Robert Kim, Director of Soben North America, takes an in-depth look at the changing landscape of hybrid working and the future challenges that we may encounter…
There can be no doubt that the pandemic has changed the way we work. Not least in the almost overnight shift to remote working that occurred in March 2020. This shift has dramatically altered the landscape of the workplace long term, with a Future of Work report by Gartner suggesting that the number of people regularly working remotely has risen to 48% from a pre-pandemic level of around 30%.
This shift has also impacted what employees are looking for in terms of flexibility post-pandemic. A survey by global business consultancy EY revealed that more than half of employees worldwide would leave their current role if not provided with flexibility in the workplace post-pandemic.
Productivity and Hybrid Working
When I started working remotely at the start of the pandemic, like many others I assumed that one of the biggest risks would be productivity. However, a month or two in it became clear that the anticipated drop in productivity hadn’t materialised.
When I spoke to friends and colleagues, it seemed that they too were managing to remain as productive as before, if not more so. In fact, research by wfhresearch.com found that that nearly six out of 10 workers reported being more productive working from home.
It’s clear that staff want to work from home, and they believe they are more efficient in doing so. But does this translate to actual productivity gains? At Soben, we believe it does and there are early studies showing a range of gained productivity.
In a study by Stanford University of 16,000 workers over 9 months, it found that working from home increased productivity by 13%. Other studies have found even more ambitious increases, Prodoscore reports an increase in productivity by 47% since March 2020.
What shocked me individually, was the seeming rush of companies in our industry to push employees back into the office. Many companies re-opened their doors and made big public commitments to get their employees back to “normality.”
I can’t really talk as to why those companies chose that route, but I do know that Soben believes the “normal” way of working is outdated and we don’t need to be in an office to be productive. In Soben North America we have implemented remote first and flexible working policies. We recognise that one size doesn’t fit all and believe our staff know what makes them the most productive.
What Have We Learned?
Trust is Key
You have to trust your employees. Some of the biggest changes businesses have to implement is around how staff are managed. Micro-management is just impossible. This can impact the skills you are looking for in a potential new hire. At Soben, we have prioritised skills around independent working, motivation, and accountability, whilst ensuring that all new employees are fully supported by the team, whether working from home or not. In short, they have to trust you, and you have to trust them.
Flexibility Goes Both Ways
Flexibility with your staff requires you to be flexible too. You have to be as accessible as possible. At Soben, like many organisations operating hybrid working, we use tools to ensure that employees and managers can avoid being always ‘on’, but you have to be flexible with how and when your staff need you.
If someone is IM-ing you at 8pm on a Saturday, it’s pretty safe to assume they’re looking at something urgent. I trust my staff not to interrupt my personal time with trivial things, and I extend them the same courtesy. However, when they do need support, you have to be able to provide that – even if it’s just to reassure them and let them know it’s a Monday morning kind of problem.
Focus on Communication
Communication is key. Some of the biggest challenges we’ve faced have come from mis-communication. Setting clear objectives and communicating them effectively is essential to avoid disconnects. We hold weekly one-to-one meetings with staff where we try to minimise talking about work and use the session as a chance to check in. We also prioritise regular in-person get togethers, a significant cost but one that pays out in building and maintaining that connection.
It would be naïve of us to assume we’ve somehow cracked the code and can see in to the future of flexible working. Undoubtedly there are going to be challenges we can foresee down the line and issues we will need to work through.
Some key areas to be aware of are:
- Maintaining culture
- Enabling communication/collaboration
- Managing workloads/work life-balance
- Fostering creativity and innovation
- People management
- Career advancement and recognition
- Employee wellbeing
To keep up with technology and meet the changing labour demands of our employees we must continue to challenge how we’re working and responding to a new generation of talent. We’d love to know your thoughts about what makes you productive and how do you see the future of working?