Despite the countless amount of lockdown measures, tier systems, and virtual pub quizzes we’ve had to endure over the past couple of years, the one thing we can take solace in is just how much we’ve adapted to remote working.
But even with the Omicron variant seeming to be receding, mass office returns are yet again up in the air. Meta (previously Facebook) will allow workers to delay their return as late as June, while DocuSign, known for their widely used electronic signature feature, have postponed their office reopening after four failed attempts, vaguely saying they’ll “reassess plans as 2022 unfolds.”
It will likely be a while longer until businesses start making any firm plans to reopen the office, but the constant murmurings of potential return dates is giving employees emotional whiplash, forcing them to constantly manage their day around transportation, work, child care, and their personal lives.
So for how long do we put off returning to the office? And is there any point returning at all?
There’s no place like home
The road back to the office will be anything other than short or direct, and the once temporary arrangements that people have become used to are becoming permanent.
The hybrid working model is favoured by employees that are fed up with long, gruelling commutes to the office. Plenty have found a happy balance between home and work life, allowing for greater flexibility while actually improving on creativity, collaboration and wellbeing.
83% of UK office workers agree that flexible working is here to stay according to our research, with many now expecting to be able to work wherever and whenever suits them best - from kitchen tables to family villas.
For many businesses, this means coming to terms with the death of the traditional 9-to-5 working day - and even the five-day working week.
Are employees really more productive at home?
While nice in theory, some managers thought it might create more headaches than it was worth and viewed hybrid working with a degree of suspicion, instead believing that if employees could pick and choose the hours they worked, they would simply choose to do less work.
On the contrary, employees proved that they could be trusted to remain productive working remotely and out-of-sight. Insight from Microsoft has proved that 82% business leaders say their businesses were at least as productive as they were before the pandemic.
In a hybrid workplace, flexible workers are using their time better. They have more freedom to choose to work where and when they’re feeling most productive and when employees are happier, better rested and less stressed, they do better work.
Not only that, office space in London is the most expensive in the world – coming in at around 500 pounds per square foot per year for a prime location. So if having a grand central office isn’t as necessary as we’ve all been led to believe in the new hybrid world, businesses can be making some serious cost savings.
Supporting a highly fluid workforce represents a set of new challenges never seen before.
So, if your business is planning on integrating hybrid work into your return to office plan, you’ll want to take extra precaution when planning your future workplace strategy.
Here are three main challenges that businesses are still facing in implementing a hybrid working environment:
1. Establishing Flexibility
Creating a hard line between work/home is tough. As an employer you need to clearly define what hybrid working and flexibility means for your team.
They need to know exactly what is expected of them in regard to flexible working, including, core hours they are expected to work, and even what they should wear - at least while on video!
It’s very important that remote workers are supported to define a start and end to their workday and try to keep in the same routine - this will help set important boundaries and ensure they aren’t living at work.
2. Cultivating inclusivity
As employees return to the office and in-person mingling returns, those working remotely may miss out on the impromptu ‘watercooler’ moments and post-work drinks that their colleagues in the office can enjoy and may become further isolated from their peers.
This may dent their ability to effectively collaborate as they miss opportunities to contribute informally and weakens connection.
Technology plays a big part here, as ensuring your staff feel supported and equipped with the right tools will help bring them together.
3. Remote Tech Support
Increased reliance on technology is the main challenge of the new remote-working world.
Technology is frustrating workers, creating friction and inertia, blocking employee progress and empowerment, creating needless work and engendering a feeling of isolation and impotence.
Thankfully, remote IT solutions exist, like Smart Locker systems, that enable businesses to provide IT equipment to employees at all hours of the day. Smart lockers enable IT Support Teams to quickly, and easily secure, manage and distribute hardware.
By using smart lockers, it is possible to drop off broken equipment and pick up a loaned replacement. Employees can simply log their support request in their support portal and swap out their equipment at their closest hub — saving valuable time, resources and therefore - money.
Ultimately, digital innovations are only going to get more important when it comes to unlocking productivity gains and helping businesses to operate efficiently and resiliently in response to the challenges they may face. It is down to those responsible for IT infrastructure to stay on top of the emerging technologies and alert to their own organisation’s effectiveness.