Ushering in the new era of the hybrid workforce

With 2022 likely to be the year of hybrid work, organisations need to develop and introduce effective hybrid work strategies and policies.
By: | January 19, 2022

For some employees, 2022 represents a welcome return to the comforts of the physical office space. Others, however, will continue to embrace the remote work experience, which has largely been in place since 2020 because of the pandemic.

With the Omicron variant continuing to rage globally, a full return to the office is unlikely to be on the horizon, as organisations around the world are finding out.  Google, after previously announcing a January 10 full reopening, has pushed its return-to-office plans further into 2022, without specifying a new return date.

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, has postponed its return-to-office date from January 31 to March 28. Employees who wish to work remotely after March 28 can request a deferral that will last between three and five months.

Conversely, a transition to a permanent, 100% remote work arrangement is unlikely to materialise. In Singapore for example, 50% of employees who can work from home have been allowed to return to the office as of January 1, while Gan Siow Huang, Singapore’s Minister of State for Manpower, has suggested that the country will not move to legislate WFH arrangements.

Government guidelines notwithstanding, the disconnect between employers who are ready to get back to significant in-person presence and employees who are not, is likely to create the biggest conflict over the long-term viability of remote work.

More than three-quarters of C-suite executives surveyed as part of a recent McKinsey report said they expected the typical “core” employee to be back in the office three or more days a week. In contrast, nearly three-quarters of around 5,000 employees McKinsey queried globally would like to work from home for two or more days per week, and more than half want at least three days of remote work.

How then, can organisations begin to develop successful hybrid work strategies that can manage both organisational requirements and employee expectations?

Instead of making arbitrary decisions on whether employees should return to the workplace or not, leaders and managers should make it a priority to create a new relationship dynamic with employees based on regular communication.

Listening to and empathising with employees is more important than ever and is critical to informing how companies foster employee wellbeing, said Michelle O’Hara, Executive Vice President and CHRO of SAIC.

Speaking recently with HR Executive, HRM Asia’s sister publication, O’Hara said, “We are doubling down on our focus on employee wellbeing to mitigate turnover, with flexibility as a key differentiator of our HR strategy. We heard from our employees that they value having as much optionality and choice when it comes to flexible work.”

While flexibility is likely to be a key component in making hybrid work succeed, organisations should also seek to remove any ambiguity by implementing formal hybrid work policies that sets out clear expectations and boundaries for employees.

How are employees expected to work in this new arrangement? When should they be expected to be contactable and responsive to any work queries? What cybersecurity best practices should they implement to adequately protect important organisational assets?

When it comes to technology support, organisations can, and probably should do more to support employees working remotely. According to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index, 42% of employees say they lack essential equipment, such as a good headset and stable Internet connection. Yet over 46% say their employer does not help them with remote work expenses.

Without even going into the potential of how artificial intelligence, machine learning or augmented reality can enhance work productivity tools, organisations need to ensure that technology is in place to connect with employees, wherever they may be working from.

Managers also need to be trained on how to manage a hybrid workforce and to eliminate any bias they may have with remote workers. Are managers who persist in their beliefs that remote employees are less productive perhaps masking what vexes them most in a WFH setting – a lack of control?

While mediocre workers exist across any industry, it is worth noting that many employees are professionals who value and are passionate about their work and are committed to growing long-term relationships with their organisations.

Appraisals must unequivocally be based on work outcomes, not on the amount of time managers get to see employees on a face-to-face basis, and all employees must be provided equal opportunities to learn and grow.

Regardless of the composition of an organisation’s hybrid workforce – whether a larger proportion return to the office or continue to work remotely – the wellbeing and mental health of employees is likely to be priorities in 2022.

On one hand, long-term WFH can potentially be detrimental for employees’ health. Some employees’ productivity stems from being able to socalise and communicate face-to-face with colleagues, while excessive screen time driven by multiple virtual meetings can create undue stress and fatigue. Poorly designed workspaces at home can also generate back pain and stress injuries.

Some employees, however, have thrived in a remote work setting because of the support and flexibility managers have provided, which has allowed employees to establish workouts at convenient times and take small breaks to attend to non-work-related matters.

A productive, engaged, and workforce is likely to hold the key to organisational success in 2022, and with hybrid work being a concept that may not be familiar to many managers and employees alike, organisations need to redefine the way they work – by putting their people at the heart of their hybrid work strategies and policies.

2022 will be another year of organisational transformation as businesses overcome the changes and challenges brought about in 2021. The priorities for most HR leaders, as they support these new businesses strategies, will focus heavily on building critical skills and competencies, and to also undertake workforce and work (re)design, leadership development, preparing for the future workplace and improving the employee experience.

Over the coming months, look out for HRM Asia’s HR Leadership Series, which is the best resource destination for HR leaders as they navigate the trends and workforce changes that will shape the world of HR in 2022.