THE somewhat RETURN TO WORK
With pandemic restrictions easing globally, businesses have begun to start emphasising a return to the office program in hopes to rekindle the collaboration and interpersonal focus missing over recent years. The flexibility, comfort and autonomy offered by what was seemingly ’the new norm’ under work from home arrangements have fuelled the widely shared apprehension to return to the office. Casting threats of ‘The Great Resignation’ aside - for discussions sake - we endeavour to assess the causes of this newly emerging paradigm, what it may mean for business, and what the future may look like.
The apprehension itself stems from inherently justified reasons. Many employees, for the best part of the last two years, have grown accustomed to forgoing long commutes and office distractions. As such, the perils of readjusting to a world within the office walls have driven to employees lobbying employers and managers for greater flexibility and work-from-home alternatives. This is encapsulated perfectly in the FlexJobs survey (April 2021), which found “Fifty-eight percent of workers said they would “absolutely” look for a new job if they cannot continue remote work in their current role”. As such, this has seen business world over aim to develop, and even redraft return-to-office plans to manage the transition. The widely favoured solution agreed upon by most HR managers and operational coordinators at this stage remains a hybridised approach to work, whereby face-to-face work will be promoted and preferred, however work from home solutions will be made possible for those employees who request it.
This in itself poses numerous challenges for employers. As put by the Harvard Business Review - "these environments run the risk of creating new inequities and exacerbating those that already exist, employers need to ensure fairness, maximize performance, and maintain cultural cohesion in hybrid work arrangements, they need to consider practical dimensions of inclusion when designing hybrid policies and navigating new ways of working". Thus, employers must carefully navigate the uncharted waters of not only transitioning back to the office, but accommodate for a hybridised return. Some key points businesses must consider in this hybridised return include:
- Remote recruitment – The on-boarding process for most firms globally throughout the pandemic has been online. As such, this has meant that new hires are yet to formally meet and integrate with their team. The HR processes required to ensure not only appropriate assimilation with work cultures, but also maintaining some semblance of connection between face-to-face and remote working groups must be considered. Some businesses globally have begun trialling a ‘buddy-buddy’ type system, where pandemic-era hires are paired with more experienced employees, offering a more informal learning experience to ensure a smoother initial transition.
- Inclusivity through different mediums – While maintaining a common workplace environment both in person and remotely itself presents a challenge, this is only expedited by the need to ensure that the work environment fosters feelings of inclusion – this often being conducive to greater innovation and even conflict resolution processes.
- Communication – The disparity created by a hybridised workplace may lead to disconnect between team members, especially due to the re-emergence of informal conversations within the office, as opposed to formal communication channels dominant online. This may lead to some individuals not remaining within the loop with progress – inherently undermining productivity, or even giving rise to feelings that some individuals are peripheral to an organisation, and disconnected from the social aspect of the office life.
All global workplaces face the same challenge, in ensuring a centrally equal return to the workplace for all employees – regardless of working location. All managers, while drafting their return to work plans should have the aforementioned problem areas at the forefront of their consideration, and aim to develop contingencies and work-arounds, ensuring a hybridised environment free from the inequities that hybridised work may exacerbate.
Apprehension, hybridisation and inevitable transformation. This issue following the pandemics sunset is sure to pose a challenge for employers and employees alike. The practices employed to manage these challenges now will most definitely dictate the business world and workplace awaiting you.