Leadership & Culture

What our hybrid future means for your workplace

The future of work isn’t fully remote or full-time in the office. It’s hybrid.

 

At least that’s what fresh Australian workforce research is telling us.

 

If you’ve been following research from Swinburne University of Technology's Centre for the New Workforce, you will have seen two key reports emerge in recent years, looking at what Peak Human Potential could look like in a tech-driven future, as well as how businesses could channel that potential through creating a Peak Human Workplace.

 

Now, there’s a report shining a light on our current dilemma. Will the future of work be hybrid?

 

The answer is a clear and resounding yes. Though different employers and managers will approach the problem with their own ideas and perspectives, research across 1000 employees and employers (who are office-based, and therefore have the capacity for remote work) shows the future will almost certainly be a mix of the two.

 

Rather than going all-in on remote - or forcing employees back to the office full-time after months in lockdown in 2020 and 2021 - the report predicts that companies will need to find a future hybrid option (either voluntarily, or through employee pressure), for reasons that include talent retention, productivity, social connection, creativity and more.

 

Four lessons for your ‘new office’ future

 

The Centre for the New Workforce calls this emerging reality the ‘new office’.

 

Rather than returning to old habits and ways of doing things in the office, the new paradigm will be about using the office for what it is best for and turning the new age of flexible work into a competitive advantage for an organisation. The end result will see companies focus on the value created in the office and at home.

 

Here’s a few things to think about in the early stages of this workforce transition.

 

1. Flexible work is here to stay

 

If you’re a leader who thinks it’s just a matter of time until we go back to full-time office normal, it’s time to think again. The August 2021 survey of office-based, flexible and home-based workers found that the desire for access to flexible working conditions post-pandemic is now pretty much unanimous, with 73% wanting genuine flexibility in how they work.

 

In fact, about two in five of your employees will consider leaving you for more flexibility and 12.5% of the workforce see flexible work as absolutely non-negotiable. (Only a pay rise, more time off or better job security are likely to make workers re-evaluate this stance on flexibility, according to the new research.)

 

But what flexible means will be different for different people. The research shows even those who classify themselves as home-based workers see value in spending about 1.5 days in the office every week. Office-based workers, meanwhile, may want to spend the majority of their time in the office, but only want to be about 3.7 days on average.

 

The hybrid trend is expected to be ‘locked in’ by generational change. With demographic research showing Gen Z and Millennial workers see flexible working as the most important working arrangement for them over and above other options, new waves of workers are unlikely to accept the full-time office reality of the past.

 

2. The office will be reborn, not die

 

Flexibility doesn’t mean death for the office. Rather, the Centre for the New Workforce expects offices to play a critical role. Now, the activities conducted there are likely to have an increasing focus on the value they create for companies, rather than on clocking in and doing the time.

 

The shift will be towards enabling the purpose of work. When workers and employers surveyed were asked what was best done in the office, they nominated activities like informal connection with colleagues, unplanned work, in-person collaboration, creativity and ideation and workplace learning.

 

These contrasted the task-based activities that survey respondents said were best completed at home, including things like individual focus work, virtual meetings and taking time out. The Centre for the New Workforce sees a reimagined and repurposed office focused around value creation and social connection.

 

3. Wellbeing and productivity need work

 

There’s a preconception home-based or flexible workers will somehow manage to find the perfect balance of wellbeing and productivity, with more time to squeeze in other pursuits like leisure, exercise, family or friends. However the research shows a more complex, nuanced equation for wellbeing and productivity.

 

First, home based workers seem to be the least happy and job satisfied of all workers. But they are also more effective in getting work done; they are 20% more productive in completing tasks in fact. Office workers said they had the lowest workplace wellbeing, but benefitted from the positive of finding social wellbeing in the office.

 

Flexible workers – which is where Swinburne says we are all heading – turn out to be the least effective at getting things done. Possible reasons for this include the new logistical challenges of where and when to work, but employees also say lack clarity on what they should focus on and find it harder to collaborate with others.

 

4. Be strategic about going hybrid

 

The Centre for the New Workforce suggests leaders think and plan strategically for their new hybrid reality. For example, one thing to consider is making flexible work less complicated for individuals and teams, by clearly defining the purpose of work at home and in the office to eliminate some confusion.

 

There are a few more suggestions. For one, leaders are encouraged to co-design an approach for and with their people so that their experiences, expectations and aspirations are considered, rather than enforcing a top down approach to hybrid work along the lines of ‘three days in’, ‘two days out’ that might not work for all.

 

The Centre also suggests actively programming human interaction into the new office rather than being passive and reverting to old habits. Organisations are advised to design the right spaces for new office activities, and to develop a hybrid working charter that contains an employer’s promise and principles for workers.

 

Interested in learning more about how we help education and work pathways providers manage remote and hybrid operations with cloud SaaS technology? Learn more here.