The shift towards remote working has been a breath of fresh air for many. As businesses gradually remove the shackles of rigid nine-to-five routines, lengthy commutes, and the engrained corporate practices of presenteeism, individual workers enjoy a surprising level of freedom.
However, while many employees relish the increased freedom and new flexibility, it may come at a price, most notably for business leaders looking to sustain a clear and tangible workplace culture.
As we let go of the idea of the 'workplace' as being completely physical, we must make way for the challenges of creating a safe and social space for teams of the future.
Business giants such as Google, Citigroup, Inc, Ford and Microsoft have announced a new hybrid working model, each with different iterations of what that means for their teams and physical offices, as well as company culture and the future of their employees' wellbeing. Amid these changes, it remains to be seen whether organisations will treat workers equally if they are not present in the office.
Other issues also fall into this area. For example, as businesses transition into predominantly hybrid or remote working teams, leaders must acknowledge that almost half of UK workers experienced loneliness during the mandated periods of home working.
This shows that reaching the right balance of flexibility while ensuring that workers don't feel isolated or disenfranchised may not be an easy feat for businesses.
Here are a few ways to ensure your employees adjust to the new way of working.
Choose a model that works for your workers
Whether your priority as a business is to improve productivity by allowing workers to choose the routine that works for them, or you want to make the most of your office space and facilitate in-person interactions, there are several options on the hybrid virtual continuum. It's important to address the geographical disparity of your workers as well as their need for connection and physical interaction.
Your new workplace will also depend on your future growth plans. For example, is your business likely to take advantage of the global talent pool? If so, a more virtual approach with plans for international micro hubs could be a sound approach. It's important to choose the level of physicality that works for the majority of your teams and will help to underpin your culture in the years to come.
Put wellbeing first
Work-related stress, depression and anxiety are reportedly responsible for the loss of 12.8 million working days per year. Keeping on top of team morale, workloads, and a team's general sentiment in a remote workplace is even harder for managers.
Making time for mental health check-ins, implementing policies whereby managers don't send emails or messages out of hours, and encouraging switching-off times and better boundaries around working hours can significantly help facilitate better wellbeing.
Lead by example
Team leaders must consider how they work, whether it be fully remote, two days in the office, or solely office-based, and how this might impact their team members. Whether you want to send a message that face time is valuable or that you fully support remote working, it's important to consider the actions of your team leaders and managers in setting a precedent.
Leaders may need to rethink their attitudes towards traditional working structures, focusing on inspiration and motivation instead of relying on the hierarchical constructs in place before the pandemic hit.
Cultivate equality, openness and honesty
In a working environment where almost everything is still so new, the best way to retain talent and create a nurturing and supportive virtual workplace is to take every opportunity to encourage honesty.
In a hybrid environment, a culture split between office and home workers is a real risk. Organisations need to provide both with the right technology and treat both equally. IT requirements, salaries and other perks should continue to recognise the productivity and success of the individual regardless of their workplace preferences.
Listening to your workers is more important now than ever. Whether it's running virtual fireside chats with leadership, safe-zone check-ins, or leading by example when it comes to accountability and trust, leaders need to cultivate opportunities for open, two-way interactions and a bottom-up approach to candid communication.
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