How can companies strike the right balance between office and home?

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After more than two years of disruption, closures and uncertainty, employers face a new reckoning in 2022: getting staff back into the office.

Dubbed by some the “great return to work hybrid,” employers in various sectors are forced to think about what the working environment will look like for staff.

In an environment where the workforce is constrained, how much can companies entice employees to come back to the office? And how can bosses design a solution to meet the needs of the collective after more than two years of work-from-home flex where individual choice reigned supreme?

This calculation is not isolated to New Zealand, with stories of the UKthe United States and Australia paint a picture of a world that has fundamentally changed and the dawn of what may well become the decade of working from home.

Granted, not all employees can work from home. Some never made it, as they continued to show up on the front lines at hospitals, grocery stores and emergency calls. But research suggests those who have had a taste of working from home want more.

Focus on coordination

A 2022 report from Stanford University announces the benefits of a hybrid approach to work, recognizing that most, but not all, employees benefit from some time at home and some time in the office.

Stanford’s recommendation is to coordinate returning to the office with agreed-upon days (e.g., Tuesday-Thursday at work, Monday-Friday at home) and reevaluate at the end of the year to create a long-term plan. term.

This cut-and-paste plan certainly won’t work for all workplaces, but it does suggest there’s some merit to a coordinated approach.

Equity as key

Social connection is not the only reason why some researchers advocate a hybrid work model where teams show up on the same agreed days.

This approach can maximize fairness and equity, thereby boosting diversity and inclusion. Having teams in the same place at the same time ensures a fair and development and promotion opportunities.

This could be particularly relevant for working parents, who may already face difficulties or discrimination working flexibly or taking parental leave, and for minority groups who have traditionally been pushed into the job for promotions. or mentoring opportunities.

Fairness, one of the main protective factors against burnout at workhelps balance feelings of cynicism, anger, or outrage.

Decisions about returning to the office should be transparent and clearly communicated. And while individual approaches may be necessary, work plans should benefit all groups equally, whether senior executives or entry-level graduates.

Ask, Don’t Assume

What works for some won’t work for all, so employers should talk to their employees. This simple advice applies as much to the overall well-being of employees as it does to the structure of the workweek.

By engaging in meaningful conversations with staff and including them in the decision-making process, leaders can establish and maintain a level of trust that is essential to a strong culture of well-being in the workplace and can ensure that the various needs of employees are met.

As everyone is immersed in the process of discovering a new normal, employers should take the opportunity to really tap into the specific wants and needs of their employees by implementing a consultation process.

This may mean offering various options for people to give feedback, such as informal check-ins (face-to-face, text or otherwise) or more formal meetings and forums; this formal and informal communication can be supplemented with anonymous employee surveys to gather opinions that some people may find difficult to give in person.

This is a unique opportunity to launch a new way of working that meets the needs of employees and allows them to participate in the process of strengthening support and well-being at work.

Building back better

While many leaders may lament their employees’ reluctance to return to the office, citing reduced collaboration and information sharing in the work-from-home setup, it’s worth asking whether pre-COVID office spaces are really much better.

Open plan offices, the norm for many modern workplaces, can actually increase stress responses in the body and, paradoxically, reduce collaboration, welfare and commitment.

How do companies balance opportunities for collaboration and information sharing, while protecting an employee’s individual well-being?

In an effort to build back better, employers should consider adapting office space in a way that is conducive to connection as well as focus, with multiple talking points, intentional collaboration opportunities and quiet work areas.

Businesses should also harness the power of hybrid working, perhaps using work-from-home days for in-depth work, with a “no meetings” rule, and in-person office days set aside for collaborative work and meetings. catch-ups.

The next six months will undoubtedly be a period of trial and error for many companies as they seek to encourage workers to return to the office. Following simple rules – “ask, don’t assume” and “be fair” – can go a long way to ensuring that returning to the office is helpful for employees and organizations.


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