Workers splitting their time between home working and office working is on an upwards trend. So what does this mean for the traditional office, and what will hybrid working of the future look like?
What’s the current reality of hybrid working?
Hybrid working continues to increase in popularity. During 2022, the proportion of workers both working at home and at their usual place of work has been rising – from 13 percent in early February 2022 to 24 percent in May 2022, with the percentage working exclusively from home falling from 22 percent to 14 percent in the same period. Hybrid working is currently more common among higher earners aged between 30 and 49, but the hybrid landscape is still changing and so all types of traditionally office-based workers from a range of salary brackets, will likely be hybrid working in years’ to come. In fact, according to research by National Graduate Week, more than two-thirds of final year students and recent graduates say they would prioritise hybrid working opportunities over salary when seeking future employment, suggesting that we’re still in the midst of a workplace evolution.
The trends and tech that will shape the workplace
The growing demand for hybrid working from the existing workforce as well as the next generation, means it will become the norm for all but frontline/field workers. Yes, there will be permanent home workers, however they will remain in the minority. Employees still crave in-person interaction and want to attend the office for at least a few days each month for collaboration – and even more importantly – emotional connection. Nearly half of employees cite ‘being around others’ in the physical workplace as improving their mental health. And from the employer’s point of view, the office remains crucial for strengthening organisational culture.
However a new challenge for HR and business leaders is how to encourage workers back into the office more often. There might well be a mismatch between the number of days employees are happy to attend the office and the number of days employers would like them to work from the office.
Encouraging rather than enforcing greater office attendance could well see the ‘hotelification’ of offices in which employers intentionally reinvent workspaces to make them desirable destinations that worker choose to ‘book’ themselves into. This new approach means viewing offices with a hotelier’s mindset in which the facilities and service levels must be akin to a high quality boutique hotel. From ensuring office desks and facilities can be reserved with ease from mobile devices at any time and from anywhere, through to providing value-adding office-based services such as onsite childcare and laundry services, hotelification is all about elevating the flexible workers’ everyday experience to make attending the office warm, welcoming, hassle-free and enriching.
Technologies that facilitate collaboration and support connections within a hybrid workforce will also become increasingly important. Existing technologies that can bring people together by allowing the sharing of information, news, documents, opinions, ideas and recognition, will continue to increase in popularity so long as they are easy to use at any time and from anywhere. For instance, advanced intranet platforms that not only allow workers to instantly access documents, advice and support, but provide them with the ability to feedback and share thoughts via blogs, vlogs and other integrated social media apps, are now a necessity in a hybrid world.
Other technologies can support collaborative working, from online project management solutions and video conferencing apps, through to hot desk booking software, and these should be implemented based on business need. For instance, to make in-person collaboration easier, organisations might benefit from the ‘search by colleague’ functionality present in some hot desk booking solutions, thereby allowing workers to book desk time and office facilities at the same time as co-workers. Plus, desk booking apps that automatically adjust to the user’s time zone, instantly simplify collaboration between employees who are working from different offices across the world.
In a few years’ time, we’ll be seeing immersive ‘employee experience’ technologies that are currently still in their infancy increasingly being used to streamline and enhance the hybrid worker’s everyday life. For example, Metaverse offices are likely to pop-up in which hybrid workers, in the form of avatars, can attend the office virtually to seek help, connect with others, collaborate and innovate. Such virtual offices are unlikely to supersede real-world offices (which will continue to play an important role), but will rather provide an interface in which to bring people together in a more compelling and engaging way than one-dimensional video conferencing tools. Virtual reality (VR) solutions may also come into their own, with hybrid workers using VR goggles to be transported into a virtual meeting or a supplier’s 3D sales ‘presentation’.
Plus, smart technologies that increase efficiencies while providing workers with an improved working experience, will continue to increase in demand. Some machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions are already in use or soon will be, such as chat bots and self-drive cars, however we’ll witness even greater automation of the mundane. And as AI increasingly removes repetitive and administrative tasks from employees’ workloads, efficiencies will be gained, perhaps leading to hybrid workers demanding shorter working weeks.
Navigating the new hybrid world
Full-time office-based working is becoming a thing of the past, replaced with the ‘best of both worlds’ in the form of hybrid working. Employers and employees must adjust to this new way of working, navigating a path that reinvents the workplace and harness both existing and emerging technologies to ensure the hybrid worker’s experience is streamlined, engaging and enriching.