The Office Reimagined: Smart Working towards a Resilient Future
“This future of work is not new – it is a path we have been on for many years, and most of its aspects are well-established, from hot-desking and remote working to higher levels of employee well-being and satisfaction. What is new is the rapidity of transformation of the notion of work. Trends in the way we live and work have taken months rather than years to become deep-rooted – there is no going back to the old normal. Workforce preferences have changed, and employers will need to lean into them to win back-office workers in 2021.”
Change must be employee-centred, and businesses need to strike the right balance with organisational development to hit the ground running and retain and attract talent in the future.
The hybrid model is odds-on-favourite
One thing is clear: the hybrid workplace is the future model frontrunner. But it is no quick fix and not something any organisation is going to enter into lightly. It will require a step-by-step approach, and the path towards hybrid would take years to implement and enable at an enterprise level. With few keen to be outliers in this field, there is an element of a race to be last, meaning the pace will be more of a crawl than a sprint, with deep-rooted cultural changes required.
Not every organisation has an adaptable portfolio or can easily bring elasticity or that notion of responsibility to the strategy. To navigate the future of work, organisations will need the agility to adapt to new and changing conditions throughout 2021 and beyond. What Smart Working means will continue to evolve – just like our desire to work from home or the office will change alongside life-changing circumstances. Organisations will need to think carefully about the boundaries they set to manage this and maintain consistency and productivity.
The return to the office is not just a physical concept
The return to the office will not be as easy as some organisations may expect; it is not just a case of switching on and reopening a physical environment. The psychological step of return to ‘work’, which is strongly linked to issues around mental health, especially around commuting, could be a considerable barrier, and organisations will need to decide how to support their workforce.
“It's difficult for an employer to control commuting time. However, individuals can control meeting times, whether or not to commute, or commute at a different time of the day. That's where a lot of partnership between HR and real estate needs to come into place - how to orchestrate the return to work,” Dr. Marie Puybaraud explains.
Now more than ever, purpose holds power. Individuals want to understand what an organisation stands for, and firms need to have a clear and authentic ESG message if they're going to attract new talent. Considering the unprecedented talent shortage and employee readiness to switch roles or even sectors, retaining talent is an immediate challenge for firms. Traditionally, the promise of a strong salary directly translated into high workforce engagement, but changing socio-cultural values are contributing to employee disengagement.
Regulators are increasingly focusing on ESG issues, and firms must take action to meet environmental obligations and demonstrate commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and climate action. In addition to the climate change conversation, ethical working practices, privacy, and data management are increasingly scrutinised by both regulators and the workforce. Commitment and integration of ESG factors are now hallmarks of sustainability. Social responsibilities should be addressed, focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion to develop a working environment where employees feel valued and safe.