Today it’s people, not the pandemic, that are a primary driver pushing for hybrid working. It’s been over two years since the last lockdown, but the majority of us haven’t returned to the way we worked at the start of 2020. .

Hybrid working – moving away from 9 – 5 days spent in a centralised office towards a workforce that can work flexibly from anywhere – is a way of life now for many businesses and organisations across the board. Proving we could work flexibly during the pandemic has created a taste for a different kind of work life. We’ve waved goodbye to commuting, and embraced WFH. Evidence from Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index which studied 31,000 people in 31 countries and analysed trillions of productivity signals in Microsoft 365 underlined the fact that hybrid is here to stay. It indicates that 38% of us already ‘do’ hybrid, up 7 points in just a few months. By year end 53% will be working hybrid, or preparing to, or seriously considering it.

Today’s customers are mostly tech savvy, and they expect to get to you and the products they want, whenever it suits them. Along with these raised expectations comes a loosening of loyalty. If you don’t deliver what they want, or you make them wait too long before they get it, they’ll walk.

So, what does it take to ease the pressure while revolutionising customer and employee experience in your contact centre?

 

How have some retailers used this opportunity to deliver real value to their business?

 

Smiling lady on a video call on a laptop

Empty office space

We’ve written before about the Great Resignation and some of its implications for business leaders. There’s a clear push for hybrid working from Gen Z, who prize flexibility more highly than their older colleagues. Businesses need to be able to offer it, or face losing out on talent. That means accepting that new hires might not want to come into your office every day, or even one day a fortnight. They’ll get the work done, but on their terms and not under your nose. And it’s not just a Gen Z thing. Across all age groups there’s been a total rethink on the way we live and work.

“In all, there’s no erasing the lived experience—and lasting impact—of the past two years. A few months of remote work could have been a blip, but 24 months in, people have proved you can be a great employee and have a life. Now, flexibility and wellbeing are non-negotiables that companies can’t afford to ignore.”

But if the push for hybrid is people first, coming close on its heels is economics. Empty office space is an expensive liability. Some organisations have decided to embrace the new normal, and are taking the opportunity to rationalise their property portfolios. Closing down large central offices and creating smaller purpose built flexible working hubs around the country, they’re designing a hybrid work future from the ground up.

The Cabinet Office’s drive to reduce its property footprint exemplifies this top down approach to hybrid working.

“Government commits to further £2 billion of property savings”

 

Sam Winterbottom, Gamma’s Head of Public Sector, explains:

There are a lot of public sector offices around the country and the UK. And the Cabinet Office is looking to migrate as many of those as possible to hubs around the UK.”

 

Gamma has been working to get the hybrid working hubs up and running fast. There are currently 8 hubs up and running in the UK, with 8 more in the pipeline.

“There’s a lot of work going on to transform old legacy ways of doing things, whether that’s via old telephone systems or via older school data networks, and transport them to become essentially cloud first.”

The Government Hubs have taken on board the learnings from the great WFH experiment, and put it at the heart of the design. With virtual workspaces that facilitate remote collaboration and reflection, recovery and wellbeing spaces as standard, they aim to make flexible working simple and welcoming. The design hits the key notes which are becoming the standard for modern hybrid working. Productivity, community, wellbeing, collaboration, engagement and future-proof have been front of mind in their creation.

There are more chairs in meeting rooms and collaborative workspaces than there are behind desks. We’ve flooded the space with audio visual equipment and WIFI coverage and have even installed writable walls. We’ve actually got less space than before but we don’t think anyone has really noticed (or cares) because we’re using that space so much more creatively.”

 

– Sarah Cox – Ofgem (Office of Gas and Electricity Markets)

73%

of employees say would go to the office more frequently if they knew their direct team members would be there

 

Team members laughing

Designing specifically for hybrid first is a good way to make it work. However not every organisation or business is in the position for such a large scale consolidation and ground up redesign. How do you make hybrid work under tighter restraints? Do you close the office altogether? Where do you focus your efforts?

Collaboration is the new superpower, and fostering it will be at the heart of company cultures that thrive in a digital world. Virtual workspaces that facilitate remote collaboration are great, but only if people know how to use them effectively. If creating the right conditions is one side of the hybrid working coin, on the other is purpose, and the culture that lives and breathes it.

Company culture is very hard to assimilate if you never spend time together in the same space. How do you pick up a sense of ‘the way we do things around here’, if you’re always working on your own, remotely? Maybe the importance of getting together in person is something we didn’t realise we valued until we lost it in the lockdowns. Certainly, building it back into the fabric of working life is something that takes thought and imagination, not knee jerk responses, like this from Lord Sugar.

“A large percentage of people who work from home are lazy gits they got to like the life created by the pandemic.”

Lord Sugar

Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index

A proportion of people would happily never set foot in the office again, but for many others work equates with colleagues, friends and a social life. The Microsoft study found that connecting with colleagues is a key motivation for working in person. 84% of employees would be motivated by the promise of socialising with co-workers, while 85% would be motivated by rebuilding team bonds. Employees also report that they would go to the office more frequently if they knew their direct team members would be there (73%) or if their work friends were there (74%).

Designing for a hybrid future means accommodating people who want to work remotely and those who want human connection, and creating a culture that gives them both a purpose and the means to collaborate.

A thriving hybrid workplace needs more than a reconfiguration of desks and space. It needs a set of people who want to be there together. So give people a compelling reason for using it.  Social capital, friendship, creative and strategic thinking, some things are easier and more enjoyable in person. But you may still need to spell that out. Build in opportunities for getting people together.  Make the commute worthwhile. Company culture is created and experienced in actions, so make your expectations clear.

The means to collaborate goes beyond digital tools and processes, it requires new skills and the adoption of a new digital etiquette. Some of us will be used to coming into an office and being with people all day, some of us have only ever worked remotely. And all of us need to learn how to navigate the hybrid landscape together. Unless it’s made explicit, we’ll all make up our own minds on how we should behave durings meetings where some of us are in the room and others are online.

We all need to learn new ways of working, and to subscribe to a new digital etiquette which is still in the process of being created

Two people smiling during conversation

 

Hybrid is here to stay, and it’s up to all of us to make it work.