Over summer there’s been a gradual shift towards being office based once more, with plenty of people eager to return to in-person meetings and a desk that’s no longer in the same proximity as their bed or the kitchen.
Demand for more flexibility is also huge, with 85% of employees saying they want a hybrid approach to work, evidence of how the pandemic has fundamentally altered the way we now do business.
As autumn rolls in, we’re preparing to enter a new phase - one that blends remote work with office work, and puts the focus on productivity, creativity, and company culture. At least, that’s the plan. After 18 months of WFH it’s understandable that the transition might be tricky to grapple with for some.
So how can business leaders support their employees to get back to a productive schedule in a hybrid world that’s here to stay? These are our top tips.
Use tools and tech to bring people together
Although productivity can (and does) increase outside the office, one in five remote workers have said they struggle with loneliness, and that communication has been an issue within the new hybrid-work dynamic.
As a business, you can use this as an opportunity to assess and upgrade your internal communication channels and ensure there’s a solid system in place. Slack, Asana and Trello are just a few tools helping to facilitate more ‘human’ connection in an online world, keeping teams productive, well-organised and engaged.
The right tools can bring your workforce together whereas poor implementation, leading to disjointed communication, will only widen that gap. Make sure you’re doing what you can to streamline those interactions in the best way possible.
Design an inspiring workspace
If you want to motivate your team to travel into the office, make it a space that’s worth leaving home for. Think less ping-pong tables and booze trollies on a Friday, more mood lighting, soft furnishings and a considered layout to enable productivity and creativity to thrive.
This could include breakout areas, designated client zones, and open plan spaces to maximise social interactions.
The aesthetic should mimic all the best parts of home or remote work, and the comforts that come with it – after all, it’s what people are now used to. And research shows that a well-designed office can increase employee productivity by up to 20%. Ultimately, the space needs to make the transition from work to home as seamless as possible, and place collaboration at the heart of its design.
Make in-person meetings count
The office provides what remote work cannot – social interactions, dynamism, energy, and team culture. It’s important to dial this part up to make the benefits of being office-based stand out. That means ideally merging in-office days within the team so you can get everyone in the same room, on specific days, to maximise productivity.
Likewise, aim to make all-hands company meetings in-person, and schedule regular social days too. The latter will give your team the opportunity to bond and reconnect outside work, something that’s been missing - and felt - for so many lately.
Give WFH days a purpose
There are countless stats to support the fact productivity thrives at home for focused work – on average, remote workers see a 50% increase in their productivity levels and a more efficient turnaround on projects. With that in mind, it’s about empowering your team to use WFH days in a way that contains a clear purpose.
Get them to set out what they plan to use theirs for. For example, writing a brief that requires head-focused work, no chatter, or analysing the quarterly budget, without interruption. It means everyone is clear on the priorities for that week, and it clarifies where it makes most sense to deliver those tasks.
Finally, ensure calendars are visible to the wider team with people’s availability clearly stated. This will make for a more joined-up approach so nobody gets forgotten simply because they’re WFH. By adopting a remote-first attitude as a business, you can dissolve any of the stigma still attached to this way of working. After all, WFH’s no longer the exception anymore.
Create the right environment with the right attitude
The right environment includes both the look and feel. It becomes very obvious when a fancy kit-out is just a veneer, or when words don’t align with action - genuine intention needs to sit behind what you’re doing, and your team will feel whether that’s authentic or not. The pandemic has truly shifted what’s important in that sense.
Now’s the time to really engage with your people. Start having conversations about what they want and need. Really listen to their answers.
Ultimately, the driving force beneath all this should support the mental wellbeing of your workforce and be about offering them the flexibility to deliver great work in the environment(s) that suit them.
Empathy and understanding will lead to a more cohesive and collaborative organisation, one that’s going to get you the results you all want in the longer term.
The final thing to remember is that all of us are still learning how to adapt to this new world of work. The worst thing we can do as business leaders is to try to hang on to that nostalgia of 'how it used to be' because that is not coming back. Doing so will stop us from being able to reinvent and build this new way of working.
We won’t get it right every time but if we can see it as an opportune moment to experiment and try out different ideas, it can pave the way for a more innovative and progressive workforce.
It’s not a one size fits all – and the uniqueness of your team and the space you choose to work in is evidence of that.