What's this strange new world we're moving into, where hybrid working is becoming a strategic choice and not just an urgent necessity? In any case, if I had to choose between flexibility or returning to the nine to five, I certainly know where I'd rather be.
But as lockdown eases, it comes as no surprise that many businesses are struggling to adjust to the idea of hybrid working – after all, we've been dealing with a global pandemic that's kept us home for nearly 18 months now.
For C-Suites everywhere though, I'd urge you to consider this before setting your back-to-work policies in stone – are you actually listening to what your employees want now social restrictions are lifted, or are you planning to railroad them back to a five-day week back in the office just because it seems easier and more cost-efficient to do so?
Think carefully, as you're playing for high stakes. Get it wrong, and I can almost guarantee you'll be losing talent to the competition who don't.
Frankly, in a knowledge-based economy where technology enables people to work simply and safely – and from anywhere they chose – why would you stop them working from where they're most productive?
It's a complicated course to navigate, and it needs careful consideration.
For one perspective on the future of work, I spoke with Chris Herd, CEO & founder of Firstbase HQ.
A strong proponent of a remote-first approach to work, Chris' organisation helps nearly 13,000 organisations around the world to equip their 24 million aggregate remote employees with the tools they need to make work succeed, wherever they are.
Here's what he had to say:
The risks of failing to change
The pandemic has seen employee expectations completely transformed. In fact, 90-97% of knowledge workers say they never want to work full-time in an office again.
And the reasons are clear – many have enjoyed a better life-work experience over the past year-and-a-half, and are reluctant to trade it back in for long commutes and presenteeism.
Office workers have also more than proven their productivity during lockdown. So the rationale for bringing them back to the office full time – from the benefits of spontaneous collaboration, to sustaining corporate culture – just doesn't stack up.
With more and more employees choosing workplaces based on flexible, hybrid working policies, this is an adapt or die moment for organisations.
Indeed, according to Chris, companies that decide against accommodating their employees' wants will soon face a remote work dilemma:
A company less remote than its biggest competitor will bleed talent to them over time, while simultaneously becoming less cost efficient as they're still paying for the real estate designed for a larger workforce.
That means not only will your competitors grab your best employees, but they'll save money, too.
How to adapt to remote working
Long story short, companies need to give employees the flexibility they're craving – or risk getting crushed by their competitors.
Chris shared the following three tips of how he believes organisations can make that happen:
1. Change the working environment
We're moving towards a world where work is designed around the individual, not the collective. Employees are gaining the freedom to work at the times they are most productive – whether it's at six in the morning or at 8:00pm – and place family, kids, and hobbies into the centre of their lives instead of work.
According to Chris, the switch to remote work has ushered in a renaissance of hobbies with people finding new appreciation for activities that bring them joy, such as gardening or painting. "What we're going to see over the next few years is that work is going to become more asynchronous and be designed around living, instead of the other way around," says Chris. "Life will come first, work second. And employers need to follow suit by providing tools and systems that are just as flexible as their employees."
2. Meet people where they are
The switch from office desk to kitchen table has prompted many people to reconsider their living situation, resulting in a flood of remote workers ditching city-living for a quieter life in greener areas.
But with lockdowns lifting, many are loath to go back to ‘business as usual' – especially because they know they don't need to be in an office full-time to get work done.
Instead of businesses fighting to get their employees back into commuting range, Chris urges companies to think about it more strategically and meet them where they are:
By keeping your employees remote, you have a wider net to attract talent, especially in more rural areas. And with remote workers staying put, there's considerable potential for economic development in smaller towns, with people spending their pay cheque locally.
3. Use technology to simplify flexible working
We've seen why allowing employees to work where they are is beneficial. But how do we optimise that work?
Chris notes, "We've seen a growing trend in the use of robotic process automation (RPA) and low code tools to cut out the menial tasks that get in the way of employee productivity. Workers are finding they can optimise their own workflows, and build out their own tools and solutions to simplify their daily work."
Essentially, it's a case of giving employees the right tools to empower them at what they're good at - and those tools are entirely location-agnostic: "You're making it more about your employee by empowering them to do what they're good at, do what they enjoy, and do the type of work that the company benefits from," says Chris.
Not only does that make employees more efficient, it makes their job more enjoyable – and that drives long-term value for your business.
It's time to rethink work
As we approach the beginning of the end of the pandemic, it's becoming increasingly clear that flexible working is the future.
And for companies refusing to change, going back to the office full time is likely to see their employees leaving for more flexible competitors. According to Chris:
Remote work is a bridge to a higher quality of life. Your employees can live where they want, get more quality time, and be more productive – and are happier for it.
Which can only mean your company reaps the benefits too – better talent, increased productivity, and satisfied customers.