Gearing up for a hybrid way of work

Remember a typical  work day before COVID-19? The daily commute to work, a chat at the coffee machine with colleagues when you get to the office,  meetings with your team or clients in the conference room, popping out at lunchtime to grab a bite to eat across the road.

The pandemic upended our working lives. Upon its outbreak back then, none of us could ever have foreseen how we would be working today  – remotely from home, holding meetings and chatting to colleagues virtually.

How it all changed…

More than half of the global workforce has been working remotely since early 2020. While key workers such as carers, doctors, supermarket employees and craftsmen, etc. still had to go about their work as normal, the huge majority of companies sent their staff home with laptops to continue doing their jobs from home. Some mastered this abrupt change relatively easily, others needed time to settle in to what they initially believed would be a temporary measure. At the same time, those who had no other choice but to go to work (e.g. production workers) saw a change in their routines and workplaces as stringent health and hygiene regulations had to be met – social distancing between colleagues, shift work to reduce the number of workers at one time in the company, closed canteens, to name but a few. Finally, millions of people in the hospitality, travel and entertainment industries were furloughed or given their notice, simply because there was no job left for them to do.

It is quite obvious that COVID-19 has transformed the way we work now and will do in the future. Here we take a look at the main changes and what they will mean for employers and employees alike:

Presenteeism, remote work – or perhaps a combination of both?

It goes without saying that the pandemic has caused executives as well as employees to rethink where and how work can be done. Before the outbreak of COVID-19 remote work was an option in many companies, yet not standard practice. Now, presenteeism has become the exception to the rule, and it is highly likely that this will continue to be the case, even in a post-Covid era.

According to a study conducted by Gartner, over 70% of employees would like to continue working remotely at least a few days a week, even when the pandemic is over.  Many employees welcome the idea of not having to face the drudgery of the daily commute and are even willing to work the hours they would normally have spent sitting in traffic or on public transport. More interesting, management have also recognized the benefits that remote work can bring and many are already planning the future of their businesses, taking this into account. Many companies are gearing up for the inevitable: a hybrid way of work, where some workers will come into work and others will work remotely. This means rethinking workspaces at the office and ensuring that those who work remotely have the necessary technology and ergonomical equipment to do so.

Flexibility is key

A lot of businesses have already acknowledged that flexibility is the key to greater productivity and efficiency. Letting employees decide where and when they work gives them greater job satisfaction. If workers are able to do their work when it suits them best, and achieve a healthy work-life balance, then they are likely to perform more productively. The vast majority of workers cite the absence of the daily commute to and from work as well as being able to organize their working hours around their family as the main reasons for wanting to work remotely in the future.

On the other hand, there are just as many people who have not felt “at home” working from home alone. They yearn for the social interaction with their colleagues. The lack thereof can have an impact on a person’s mental and physical well-being. Not only this, many people struggle to separate their work from their private life. The dividing line between both becomes blurred and the working day is extended as a result.

The work office – a thing of the past?

This is unlikely – but things will be different.

Employers are likely to rethink how much office space they will actually need if a number of their employees work remotely. Downsized office space could mean that a fixed desk at the office for each employee will become a thing of the past and that those who do come into work will be able to decide which work space they want to sit at. Most importantly, there will have to be more focus on sanitation, health and hygiene to deal with any new COVID waves in the future. This means more distance between individual workspaces or cubicles to enable greater physical distance between colleagues. Disenfectant and air purifiers may become just as ubiquitous as the coffee machines.

Of course, if more people choose to work from home, there will be less demand for office space and the commercial real-estate business will feel the impact. Not only that, hundreds and thousands of people working in cafes, restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops and the like will lose the vital custom of all those commuters grabbing a coffee or a sandwich on their way to work or in their lunch break. Even now, many small businesses in this sector have closed their doors for ever, and more are sure to follow.

 I prefer working at the office than at home simply because the working conditions – technically and otherwise – are better for me there. As well as that, I like to clearly separate my work from my private life. I still think it’s important to have autonomy with regard to where and when a person works, but in the future the office will still be the focus of my working day.

Dr. Alexander MäckerSenior Analytics Software Engineer

Digital communication– a blessing or a curse?

Since we all began to work from home, interaction with our colleagues has taken place digitally in the form of video calls, chats and e-mails, for example. Some innovative entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the pandemic and offer companies virtual team events such as online quizzes and games, even virtual wine-tasting, etc.

Communicating via webcast, video call, etc. is, from a health point of view, highly convenient – one thing we do know is that COVID-19 cannot be transmitted via a computer screen. And of course many workers enjoy the comfort of participating in meetings  from their living room. Furthermore, since we have been communicating digitally, work has become more “human”. According to a study by Microsoft, 1 in 5 workers said that they had “met” their colleagues’ family or pets virtually. 1 in 6 have cried in front of a colleague. It seems as if remote work actually makes the workplace more open and authentic as you get to see your colleagues in their home environment, where they are more willing to let their guard down and be themselves than they would at work.

Employers also enjoy the effect that digital communication has on their budgets. For example, if employees hold virtual meetings with clients instead of traveling to their premises, business trips involving transport, accommodation and meals are not required, saving the business money that can be invested in other areas instead, such as in proper workplaces for those working remotely or in redesigning business premises to meet hybrid workplace needs.

However, as pleasant and convenient digital communication may be, it also has its downside. From February 2020 – February 2021 the number of e-mails being sent increased dramatically and employees are seeing a huge chat and meeting overload, some of which are even out of usual office hours.

Finally,  businesses which have replaced business trips with video conferences now, will probably continue to do this in the future, too. This will have a huge knock-on effect on many other areas:  the hospitality sector, real estate and transport, to name a few. A huge drop in business travel means that car rental firms, rail services and airlines will suffer as a result. It will also have an impact on hotels which depend on businesses booking accommodation for their employees or holding conventions on their premises.

Tapping new potential with remote work

 Talent is not confined to just one area – talent is everywhere. Many companies have already realized that remote work offers them a significant advantage when it comes to recruiting new employees. By offering remote work positions, they can tap the potential of workers who live further afield yet are unwilling to relocate for whatever reason. In this way, companies gain access to different talents and skills and can also become more diverse. And, needless to say, if you have people with the right skills, this gives you a decisive competitive edge.  In turn, those seeking work also benefit in that they have higher chances of applying their knowledge in businesses which would not have been an option for them earlier.

However, this also has disadvantages. The likelihood of remote workers having a strong commitment to the company is rather low. There is also the risk of employees leaving as soon as a better job offer comes along. For this reason, it is essential that companies endeavour to offer attractive workplaces to keep these skilled workers in the long term.

More automation and Artificial Intelligence in businesses

The disruptions caused by COVID-19 have made companies more alert to risk management. More companies are now looking at automating production and introducing more Artificial Intelligence, such as predictive and prescriptive analytics, which enables them to plan more efficiently for the future and be better prepared to confront events such as the pandemic or other major upheavals. In the future, we will see more companies introducing robots on their production lines, chatbots will replace customer call centers, etc.

This, of course, creates uncertainty among workers who see their jobs threatened by such changes. This is where management and HR executives have an important role to play. Employees will require new skills to be able to work with the new technology. Others will require retraining in other areas – and inevitably, others will lose out completely.

Meeting the challenges of hybrid work

Hybrid work, despite the opportunities it can bring, also poses major challenges for businesses. Countering these challenges involves drawing up plans to guarantee flexibility which consider the following: who can actually work remote and do they have the technical means to do so? Who can – or should – be present at the office? How can the workplace be redesigned to enable people to come in and work safely yet still be able to collaborate with one another? How can we ensure that teams still network properly when everybody is working in different places at different times? Most importantly, employers have to keep a close eye on their employees’ well-being, no matter where they are working, ensuring that the lines between work and private life do not become blurred.

Before the outbreak of the pandemic I was commuting two hours a day. Working from home has given me these hours back. Apart from that, I can work more flexibly – at times that suit me. The prospect of hybrid work is exciting. In the future I would like to work at the office again – but also spend a few days a week working from home.

Alisa TemmeMarketing Manager bei OPTANO

OPTANO – ready for hybrid work

OPTANO is well equipped to face the new way of working in the future. Even before the pandemic, we had designed office premises to allow employees to have the best of both worlds – your own designated workspace but also the opportunity to retreat to quiet zones if you want to work alone. Working from home had always been an option, even though most colleagues never made regular use of it pre-COVID.  The transition to remote work in 2020 went smoothly as the necessary technology to do so was already at hand. And we can safely say that our team spirit has remained strong throughout, thanks to  networking in the form of virtual lunches, games evenings and other events.