The future of work is hybrid. The last two years have revealed the strain that distance places on remote teams, and proximity must be used to create coherent working structures and integrate disparate teams.
Over the last year, business leaders have driven the push to reorganise around shared working spaces. This is often pitted against the view of employees, that remote work may offer the most desirable working environment.
For some, it may be true. Remote work can work for certain employees, and might be their preferred style. But many among us also yearn for the group connection. The office – when curated in the right way – can be the enable for this, and help people to do their best work.
As UK General Manager at Witco my mission is to help business and talent give their employees the best digital platform that’s now needed to enable remote and hybrid working as we slowly emerge from the shadow of COVID.
Yet Witco which began in 2016 as a shared accommodation app has been preparing for hybrid working en masse long before the pandemic. By enabling shared spaces to be organised around a digital touchpoint we have been able to make the shared experience also a bespoke one.
That’s why Witco is a leading digital workspace management app in France, which tripled its revenue last year. We now seek to accelerate our growth in the UK and other international markets following our 14 million Dollar Series B raise.
The challenge now is to apply this growth in the UK where weekday office rates are at just around 25% across the country and the return to work seems to have slowed down – that’s according to the latest data from Remit Consulting.
The third way
It is binary thinking that is killing the culture of employment. There are shortcomings to full-time office work; hours spent commuting or mingling in the breakout room detracts from time that could be spent more productively. But this does not make remote work the only solution.
Throughout the pandemic, working from home’ saw rates of burnout soar as the lines between home and work blurred. Today, the average age of burnout is 32 – thanks, in part, to home working.
Truly flexible working should embrace the positive aspects of both remote and in-person employment. Remote work may make us more productive in the short term, but sustainable efficiency calls for opportunities to build relationships, progress in our careers and collaborate. All aspects of working life were put on pause, as teams moved online throughout the lockdowns.
Without physical spaces, we lose sight of what’s important beyond the deadlines: knowing our colleagues, aligning on a corporate vision and working together. For some this can be achieved through offsites, casual gatherings and what not. But for most, the office needs to be designed to cater to these needs. And that’s where we want to improve life at work.
The importance of technology
Bringing office work and remote work together will prove a challenge. Teams will be pushed to coordinate their own movements with those of colleagues for the first time. To make hybrid work as effective as it can be, we must learn from the pandemic the importance of supporting technologies.
The overnight popularity of Zoom and Slack shows the role innovation can play in modernising the workforce. Working for Witco to support teams in the return to the office, it has become clear that technology’s greatest role is in helping teams align on strategic objectives and to build and strengthen bridges between disconnected teams.
Today, 96% of the modern workforce are calling for better use of technology in the hybrid workplace to help communicate company news, events and culture, assisting employees in both remote and in-person collaboration. The 16 applications that employees use in the course of their work on average must be reduced to a single platform if hybrid is to define the future. And to be effective, this application must put the employee experience at its centre, enabling meeting room bookings, concierge services and hospitality.
A team lunch in the office is a powerful tool for bringing teams together, but ever-complexifying working patterns will surely create new challenges around catering and hospitality services in the office. Sophisticated technology to direct this will prove essential for managing the change.
Clearly, telling employees to go back to work without a plan won’t be a good idea. We cannot expect employees to be pleased to be lumbered with the task of booking meeting rooms and organising concierge services around the office having enjoyed two years of looking after only themselves.
Hybrid work is essential if we care about sustainable business models, but the technology that helps manage it is equally important. The first challenge of hybrid working is to simplify the complexity of the various new ways of working, ensuring everybody has the opportunity to do their best work. Solutions do exist in the form of ‘HR tech’ – software built to revisit and improve the employee experience of work, streamlining processes and reducing inefficiency.
Lessons from the lockdowns
Hybrid working is an opportunity to remedy the isolation inherent in remote only working, but also the communication and management problems facing teams pre-pandemic. Communication and collaboration are at the heart of efficient, enjoyable working and the most valuable solutions will be those that bring teams together regardless of how or where they choose to work.
Managed poorly, hybrid work will breed resentment among employees who feel their priorities and needs are not being acknowledged. Managed well, it will allow teams to move between the relative advantages of different systems of working, ensuring productivity is just as important as the environment needed to grow a productive workforce longer term.
The office is here to stay and we need digital solutions to make offices more attractive and adaptable. We need a more human-centric working future, where people will be empowered to excel where, when and how they choose. I look forward to building Witco’s leadership in the UK to inform a hybrid working environment that’s set to be ever more dynamic.