Hybrid Working 101: How to navigate the new world of work

February 07, 2022 08:57
Photo: IWG/Reuters

Hybrid working, where employees split time between home, satellite offices and a headquarter, has become a huge buzzword with its recent debut in the Oxford English Dictionary and entry into Collins Dictionary’s top 10 list of words for 2021. Officially recognised as part of the language and business landscape, the model is rapidly accelerating into the mainstream since the pandemic, yet it is a trend that has been underway for years, as local workforces are placing a higher value on having control over their schedule and pursuing better work-life balance. Understanding that the key to higher efficiency is to empower employees to work in the way that is the most suitable for them, more enterprises are taking an employee-centric approach and adopting hybrid working as a tool to improve productivity and employee wellbeing. This model at the same time is bringing considerable sustainability benefits to the greater community by dramatically reducing commuting for employees and the environmental footprint of businesses.

While the benefits and popularity of hybrid working were vastly discussed, getting to the crux of the model is still a mystery for some. In fact, businesses can deploy different hybrid approaches to put their best work practices and employee sentiments into perspective, with flexible hours and workspaces being the two major variables to consider.

The overwhelming majority of businesses are embracing hybrid work for the long term, but there are many different forms in which it is being adopted and some companies are experimenting to determine which works best for their people. What is abundantly clear is that businesses are shifting to a human centric approach prioritising the wellbeing and productivity of their people.

There are some common approaches:

• Employee-led custom schedule – customised from week to week according to the team’s or the employee’s need to collaborate with others. Employees can set their schedule on their terms and have full control over the days and times they work from different workplaces, in a way that they can perform with highest efficiency.

• Designated remote day – allocating a day in a week for employees to work remotely, for example on Fridays when there are no team meetings or collaboration sessions

• 3-2-2 schedule – working for three days in office, two days remote and two days off, an idea proposed by Harvard Business School professor Ashley Whillans, who predicts the schedule will become the new norm replacing traditional 9-to-5

• Occasional in-office days – assigning work days where physical presence is needed for the purpose of regular company meetings, or occasional collaboration sessions and team-building exercises

• Fully WFH – eliminating face time and work remotely full time, an approach that might not be as popular as we imagined. Research by IWG revealed that 82% of office workers think their career prospects may be harmed if they are not able to go into the office, with the lack of face-to-face time scuppering their ability to develop employability skills and social capital required to succeed in the workplace

It is the company’s responsibility to offer a safe and effective place to work, especially when not every employee can productively work at home with limited living space and a handful of distractions. Enterprises are increasingly turning to flexible workplace options to solve the dilemma, while enjoying the perks of cost saving, and the flexibility to lease short period and scale up and down should circumstances require. Here are some examples of how business can make the best use of flexible workplace products in the market:

• Hub & spoke – a larger and longer-term headquarter either traditional or flexible, together with a range of flexible workspace solutions in multiple locations as satellite offices. Some flexible workspace providers offer membership plans that provide customers with the ability to drop into its network (up to 17 locations in HK), and work at any centre that is close and convenient to employees, which could be near home, client office or even the dinner place they are visiting after work

• Managed office – an outsourced but customised workplace bundled together with additional services by the operator. Lease period are flexible, but usually the longer contract period, the cheaper the price will be. Flex products such as private office can provide a quiet, confidential and secure space to work and store personal belongings, while simultaneously allowing customers to join in with the wider professional community whenever needed

• Core plus flex – main space such as private offices taken with a long-term lease, supplemented with leased space on shorter terms within the same building as part of the same agreement, for example extra dedicated desks could be arranged for temporary staff or ad-hoc team in the same space

• Digital office – most flexible workspace providers allow virtual office solution for customers to build business presence with an instant company address and phone number, together with a place to work when needed, meeting rooms and hot desks can be arranged per working day or even hours

One size doesn’t fit all, enterprises have to manage hybrid working their own way. When designing hybrid working strategies, employers shall take into consideration of their business model, work nature, team structure, corporate culture, and most importantly listen to the voice of employee, towards the goal of setting the optimum proportion of flexible working hours and workplace.

With the right infrastructure and technology, employees can be productive no matter where they are, while a better work-life balance makes happier and more engaged employees. The shift to hybrid helps enterprises yield significant savings in the long run as partnering with flexible workspace providers involves less commitment and expense than traditional office. Other than the immediate benefits to enterprises and employees, IWG’s whitepaper also suggests that adopting hybrid working will enable companies to contribute to sustainability issues such as climate changes, health and wellbeing and gender equality, which creates a triple-win situation to the people, profits and our planet.

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Country Manager, Hong Kong & Greater Bay Area at IWG plc