In the past two years, the working world has changed completely. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, companies across the globe were faced with the need to implement remote or hybrid working models. While some had been developing models for flexible working already, for others it was a completely new concept. Hybrid working is now ubiquitous and research suggests that it will remain the predominant model for many industries, even after the pandemic ends.
The return to work has introduced new complexities for companies to contend with, as employees had acclimated to a completely different style of working. Many employees experienced benefits of improved work/life balance due to the elimination of a daily commute and the distractions that come with in-person working. Business owners have, in some instances, seen the opportunity to cut back on the costs of owning or leasing office space.
Comfy, a leading provider of workplace intelligence technology, and parent company Siemens recently commissioned research from Verdantix to source sentiments and insights from senior facilities, HR, and IT executives responsible for defining the hybrid workforce model. What emerged was widespread support for flexible working and, when working on-premise, the need for more social spaces where people can interact freely.
Corporates understand that they need to reimagine office space and working patterns, though many are still figuring out how. The Verdantix survey found that the majority of respondents have shifted permanently to a hybrid work model, though most (88%) are not prepared with change management processes to implement the shift, and 25% of respondents are still firming up their return-to-work strategies to find the right balance between worker flexibility and company collaboration and culture.
Working Theories, a survey of worker sentiment regarding the future of the office conducted by New Statesman Media Group, in partnership with Siemens, made a similar discovery, with 72.9% of respondents reporting that their employers were yet to fully define their hybrid model and implement the underlying tech to support it.
“Almost every business across the globe has had to adjust its operations because of Covid-19,” says Stefan Schwab, CEO of Comfy. “Many firms are convinced of the merits of adopting more flexible working as a permanent structural change to their businesses. However, most are not prepared for the sudden change in working models and there is uncertainty about implementing change management for hybrid working.”
Turning to technology
Delivering a successful hybrid model is dependent on a collaborative, technology-driven process that recreates a digital office environment while providing flexibility and enabling collaboration. The path forward will vary across companies and verticals, but one constant will remain: balancing the needs of leadership and employees. Many answers lie in practices-based workplace data and behavioural analytics.
“The strongest leaders will place a premium on aligning employee priorities with their own, recognising that the value of their company is shaped by their workforce and its outputs,” says Schwab. “What has become clear throughout the pandemic and the Great Resignation, is that employees will simply switch jobs or quit when their work preferences are not met – joining companies that are more aligned with their individual desires and preferences or taking a break from work altogether.”
“Actual behavioural data tells the true story of how employees prefer to use office spaces,” he adds. “Technology can play a role in aligning leadership and employee priorities by providing insights on employee behaviours that are conducive to ensuring employee satisfaction and driving productivity. These insights give leaders the ability to analyse data and combine it with other sources utilising their own business intelligence tools. By extracting time-series data, actionable patterns and trends emerge over time.”
Combining occupancy data with real estate cost data can generate insights into where to reduce footprint, accommodate additional staff or expand to new locations. Similarly, enabling employees to choose how and where they work by creating characteristics for workspaces that fit the needs of the employee can increase productivity and employee satisfaction.
“With data, building leaders can make more informed and flexible decisions about their real estate portfolio while increasing productivity and satisfaction of their employees,” stresses Schwab.
Data’s value in shaping company culture
To affect meaningful change, companies will not only need to embrace new technologies, but also rethink how they shape company culture. The notions around employee experience and employee engagement have been completely transformed and the approach to both of these depends on the size of the company, how distributed the offices are, and the extent that the company relied on office-based work prior to the pandemic.
“The use of workplace data, including the frequency and ways employees are utilising the office, gives enterprises the ability to analyse and understand both employees’ intentions to use office space – via reservation data – as well as actual employee behaviour via sensor or Wi-Fi data,” he explains. “Because of the changing nature of office work, this data will be valuable when reconfiguring office designs, even when behaviours and modes of working are bound to change again.”
A company’s portfolio strategy and workspace design need to be optimised for collaboration and activity-based work, while meeting protocols around safety and capacity limits. Another element for leadership to consider is how they communicate to employees how they are using workplace data.
Working Theories discovered that some workers are hesitant to use a workplace app due to concerns around behaviour tracking and their right to privacy. Educating one’s workforce on the benefits of flexibility and productivity in addition to the company’s regard for employees’ privacy, should be a key priority for leaders as they implement such a solution.
“Office utilisation and how we work has transformed due to the pandemic, driving the function of data as a lever to understand and enforce safety standards,” Schwab remarks. “However, with the majority of companies being mostly remote or hybrid, many companies have taken advantage of the reduced use of office space to use data in a more strategic way – to modify their real estate portfolios and streamline operations costs.”
“What we once described as the future of work is now our present and the new workplace reality,” Schwab continues. “Hybrid working challenges decades of standardised workplace practices. Typical algorithms for space allocations, leasing decisions and one-to-one desk ratios have been obliterated; methods for encouraging employee productivity and creating company culture are being reconstructed. Almost every aspect of work as we know it has changed irrevocably and permanently.
“Organisations that demonstrate resilience, and adapt to these changes with the ability to respond, will set themselves apart from those who view this as a temporary problem requiring short-term solutions.”