The Post-Crisis Workplace Is Hybrid

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 8.4 percent of people in the US worked from home full or part-time, and in the post-crisis future, that figure is expected to be 15.8 percent.

This article was originally published by Allwork.Space.

Does working from home actually work?

Like everything, it depends on who you ask. It depends on their circumstances, their home setup, their job role, their individual personality, and whether or not they have noisy kids.

Working from home is a marmite subject.

Like it or not, millions of people have had to deal with it over the past year, and for many, it looks set to continue well into the second half of 2021.

The only real change will come with a complete vaccination rollout. That means a full dose (two doses, if necessary) for each and every worker who is expected to return to the office, whether full-time or part-time.

Until then, most people will continue to work from home.

And what will happen then?

Will we all switch back to office work and forget about our newly equipped home offices? Will hybrid work be scrapped? Will spoke offices suddenly fall empty as workers return to city centres in their droves?

Mick Heys, vice president of IDC Future of Workplace and Imaging in Europe, believes not.

Presenting research from IDC for a recent virtual conference by the GWA, supported by essensys, Heys suggested that “change will persist” even beyond a full vaccination programme.

A survey by IDC carried out in August 2020 found that before the COVID-19 pandemic, 8.4 percent of people in the US worked from home full or part-time, and in the post-crisis future, that figure is expected to be 15.8 percent.

That future number is expected to incorporate hybrid work, where people work from a centralised office for part of their working week and the rest of the time, work from home or a spoke office.

Why won’t we simply go back to the office like before?

Broadly speaking, it’s because there is a general realisation that flexible work has proven beneficial. In a number of ways, at least.

Pre-Covid, companies had significant objections to remote or home working; partly it was down to the cost of equipping home offices, but mostly it was due to trust issues.

Now, it’s a different story. Employers have been forced into remote work and, while problems with home-based work persist, the benefits to both employer and employee are significant:

  • It reduces the cost, time and stress of commuting
  • This leads to a better employee experience, which improves talent retention
  • Employers realise that remote work can and does work (although working from home is not necessarily the right solution)
  • Employers save on costs associated with commercial real estate and facilities management

IDC’s survey found that 48 percent of US respondents reported higher productivity, 58 percent reported reduced absenteeism, and one third have reduced CRE and facility management costs.

The research also found that 15 percent reported higher employee retention, and 13 percent experienced greater ability to attract talent due to geography neutrality.

Despite this, problems persist.

“Humans are social animals,” says Heys. “It’s important for people to be in the office, to socialise. The real difficulty is on-boarding new people, and culture is also harder to maintain when we’re apart; these things need to be done in-person.”

Even though we can still collaborate from home with the help of technology, it’s not a complete solution. There is no natural ‘collision’, no creative spark between people.

So if the home office is not a full-time solution, and employees don’t want to go back into the office full-time, what can we gain from a hybrid work schedule?

According to IDC, a hybrid approach combines the benefits of working from home (ie. time and cost savings from no commute) with the core reasons we use offices — as a place to innovate, a place for learning and influencing, for socialising, and as a hub to engage workers and cultivate culture.

However, certain fundamental requirements need to be met before companies will confidently bring their teams back into the workplace, hybrid or not. The big focus is of course health and safety, and technology plays a key role in enabling this.

According to the IDC, spaces can be successfully reconfigured with the help of these technologies:

  • Proximity sensors
  • Sanitation robotics
  • Visitor management
  • Ventilation upgrades and controls
  • Contact tracing
  • Security ID management and badging
  • Sensor activated doors, elevators, lights
  • Thermal imaging for temperature checks

Going forward, what do companies expect from the hybrid workplace?

“The key requirement is the tech wrapper,” says Heys, as this enables real-time collaboration with both in-office and remote workers and reduces the risk of exclusion simply because someone isn’t physically in the office.

Another core requirement is security. “When everything is on the same office network, it’s a lot easier to secure. Once we expand beyond that, we need different security technologies. It’s very important, especially for compliance, to bring the home office into that.”

Looking closer at what companies need from the workplace as we go forward into our new hybrid normal, IDC expects growth in demand for these areas in 2021:

  • Security technologies 10.6 percent
  • Collaboration platforms 6.5 percent
  • Telecom services 5 percent
  • Digital workspaces 2.2 percent
  • Business services 2 percent

Alongside these, demand for platform as a service, managed IT services, and IT support services are expected to increase.

Why is technology so crucial in enabling a safe workplace?

The answer is quite simple:

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” says Heys. “You can’t enforce social distancing unless you’re measuring it, and you need technology to help you do that.”

Ultimately, a hybrid workplace with a ‘tech wrapper’ enables a better employee experience, which in turn helps companies attract and keep the best talent.

Looking ahead, here are IDC’s key expectations for 2021 and beyond:

  • The big return to the office will happen post vaccine
  • The way we go back will focus on hybrid and spoke working, which will change the role of the office
  • Technology will enable safety and flexibility
  • Changes will persist — we’re not going back to the old normal
  • Employee experience is key, and will become front and centre of the new hybrid workplace in the future.
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