People

Ready or not, hybrid working is here for the long-term

As the ‘new normal’ swims into focus, business organisations still have a lot to do to define a long-term strategy for the hybrid workplace, according to a new report by Siemens

Are employers ready for the future of hybrid working? According to a new survey by Siemens, organisations are not quite as prepared as they’d like to be.

In a poll of 221 office workers around the world, Siemens partnered with New Statesman Media Group to ask: ‘What do employees want from the future workplace?’ The results suggest that while things will not return to the way they were before the pandemic, the road ahead is still unclear.

The survey found that almost three-quarters (71 per cent) of respondents are aiming to implement a hybrid or flexible working model across the longer-term, but only a little over a quarter have defined and implemented a strategy, including a technology platform, to manage it.

While employers recognise the need for new working models, many are struggling to define exactly what their model should look like.

Work from home forever?

What is clear is that the overwhelming majority of employers that switched to WFH (work from home) and hybrid working models during the pandemic intend to keep such a model in place in the longer-term. This is due to the many perceived advantages home working offers.

Firstly, research suggests that there has been no negative impact on employee productivity – in many cases productivity of workers has risen. Secondly, there is a clear demand for the greater flexibility and control which WFH accommodates. Thirdly, working from home cuts physical footprint and allows for savings on real estate without impacting headcount.

‘Only 34 per cent of companies are fully prepared with a strategy to be implemented…’

However, simply allowing workers to continue working from home without having a long term, data-driven strategy for hybrid working will create disadvantages. Only 34 per cent of companies are fully prepared with a strategy, including technology, ready to be implemented.

Therefore, if firms are to create hybrid workplaces that attract and retain talent, foster collaboration and provide safe, sustainable and cost-effective offices, they must begin putting the building blocks in place now.

Listen to the workers

As organisations start to formalise new working strategies they will encounter both challenges and opportunities, says the report. It is important that companies are consistently checking in and listening to their workers to stay abreast of the priorities, fears and misapprehensions.

One of the main concerns surrounding hybrid work is the lack of social interaction. The top three issues that employees have with a hybrid work model are: lack of social contact (68 per cent); harder to build and maintain a network (54 per cent), and lack of collaboration opportunities (45 per cent).

Elisa Rönkä, Siemens Smart Infrastructure’s head of digital market development for Europe, comments that companies must ‘consider the challenge of maintaining community and culture in their workforce’.

How can the office help?

To tackle these issues, the physical office will play a key role, emerging as a social, collaborative hub within the hybrid working environment, requiring employers and facility managers to rethink how physical space is defined and divided. Understanding employee behaviour is the key to achieve a successful office for the hybrid model.

However, when asked about what types of spaces they would require upon their return, the picture respondents painted did not look too dissimilar to the traditional office pre-pandemic. Meeting room spaces emerged as a clear winner with 65 per cent of respondents claiming they were  important or very important spaces. Below that, wellness took priority with 61 per cent of respondents prioritising retreat and relaxation areas. Privacy was the third priority – respondents told the survey that wanted private booths (58 per cent) and single occupancy desks (56.5 per cent) when they return to the office.

Technology offering solutions

Digital tools should also play a key role to improve employee experience and connect people through a common platform. For example, office apps will allow workers to book spaces as a team to facilitate collaboration. Touchless access controls will also allow for safer and healthier physical environments where employees can meet in person, build their networks and work together, and be confident in their wellbeing.

‘It is clear that there remains work to be done on developing successful long-term hybrid strategies…’

However, the workplace app will be a new experience for a large proportion of employees. Despite many organisations considering the implementation of a workplace app, 45 per cent of employees claimed they were either unsure or unwilling to use an app. Some education about the value of such a solution will therefore be required to ensure technology can be used to optimise the hybrid model.

It is clear that there remains work to be done on developing successful long-term hybrid strategies. Building a culture of trust, engagement and communication with employees will ensure that organisations have the overwhelming support of their people, which allows opportunity for trial and error.

New strategies will depend on employees being engaged in the process of defining and executing new working models, supported by modern technology platforms which will  bridge the gap in time and space between employees working from anywhere.

Access the full report, ‘Working Theories: What Employees Want from the Future Workplace’ here.

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