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Future of Work

The Future of Work is Hybrid. How Will That Pan Out?

Work has assumed a new meaning in the post-corona world. Going-to-work, for millions across the world, now means walking from their beds to their desks at home (via a detour to the coffee machine). All you need is an internet connection and a place to sit – the tech tools take care of the rest.

This is now, while the world is still in partial lockdown and the virus still rages. What, however, will be the reality when this blows over (whenever that is)? Will people return to physical workplaces, or will remote become an accepted form of work?

It won’t have to be either, or. The future of work will be a combination of the two – it’s going to be a hybrid model, where people will go in to work sometimes and at other times they’ll put on a Zoom shirt and log in from home. It’s going to be a ‘phydigital’ world – a combination of physical and digital.

According to a survey conducted amongst US workers in May, 55% said that they would like a mix of home and office working. In the UK, organizations expect that the population of those working from home is likely to go up from 18% pre-pandemic, to 37% post-pandemic.

As of now, companies are following all kinds of models. Some of the biggest organizations in the world, including Google, Facebook, and Twitter, have put in measures to let people work from home until 2021. Then there are others who are taking to the staggered model – where people come in on specific days, on a rotational basis. And then there are those who have given their people the choice to work in the manner they want to.

How this will evolve, time will tell. Here’s a look at what the industry leaders are saying and what the potential challenges would be

Hybrid it is

In an interview, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai at the TIME100 Honorees: Visions for the Future Event said that the tech giant is likely to offer a ‘hybrid’ model that blends in both remote and in-office working in the future. They also plan to follow a more ‘flexible’ approach to work.

Pichai said, “We firmly believe that in-person, being together, having a sense of community is super important when you have to solve hard problems and create something new so we don’t see that changing. But we do think we need to create more flexibility and more hybrid models.” He feels that this approach would serve to accommodate the desires of the Googlers.

An intra-office survey conducted by Google for its employees attested this fact. 62% of those surveyed said that they needed to be in the office on ‘some days’, while 20% felt they didn’t need to be present in the office at all.

Other industry leaders, like Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, have announced that they are open to their people working from home permanently. Microsoft India also believes that hybrid is the way to go in the times to come. Samik Roy, Country Head, Modern Workplace at Microsoft India, in an interview with Indian Express, shared, “There will be offices, there will be these meeting rooms, there will be boardroom meetings that will take place the way they do before, but there will be a large part of these, which will be happening in the virtual world where people will continue to log in and go all the way back.”

However, not everyone is on board the hybrid or the remote-work train. Jamie Damon, JPMorgan’s CEO, recently spoke about a fall in productivity when people worked from home. The bank’s employees have been working from home for the past six months. However, they discovered that there is a fall in productivity in people (especially on Mondays and Fridays). Also, the bank expressed concerns over “missed learning opportunities” for the younger team members, who, they believe, are losing out on learning at the workplace with the remote model.

JP Morgan is the first large bank to announce its plans on getting people back to the office

What a hybrid model will really look like

Apart from being the obvious blend of both the physical and the digital, hybrid is also about flexibility. This is an integral part of this ‘new work culture’, where employees have much more freedom now to decide when to work, and where. That means it allows people the liberty to decide how they want their work day to look like.

In some offices, certain days are marked for in-office meetings, while remote days are meant for completing individual tasks. That’s because some companies feel it is easier to have team discussions in person, rather than virtual. Kick-starting new projects or team-building exercises, for instance, are better when done at the office. “We try to use home working days less for video sessions and more for the tasks that require concentration. A task that may take several hours in the office may be completed in just an hour or two at home,” says Baruch Silverman, founder of personal finance website The Smart Investor.

Some others are trying to explore different models to really know what works better. For instance, Kissflow, a digital workplace service provider, has introduced a mixed working model called REMOTE+. If you opt for this model, you can work three weeks from anywhere, and have one week of office-based work. Also, it also provides for your accommodation expenses for the office week. Experts like Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University, who has expertise in remote work, feels that once the pandemic is over, working from home two days a week will be optimal, and will ease the pain of regular commutes.

The perils and potential challenges

Great as it sounds, however, the hybrid model is not without its challenges. To begin with, remote work highlights the issue of socio-economic and racial inequality, which also means it is not possible for everyone to work from home. Remote work, as the pandemic has shown, is for the privileged and also for specific job functions (not everyone has the luxury of uninterrupted internet and quiet corners in the house).

Also, people face myriad tech challenges while working from home. From having patchy internet connections to juggling both personal and professional responsibilities within the confines of their homes has become overwhelming for many. The other fact to consider is that not everyone enjoys working from home. Many are accustomed to the idea of fixed routines, and adapting to a self-discipline routine at home gets particularly difficult. Moreover, the fluidity of the hybrid model is not something that everyone can adapt to. “I thought I’d be happy to go back, but I have to say that it’s difficult. I think the key is to just be consistent and you can pretty much adjust to anything – office or remote work. But when you do both, you don’t really get a chance to adjust to either. You’re in and out, never quite able to create a consistent routine,” says Nelson Sherwin, a manager at PEO Compare, when talking about the emerging work model.

The hybrid model poses another challenge – that of “creating in-group and out-group dynamics in hybrid teams” – meaning that there can potentially be a divide between those who come into the office and those who stay more remote, which would be fraught with risks of conflict. Also, a mixed model could lead to magnifying the gender gap, as women may be disproportionately expected to opt more for the flexible, remote models.

A fine balance

At the end of the day, a balanced approach to hybrid work might work in the future. For instance, given that this is feasible from a safety perspective, everyone in an organization should be asked to come to office on the same days. This may address some of the issues highlighted above.

The other critical aspect of hybrid work is communication. And that doesn’t really mean enforcing too many rules. All it means is that there needs to be more clarity and consistency, so everyone is aware of what is expected of them.

In a hybrid work model, employees must be given the flexibility to work at the hours they want, or even at their pace. A recent article in the BBC put it aptly saying that – “a mix of synchronous and asynchronous communication methods helps geographically-distant teams work best”.

And that’s what the success of the hybrid model will rest on – communication.

Date added
08.10.2020

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Future of Work

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