In recent months, more questions than answers have risen around office reopening plans with many business leaders referring to a “return to work” or “return to office”. It’s important to recognize that we’re not actually going back to work—we’ve been working very hard over the course of the last year’s COVID-19 quarantine period. When it comes to effective leadership and empowering workers, words matter. Reopening office spaces doesn’t mean reverting back to a pre-pandemic normal; it means moving towards the future of flexible work.
So what will the future of the workplace look like? For many businesses, it will be a hybrid approach. Knowing that only 13% of executives are ready to permanently let go of the physical office and 61% of employees plan to work in the office 50% of the time by summer 2021, a vast majority of organizations will need to embrace a hybrid work model rather than backtrack to the pre-pandemic work structure. At Fuze, we’re developing a strategy that leads with a “remote first” philosophy and embraces true flexibility, by opening regional hubs to offer a safe place for employees to collaborate, network, or just get a needed change of scenery during in-office days—which are entirely at the discretion of each employee.
While business leaders develop and deploy office reopening strategies, here are three things to keep in mind if you want to build a flexible hybrid work model that your employees trust.
1. Keep communication lines open.
Leaders need to find ways to communicate effectively with their employees and provide a clear vision of what the future of work will look like, while avoiding phrases that insinuate there is a requirement to return to the office full-time. At Fuze, we’ve instituted a task force, the Future Fuze @ Work group, that connects people across the company and makes sure that we are listening to employees and designing a strategy that works for everyone.
Through the Future Fuze @ Work group we’ve executed multiple studies on what employees need to be productive and engaged when remote, as well as what they want to do in the office if and when they choose to spend time there. Those inputs have informed changes to our office designs to prioritize networking and collaboration over dedicated solo workstations, and to supporting improvements to remote work experience through a quarterly stipend.
2. Implement flexible work schedules.
Working from home full-time can be challenging for some because it blurs the line between professional and personal life. It’s been especially difficult to maintain balance during the last year when remote workers weren't able to leave their home office to work from a coffee shop, meet a friend for lunch, or take an afternoon workout class. As the pandemic subsides and the economy continues to open back up, both fully remote and hybrid workers will be looking for more freedom and flexibility to create a personal schedule and balance that successful long-time remote workers have evangelized.
Companies that embrace a truly flexible model of hybrid work will enable employees to build out customized work experiences that can be adapted as their circumstances and preferences change. We have embraced this core principle at Fuze for several years, and our workforce is more engaged and productive because of it.
3. Continue to humanize work.
This next chapter of work will be a major transition for everyone, and it’s important to maintain the compassion for our fellow employees, managers, and leaders, that we formed through our experience together during the pandemic. Through trial and error we’ll learn that in a hybrid work model many things will improve employee experiences if we think remote-first—like new employee onboarding and employee gifting. We will also learn what people may prefer to do in person like certain culture building, professional development, and meeting activities, and we will have to build strategies and find budget to make those in-person experiences happen again for those who want them.
In many ways it feels like building a hybrid work model is double the work, and at first it probably will be. We must all have the patience and grace to see this phase through together, both this year and beyond.