In light of COVID-19, organisations are rethinking how to ensure hybrid work is productive. It needs to be flexible about where and when employees can work. This will apply to both the short term during the pandemic and the longer term, in the post-pandemic world.
Both the place and the time need to be addressed; how much flexibility around where and when employees can perform their jobs best? There is unsurprisingly much confusion about which strategies are most effective. Can work happen everywhere and anytime or should work be in a central office space? With no precedent to refer to, there is no right way forward.
For a CEO to envision what will work best for their organisation, three factors must be considered:
- The work spaces
- Time – taking advantage of asynchronous & synchronised time for tasks that do / do not require coordination
- The overall picture of the place and time that accentuates rather than depletes productivity
For a work space to be efficient and productive, it must be separated from personal space and outfitted as an office with the furniture and technology necessary. With the fast arrival of COVID-19, many employees are in their home, coffee shops or in a small shared space. Various combinations of remote working have proved to be successful that were not considered ideal working environment pre-pandemic. The key factor to making remote working productive is how engaged an employee can be in their work environment.
Work can be fitted in to an employee’s personal schedule and we no longer have to follow the standard schedules such as 9-5. An asynchronous time schedule can be implemented where colleague’s schedules coincide to fulfil the tasks that require cooperation. This requires a degree of autonomy as the employee decides the control of time.
To ensure hybrid arrangements work, management need to consider all the elements that accentuate productivity. Most people work at their best when they experience positive vitality, productivity becomes depleted under stress, unhealthy working habits or when we are exhausted.
Ensuring the place and time of work allows people to focus. Focus suffers when the surroundings are distracting and attention is scattered.
Some aspects of work require cooperation, coordination and a platform with others to share ideas. When it is easy to work with others, people can remain efficient and goal orientated. With obstacles in the way, the teamwork breaks down, the team is unable to innovate and create, and the team becomes divided and unconnected. When there are barriers for cooperation and communication productivity will suffer.
Organizations are rapidly addressing their choices of how they can accentuate productivity in spite of the economic challenges stemming from COVID-19. These short-term fixes must also be sustainable in the future. A balance between office and hybrid work is essential.
A shared office space is important for face to face cooperation and socialisation. An organisation requires a certain degree of encounters for it to remain productive and grow. Employees need to see one and other to know that they are part of something bigger. Cooperation and interaction can thrive right now while COVID-19 is still a concern, by working in a small cooperative space when in the office (i.e. removing personal spaces) and arranging meetings outside of the office space to allow more people to be involved.
Working from home brings a host of health benefits instantaneously as people are able to readdress their former commuting time to activities to boost their health through physical energy and emotional wellbeing. Exercise, recreation, spending time with family, eating healthier choices and home cooked food are all examples of how to boost energy. Having said that, those with young children may find it harder to manage the boundaries between working and parenting. Employees and employers will need to have realistic expectations on how home working can be a good source of energy.
Helpful principles to adopt:
- work in a separate room to personal home space with a screen and good chair.
- following a morning ritual as if you are physically leaving the house.
- setting boundaries for working (using “on” time when you are available to collaborate with others and “off” time when engaging in energy-boosting activities).
- taking proper lunch breaks.
- making sure you and others know when you have symbolically left the workplace at the end of the day.
For this to be successful, these practices must be followed by both colleagues and family. By using team check-ins such as ’virtual coffee’, “1:1 conversations” and ‘virtual meetings’, staff can remain connected to one and other despite the physical separation.
Management should try a variety of combinations of time and place and being empathetic and listening to a person’s individual needs. Above all, to remain focused on the outcome and not the presence at the desk, is crucial to success.