As a business owner, it is tempting to assume as soon as little or no community transmission of COVID-19 is achieved, it’s back to the grind. But it’s not exactly going to be back to the office. We’re coming up on two years since COVID-19 forced a work-from-home revolution.

It’s not a bad thing, but it will be challenging for those business leaders who push back against this change and therefore lock themselves off from opportunities.

Workplaces: Current and Future trends

In particular, office-based workplaces have been subjected to a forced revolution and are the sector that is most likely to retain a hybrid model going forward.  The working from home model has proven very successful and it’s going to be very hard to force people back into the office full time.  Those who try to wind back remote working may well lose good people, as they leave to take up opportunities with those businesses who embrace flexibility. The flexibility to balance work and non-work commitments, and their salaries. In addition, people who have a longer daily commute are more likely to expect to leave their jobs in the next 12 months than those who spend less time getting to and from work.

A hybrid business model will continue to evolve, but at its core, it is a business that allows those who can, to continue to work from home to some extent, but also will require them to come into the physical office on set days, so that the face-to-face transfer of information can occur. The hybrid model accepts that someone may well, while working from home, take time off for school functions, or to care for elderly parents for example but does make that time up, maybe on the weekend or in the evening, at a time that suits them.  As long as deadlines are met, and people are available for set core hours each day, is that a problem? Can you make savings by having less people in the office?  Can you reduce your office space and rental outlay? Have you held back making organisational changes thinking your people won’t embrace change?  Change has been forced upon everyone – shape it to future-proof your business. Surveys of office workers have been remarkably consistent. Most want to work two or three days per week in the office. Some want zero, others five, but most are at two or three. 

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As a leader you are going to need new skill sets to ensure your team members understand, learn and facilitate the new hybrid normal.

These are:

  • Emotional Intelligence – self-awareness, self -management, social awareness and relationship management.
  • Adaptability Intelligence – the flexibility to handle change, new situations, competing demands and be comfortable with uncertainty.
  • Resilience – similar to Adaptability Intelligence, it’s the capacity to sustain engagement under pressure and cope with disruption and to quickly adapt.

For those business owners who accept that a hybrid model is the new reality, how do you keep the strength of your team, the depth of engagement and the culture that powers your business? This requires a concentrated and sustained effort – but it can be achieved.

Communication is the key and technology is the solution.  The trick will be to work out how much communication is needed.  How much of it can be by email, phone calls, WhatsApp, Slack (etc) and how much of it needs to be face-to-face – whether physically or virtually?

You need to invest in Project Management software.  This is central to workflows and keeps everyone in the loop and accountable.

Virtual meetups are essential and they need to be a balance between work and some fun – activities that develop camaraderie amongst your team members.  Plan several a week that are just for the banter, for relaxing and talking about what’s going on in people’s lives.  

Mental health and developing a positive attitude when emerging from COVID rules is critical for you and your team.  

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Ten-point checklist for new hybrid workplaces:

  1. Update job descriptions and policies to reflect the new working conditions.
  2. Ensure you have a documented “working from home policy and checklist”.
  3. Be non-negotiable about anti-virus software and, where possible, provide equipment that is for work use only.
  4. Be clear about what core hours you expect everyone to be available.
  5. Ensure your workplace is safe (social distancing, partitioning, hygiene, density quotients) for when your employees are on-site.
  6. Make sure all your policies and procedures are available online so that remote workers can easily access them.
  7. Implement a program that addresses the ongoing mental health and engagement of your team.
  8. Nothing beats a one-on-one chat – plan to have them periodically with all your team members.
  9. Share a vision and set step-by-step goals to keep your team enthused.
  10. Reward and recognise achievements regularly.