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Remember the human condition when planning the hybrid workplace

As vaccination campaigns ramp up and businesses adjust their work models to adopt hybrid scenarios, the tenacity and adaptability of a mobile workforce are being tested once again. Michaela Voller, Chief HR Officer at Dimension Data, discusses why employee well-being forms the cornerstone of a successful return to work strategy.

Johannesburg, 20 Jan 2022
Read time 5min 00sec

The recent release of the 2021 edition of the Global Workplace Report provides vital insight into the future of work as businesses globally shift towards a hybrid workforce model. The report reveals that 84% of organisations believe that employees prefer remote working – but just 30% of employees would prefer to work from home full time. This disconnect has highlighted the need for a transformed approach to how we lead our teams and ensure that their mental health and well-being remains at the forefront.

Flexible vs hybrid – there is a distinct difference

Flexible working is the practice of letting employees work where, how and when they want. Some days it may be from the office, some days from home or entirely remote – wherever the employee feels they can deliver the best work at the time.

As with flexible working, hybrid working is a model that gives employees structured options around where their workspace will be and their working schedules. What is specific with the hybrid working model is the emphasis on having both a physical and a digital workplace. The core point is to give all employees – remote or not – the full employee experience (EX), regardless of where they do their work.

Leadership must be humanised

As hard as it can be to humanise work at all, hybrid is the hardest. Leaders must evolve the way they lead, turning towards a more human leadership approach to support – and keep – their valuable people.

A heightened level of understanding and compassion towards each team member’s personal situation is necessary, even as things begin to return to some sort of normality. Mental well-being, just as much as physical well-being, must be normalised if we want employees to thrive. Grappling with the pandemic and events of the last two years, it is more important now than ever to create a culture where vulnerability is accepted and it’s okay to talk about mental challenges.

Businesses that initiated wellness programmes while their employees remained at home during the more rigid periods of lockdown must continuously evolve and grow these initiatives as their employees return to work – wherever that may be.

Some of the initiatives that we at Dimension Data have put forward right from the beginning of the pandemic, such as Wellness Wednesdays, for example, have certainly had a massive impact on our workforce. We are looking at ways to build on these programmes with our Hybrid Workforce campaign that uses tech enhanced productivity tools to enable employees to fully embrace, and thrive, in the renewed work landscape.

So how can this return to the office be co-ordinated in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the employee?

1. Tune into and adopt a corporate cadence

Co-ordination has traditionally been on the organisation's terms. Leaders naturally want to tell people that they must be in the office on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday or between specific times. But, when correctly implemented into a management routine, the fundamental role of a cadence is to drive collaboration among team members through creativity and connection when they are in the office, and give them the time and space they need to concentrate at home or in a quiet place.

Establishing a rhythm of work and communication between leaders and employees, with clear expectations and frequent feedback, makes them feel more integrated and therefore more comfortable to embrace new conditions.

2. Understand that boundaries are now more important than ever

The coveted work-life balance is something that most employees are battling with. Because businesses have these technology tools that enable employees to work anywhere, any place, from any device, they are suffering the burden of ambiguity. The blurring of boundaries between personal and professional lives that has become the new normal for many simply cannot be sustained. Employees must be given the space to set clear boundaries and put limits in place.

3. Add humanITy back into IT

Companies that will thrive in the future are those that add the human back into the technology.

Too many organisations appear to be overlooking their people. Technology is undoubtedly an important part of future workforce planning, but the transition to a hybrid workforce requires a ‘people-first’ strategy, one that establishes the skills, agility and learning culture an organisation and its workforce need to be successful.

The singular truth remains that no matter how much we invest in technology, it is people that represent the beating heart of our organisations.

4. Recognise that priorities have shifted

For many, the pandemic precipitated a shift in priorities. There is a widening mismatch between the job environment employees want – and now expect – and the one their organisations have. People are realising they can work very effectively without spending several hours per week commuting to an office, for example. Leaders must get on the same page with employees by reconceptualising what it means for people to be part of the business and they must understand that more and more, working will be on the individual’s terms.

People are struggling

Businesses that don’t see this and place it at the core of their return to work strategies are facing a crisis. Whether employees are working remotely, at the office, or a hybrid of the two, it is important to remember that the situation is fluid. Plans will change, models must adapt and organisations, like people, will sometimes misstep – but if leaders aren’t able to meet this shift, their organisations are the most at risk as the post-pandemic workforce takes shape.

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