Hybrid's here. So what comes next?
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The last two years have been a steep learning curve for us all, equipping us with new levels of perseverance and agility. Organisations, and their business leaders, have dealt with significant change. And now, as we move further away from the pandemic, hybrid working is increasingly embedding itself as a staple of the new normal.
The question now is: what’s next? As businesses grapple to meet the preferences of different employees and demographics, how can they be ready for the next big theme in the evolution of work?
In a recent poll, we asked our community of HR leaders for predictions on the future of flexible work. Here are the results:
Just under half of respondents (47%) said further flexibility will be the next big focus in times to come.
Over the last two years, flexibility has secured itself as the new currency that drives employees’ decisions. It’s sidekicks are the likes of Zoom, Teams and Slack that have made it all possible.
Flexibility incorporates the element of choice into the workplace – when, where and who you work with. Gone are the days where employees made career decisions based on salary alone – now, factors such as flexibility, DE&I and sustainability all weigh heavily towards an ultimate decision.
This means that businesses must be prepared to offer more if they are to attract and retain talent. They must reevaluate everything from L&D opportunities, career progression, performance reviews and the structure of a 9-5 work day – all through a lens that puts people before geography.
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A survey by EY found that nine in ten employees want flexibility in where and when they work. Of those respondents, 54% chose flexibility in when they work, while 40% chose flexibility in where they work.
It’s obvious that organisations will need to be careful around shaping their hybrid strategies, and strike the right balance when approaching flexibility and business success.
Katie Redfern, Career Coach and Founder of Meaningful Recruitment believes that “as the working week has become more flexible in both hours and location, the benefits and reward schemes have had to change too. As a result, [organisations] feel they need to adapt their rewards and benefits in areas.”
Katie lists that childcare, senior care benefits and flexibility will be key, particularly as parents’ work and weekly routines have changed so drastically.
“The pandemic’s toll on mental health and wellness has been very high and employers are trying to mitigate mental health issues that affect their employees. Offering EAP (employee assistance programmes) so staff can have support when they need it has been a big help.”
Similarly, mental health charity Stem4 found that four in ten parents have mental health difficulties, a number that’s risen by 40% two years ago.
Benefits that help balance work and life also play a big role.
“To help staff get a good work life balance, employers are offering a variety of options from fitness memberships, Cycle to Work schemes, health screening and private medical cover. Surprisingly in response to the rise of dog ownership soaring during lockdown some employers have added ‘bring your pet to work days’ and they’ve added pet insurance to their benefits,” says Katie.
But what are some of the concerns to this greater, flexible arrangement? In our case study with Trivago, one of the world’s leading travel booking platforms, Anja Hollefelder defends the business’s decision to enforce a hybrid model that sees people return to the office for a partial amount of the week.
Nearly half of our respondents (43%) believe the four day working week will be the next big discussion after hybrid working.
It’s not a huge surprise. As more focus and attention is paid to the wellbeing and health of workers, the realisation that a two day weekend isn’t sufficient to recharge and reset is becoming more noticeable too.
The UK is one of the first countries to lead the way with this change, with recent news that a pilot trial of a four-day working week will be run between June and December 2022, with more than 30 companies taking place.
The goal is to see if workers can operate at 100% productivity for 80% of the time. The change certainly reflects the way we are thinking about productivity in today’s world, which has been accelerated over the pandemic.
Gill Tanner, Senior Behavioural Scientist at CoachHub says that one of the key advantages of a shorter working week is that employees would benefit from a better work life balance.
“This means they would have the opportunity to realise other ambitions outside of the workplace, be that spending time with friends and family, engaging in more exercise, developing new skills, or pursuing hobbies.”
“All of which could lead to improved mental and physical health and higher levels of happiness. As a result, many employees may benefit from reduced levels of stress and burnout, currently amongst the main reasons for sickness absence in organisations.”
The success of these trials have led some companies to start championing the change, including:
While the trend is certainly taking off, there are still many concerns and issues likely to be ironed out. Companies that have so far embraced the shorter working week have done so with different approaches. These include (but not limited to):
Michelle Hartley, Director at Barrow and Parker HR says that there will be “an even greater focus on wellbeing and psychological safety – organisations have to bring what was previously implicit into the explicit.”
“As leaders, we have to make clear the ways in which our teams can look after themselves, each other and the working environment.”
The previous two years have focused on resilience and building employees up to weather out the uncertainty and tough times. Now, as we move further away from the pandemic, the focus is very much on ensuring the wellbeing of people moving forward.
Wellbeing can cover a multitude of spaces, including:
Bettina Koblick, chief people officer at software company UiPath believes that investing in mental health is a responsibility of companies to ensure employee wellbeing.
“I think the best approach is not to assume what benefits employees want or will use. Instead, give employees the flexibility to use company resources to take advantage of whatever it is that will make them a more productive, happy, and engaged team member.”
“Each employee should decide if they take advantage through exercise, therapy, belonging to a support group, or some other way to fulfil and support their overall health.”
In our survey, 7% of HR leaders believe that the next big discussion may revolve around the reinvention of the office space.
With many organisations committing to a permanent hybrid approach, the office has a new purpose. It is now viewed increasingly as a place for collaboration.
Anne Erni, chief people officer at Audible, discusses in our case study the business’s reshaping of their global offices to reflect the future way of working. According to Anne, the greatest learning from the pandemic is that “work is not a place and flex is not a perk”.
Many other organisations are also following this trend, and reimagining the office to be a place for interaction, communication and collaboration.
As we continue to settle into a world of hybrid working and an increasingly deconstructed 9-5 work day, many are looking at the digital requirements to meet such a future.
Actual Experience have conducted research into this, finding that despite 67% of leaders being concerned about the impact of digital inequality as hybrid working becomes the norm, only 19% believe they understand the link between digital tools and employee wellbeing.
“The reality of what we have uncovered is that many organisations simply are not prepared for the future ways of working. Despite the last 18 months of discourse, they are still worried that new hybrid working models will only introduce more inequality across teams and individuals.”
“Our findings show that 67% of C-Suite representatives feel this way. This is compounded with the findings that 24% said they were either ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ effective in understanding the link between digital tools and employee wellbeing.”
Whichever big change comes next, it’s very clear that HR and business leaders have a lot on their plate for the next few years. Organisations will need to continue being resilient and focus on the power of their people as they embark on this new normal.