As the idea of returning to ‘normal’ seems like a real possibility at last, it’s time to take stock and think about what that means for your business. Now that most people have had a taste of the freedom and flexibility of remote working, they’re unlikely to be in any hurry to go back to the way things were. However, operating on a fully remote basis isn’t practical for every business, so we’re likely to see a hybrid workplace becoming the norm in 2021 and beyond.
If you’re embracing the trend with open arms, let’s look at what that might mean for your business and how to prepare for the transition.
Key workplace trends for 2021
The events of 2020 forced us all to adapt to new ways of living, working and communicating, whether we wanted to or not. Working from home became the norm, but it was a logistical nightmare for many businesses as they scrambled to take their operations online at a moment’s notice. It wasn’t plain sailing for employees either, with many struggling with childcare needs and feeling unable to ‘disconnect from work’, which is one of the issues addressed in the National Remote Work Strategy, published at the start of the year.
As we continue to navigate the current crisis, we are slowly coming to terms with the fact that things will never go back to how they were, at least not fully. A shift towards remote working was always inevitable, but the pandemic accelerated the process at a rate no one could have imagined.
According to the National Remote Working Survey, a staggering 95% of employees in Ireland would favour working remotely either some or all of the time. Just over half of those would prefer a hybrid model that involves working from home most of the time with a day or two spent in the office. There are three main work models that business leaders can choose to adopt going forward:
- Working from home full-time.
- Working in the office full-time.
- A blend of the two, known as a ‘hybrid workplace’.
As we tentatively set our sights on a bright, post-pandemic world in the near future, business leaders must take the opportunity to examine their current work model and, if necessary, tear it down and rebuild it.
Going back to work: a chance to rewrite the script
With 40% of the global workforce considering leaving their employment this year, it’s clear that business leaders need to really listen to what their employees want if they are to successfully navigate the new work landscape. This becomes even more clear when we look at the results of Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index. After surveying more than 30,000 people around the world, they identified the following key trends:
- Flexible work is here to stay
- Leaders are out of touch with employees and need a wake-up call
- High productivity is masking an exhausted workforce
- Gen Z is at risk and will need to be re-energized
- Shrinking networks are endangering innovation
- Authenticity will spur productivity and wellbeing
- Talent is everywhere in a hybrid work world
The future of Irish businesses depends on their attitude and willingness to adapt to change, with many already embracing more flexibility around when and where employees choose to do their work. However, it doesn’t look like working from home full-time will continue to be the norm, with 6% of employees in Ireland wanting to go back to the office, citing isolation and loneliness, lack of motivation, and issues with their workspace as their primary reasons.
Research shows that employees also experience difficulty switching off and keeping regular working hours. Despite technological advances in real-time remote collaboration, it seems that there will always be some things that are simply better done in person.
For many people though, the pros of working remotely seem to outweigh the cons. Working from home has allowed them greater flexibility and a better work/life balance, as well as less time and money spent on commuting. Time that was previously spent sitting in traffic or across from another disillusioned worker on the Luas can now be spent relaxing, exercising, cooking dinner, or spending time with family.
Hustle culture and living to work is dead, and emerging out of its ashes is a new, more balanced way of doing things. A hybrid workplace is a blend of the old and new that keeps you and your employees happy and ensures maximum productivity.
How to prepare for a hybrid workplace
Some businesses are naturally better suited to operating remotely, whether partly or fully. However, a hybrid workplace is set to be the new normal, so business owners and managers need to get on board with it or risk being left behind. Going forward, it’s clear that attracting and retaining talented people will require business leaders to be proactive and forward-thinking in their approach.
Microsoft’s 2021 Key Work Trends report highlighted three main areas that businesses need to focus on if they are to successfully navigate the transition to a hybrid workplace. Their approach to empowering employees for a flexible work world involves a three-part strategy:
- Creating a policy to empower people for extreme flexibility.
- Reimagining physical work spaces.
- Investing in technologies that connect people anywhere and anytime.
Moving to a hybrid work model will require a major shift in thinking across the board, but it’s something that most businesses will need to embrace. Microsoft Teams has a whole host of features designed to help people work together seamlessly, no matter where they are. These include:
- Intelligent HD cameras and speakers that identify and focus on the active speaker
- Individual names and profiles listed in transcripts
- Live captions
- Live transcription
- Ability to ‘raise your hand’ when you want to say something
- Live chat so people can communicate without talking over the speaker
- Digital shared whiteboards to enhance collaboration between team members
- Intelligent Capture cameras to capture what’s being written or drawn on the digital whiteboard so that everyone can brainstorm together in real-time
As with anything else, preparation is key. If you want your business to succeed in an unfamiliar, post-pandemic world, you’ll need to think outside the box and explore new ways of doing things. Take heart from the fact that everyone is learning as they go along. As long as you’re open and willing to embrace change, you won’t go far wrong.