Work life reimagined: What’s next for hybrid working?
Workplace experts, including Susan Ferrier, NAB Group Executive of People and Culture, predict what our post-pandemic model of working means for employers and employees, how to build the best model for your business and where the pitfalls lie.
It’s the million-dollar question for business leaders: how to transform remote and hybrid working arrangements, made on the fly in many instances, into workable, long-term policies.
In the early days of the pandemic, more than 4.3 million Australians found themselves working from home, according to a Roy Morgan study. By 2022, Seek data had 95 per cent of us wanting to work remotely at least one day a week.
So today, is there an ideal working location scenario that meets the needs of both businesses and employees?
Why finding your ‘sweet spot’ matters
When it comes to the home/office hybrid model, most medium-sized organisations are likely to find a sweet spot somewhere in the middle, according to NAB Group Executive, People and Culture, Susan Ferrier.
She believes the next three to five years will be a time of workplace redesign and redefinition, as leaders determine what works and what doesn’t for their business.
“The key trend I see emerging in Australia is a model of work that provides freedom within a framework that enables employees to embrace hybrid working,” Ferrier says. “A model which is role-modelled from the top and empowers employees to manage work in the flow of life, while prioritising their wellbeing.”
Attractive hybrid and flexible working practices will be a key drawcard for workers, in the medium term, Ferrier predicts.
“It could give businesses a competitive edge over rivals in the war for talent and in accelerating diversity and inclusion objectives,” she says.
Managing millennial expectations
Offering attractive hybrid arrangements will be essential for businesses that want to recruit and retain millennials – now the largest demographic in the Australian workforce – according to Simon Kuestenmacher, co-founder of The Demographics Group.
Many workers in this cohort have decamped from the inner city to the more affordable urban fringe. They’ve bought homes and started families, and they’re more interested in achieving work-life balance than their Baby Boomer parents and Gen X colleagues ever were.
The prospect of a long, seemingly unnecessary, daily commute holds little appeal, particularly for those who’ve become accustomed to more flexible arrangements.
“Their motivation to go to the CBD on any given day is relatively small,” Kuestenmacher says. “They’re still within its ‘gravitational pull’, so they can make the trek once or twice a week, but it needs to make sense for them to do so.”
Businesses that can’t, or won’t, provide a compelling justification for the journey risk alienating or losing these workers, something few employers may be willing to do while the ‘war for talent’ persists.
Preserving corporate culture
But what about the opposite side of the coin? Leaders who find themselves unable to bring more employees back to the office more often may see the fabric of their organisations damaged significantly as a result, warns Mehul Joshi, a senior partner at executive coaching and leadership development firm Stephenson Mansell Group.
Joshi says organisations have focused on productivity without considering the long-term impact on corporate culture when evaluating their remote working arrangements.
Over time, trust and goodwill erodes when colleagues aren’t in close physical proximity, and this can have a negative effect on wellbeing and group morale.
Joshi believes mid-sized companies that let their corporate culture slip may find it especially challenging to attract the top talent they need to grow.
“The advice we give to leaders is to be able to clearly articulate the value of being in the office, in terms of connecting and building that culture,” he says.
“It’s not really about whether individual contributors are more or less effective working from home – a leader needs to be thinking about the long-term future of the business; having a strategic vision and working together cohesively as a team to achieve it.”
“Working from home’ or ‘working from the office’ is a false dichotomy. We need a more sophisticated approach, with lots of communication from the executive team, one-on-one and to the group.”
Designing a policy that works for all
The best way to land a working policy that serves customers, employees and the organisation well is to co-design it with your team, Ferrier says.
“We know there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and not all roles can have equal levels of hybrid flexibility, so we must listen to our people to understand where there are opportunities to test and evolve our hybrid models,” she says.
“Starting from a place of trust and empowerment for your people will achieve the best results.”
So how best to go from this place of trust and identify your hybrid policy? A great place to start, Ferrier says, is to use what work futurist Dom Price describes as a three-pronged approach.
“Consider what’s ‘fixed’ (say two to three days a week in the office), what’s ‘flex’ (which days and times of the day you start and finish) and what’s ‘free’ (setting team operating rhythm).
This framework allows leaders to provide that freedom within a framework that many employees are asking for.”
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