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No turning back the clock on flexibility

A recent global survey of 9000 office workers, undertaken by Future Forum confirms that the hybrid workplace is here to stay. It shows the pandemic has had a significant impact on our attitudes to how and where we work with the majority of respondents indicating a preference for a mix of both remote and office-based work.

A key take-away from the research is that making teams more effective requires attention to flexibility, connectedness and inclusiveness.  The research suggests that finding and retaining high quality talent will rely on how companies implement these key pillars.

While remote work provides greater satisfaction in terms of work-life balance and reduces stress and anxiety, it is not for everyone.  A sense of belonging can be undermined by remote working and maintaining connectedness is seen as critical to successful teams. According to the research, when it comes to working remotely, long standing employees with existing relationships fare much better than new employees. Newer employees are more likely to report feelings of isolation and loneliness. Virtual social events are often no substitute for face-to-face contact, often falling short in terms of fostering connectedness.

Finding ways to ensure employees feel valued is important in remote working situations and the research highlights the benefits of taking time to recognise employee contributions and utilising team building activities.

While there was an overall positive effect in relation to remote working across all groups including in terms of productivity, stress and well-being, the research identified a gender divide.  Women with children, unsurprisingly, had difficulty staying focused and avoiding distractions compared to women without children. The gap was much less pronounced among men with and without children. These insights can help organisations develop new workplace innovations that better support working parents.

Drawing on this research, a recent webinar on reimaging work with leaders from major global technology companies discussed how the pandemic has forced some major shifts in thinking. While, globally, organisations were initially overly concerned with productivity metrics for employees working at home, this gave way to a recognition that having a visibility of people in an office tells you very little about outcomes.  In this respect, some were able to flip their focus to outcomes and what could realistically be achieved given the issues their staff were dealing with. 

In some organisations, it fostered a wider consideration of how work was done, for example, less focus on status meetings and more attention to goals. In particular, the pandemic has shown that the traditional 9 to 5 work-day does not work for an increasing number of employees.  Rather, having flexibility in where and when you work is more important for both well-being and productivity and enforced remote working has clearly shown that this can work effectively for individuals and organisations.

Leaders agree that hybrid ways of working are the new normal and it will be difficult to turn back the clock for those organisations that expect all staff to return to the office.  Given this outcome, companies will increasingly rely on online tools to achieve the necessary flexibility, inclusiveness and connectedness that employees seek, regardless of their working arrangements.  It will be incumbent on all of us to become skilled in their use if new approaches to work and supporting employees are to work effectively.  

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