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COVID-19: 4 big risks associated with a hybrid workplace

COVID-19: 4 big risks associated with a hybrid workplace

What is a hybrid workplace?

Have you noticed the huge increase in references to hybrid workplaces? That’s because so many organisations, globally, could only continue during the height of COVID-19 outbreaks by having most or all of their people working from home. At the time, it was recognised - for and by significant numbers of employees - that workplaces can extend to locations beyond the traditional office.

So what exactly is a hybrid workplace? A hybrid workplace is one that removes the traditional employer emphasis on location. What you do is preferenced over where you do it.

In the current context, a hybrid workplace is one which enables people to work either virtually or by being physically present at a particular location. If it is a truly hybrid workplace, there should be no difference (based on where the work is done) in the quality of the work itself or the final outputs generated, as a result of differences in location.

While the notions of remote work and hybrid workplaces are not new, both have enjoyed significant increases in awareness and even understanding. As the less understood concept, employers and employees alike would benefit from a deeper understanding of hybrid workplaces. To help you minimise possible downsides early on, UGM has identified 4 big risks associated with the hybrid workplace.

Risk One – Not having a hybrid workplace

There are signs that the pandemic can be brought under control, both through good practices and promising vaccines. This has been accompanied by increasing calls for a return to the office, especially CBD’s. Powerful interests, such as landlords, as well small business owners, including coffee shops and restaurants, have vested interests in re-establishing the daily CBD influx and exodus.

But, as UGM’s research shows, along with similar studies around the world, a very significant portion of currently ex-commuters don’t wish to waste the same amount of time and money getting to and from an office. Afterall, most have been able to deliver great outcomes working remotely.

Going forward, knowledge workers in particular will question why they need to turn up at an office when they can deliver equally well working from elsewhere, including home. So, the first big risk that businesses face is overlooking the value to be had from being able to truly work more flexibly most of the time. Gone are the days when this was unknown territory and managers could dismiss such requests on the basis of uncertainty around feasibility.

Risk Two – Failing to facilitate hybrid work

Another major risk is allowing hybrid working arrangements but failing to implement protocols, practices and procedures that ensure the work is truly hybrid-capable. For example, having work that relied on physical processes, such as the inter-office mail distribution network, would be less hybrid-friendly than if those old processes were converted to digital transfer. Of course, this won’t always be possible where physical artifacts, such as a product are concerned. But, there is little doubt that many office memos and the like that are currently being distributed hard-copy might be usefully digitised.

Since few anticipated such a rapid and effective switch to virtual, there are many processes that do need re-versioning. Given that the efficacy of working remotely is now proven, not making those changes to virtual seems like senselessly risking the loss of the many benefits available to businesses and individuals alike.

Risk Three – Favouring physical presence in meetings

A third risk to hybrid workplaces is favouring physical presence in meetings, either intentionally or more likely unintentionally. You’ll probably recall being an audio call-in on a teleconference (probably many) where at least some of the core meeting participants were physically collocated. All too often, without malicious intent, callers ended up as marginalised listeners rather than active participants.

Having a video presence is quite a lot better, but pre-COVID experience suggests it is still the core group of collocated participants that enjoy a superior experience. But, COVID times have taught us that video meetings, where ALL individuals are in virtual mode, can be very successful. From a connection and contact perspective, those meetings are also the most equitable. So, even if some of the team may be physically collocated, there’s much to gain from having everyone connecting from their PC or laptop.

Risk Four – Failing to adapt skills for a hybrid workplace

A fourth risk arises where organisations fail to adapt behaviours, skills and mindsets from working where people are physically present to working in a truly hybrid context. UGM is not for a moment claiming all of these are new! However, there is no doubt that emphasis and implementation will be slightly or even substantially different in a hybrid context.

A hybrid mindset prompts consideration of different work contexts, from collocation to virtual. Collocation currently means some tasks are easier, but intentionally adjusted skills and behaviours would result in virtual outcomes being just as good. Look at how working from home saved businesses!

Ways to build a thriving hybrid workplace

  1. With the pandemic still a factor, and pre-COVID still a fresh memory, conduct an audit of virtual and collocated work practices. In this way, you can make evidence-based changes. Overall, what worked very well in a virtual context? What worked less well virtually? What adjustments might improve the less effective virtual components?
  2. How often does a particular role need to be physically present ‘in the office’, and to what extent could the role be performed virtually? A majority of people, it seems, would like to be able to work from a remote location around 3 days per week. A much smaller group don’t want to work remotely, and a few more than that would like never to return to ‘the office’. Having conducted your role and business capability audit, to what extent can you grant people the kind of workplace flexibility they are seeking? Seems like an easy way to increase contribution and belonging when you do!
  3. What mindsets, skills and behaviours are needed in your business context to support a successful hybrid workplace? Remember, workplaces have developed collocated practices over decades. Not everything in the hybrid workplace will work perfectly first time – but that shouldn’t stop your business from building and benefiting from an innovative hybrid workplace!

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