company is only moving to a hybrid model, requires a lot more than just a daily Zoom call to check in.
Contact centres that sent all their people home during the pandemic managed that crisis by adapting business processes and extensively using tech tools like Teams, Zoom, Slack and WhatsApp (most of which were originally purchased for a different purpose). It was never ideal but had to work because there were usually no alternatives.
Looking forward, does it make sense to build your shiny new future on the same makeshift tools and processesâ€¦ especially when there is now much more time to sit down and consider built-for-purpose solutions?
The answer is clearly â€˜noâ€™.Â Itâ€™s time for companies to unequivocally recognise that the work environment has changed completelyâ€¦ and change both the processes they use to manage, and the tech they use to support their people. If executives continue to manage remote workers as if they are still based together in an office then we will just see this cycle of confusion continuing endlessly.
Creating Digital Workplaces is a great example. SensÃ©e has long argued that businesses need Digital Workplace platforms (like its own LiveDesk) to connect people together into teams whether they are in an office, in a shared workspace, or at home â€“ so that they can collaborate as quickly and effectively as if they were sitting alongside each other. These new platforms are not just about better internal management, they are also proven to improve CX, quality, productivity and enhance employee engagement.
Another watershed moment will likely come when companies take shift self-scheduling seriously and give their employees the tools needed to better manage their workdays around other daily priorities.
Changing a few HR policies isnâ€™t going to make hybrid work – this is about culture, process, and action. Arguing about whether Wednesday is or isnâ€™t an office day isnâ€™t going to make hybrid work. Sending endless invitations to status updates on Teams isnâ€™t going to make hybrid work.
Hybrid will only truly work well when managers realise that it requires a new approach to work processes and tech – embrace this and the future is yours. You really canâ€™t do hybrid on the cheap by pretending that nothing has changed except the commute.