In her latest column for Citywire, Phryne Williams looks at how the new way of working is changing what employees want.
The future of the office is currently being shaped in different ways as companies grapple with employees’ hopes and expectations for more flexible work conditions.
Before Covid, the hybrid work model was a marginal option. Now it is looking like a mainstream solution for the ‘new normal’. At every turn, employers are hearing that they won’t be competitive when it comes to attracting talent if they don’t offer flexible working choices.
It’s a turning point for the world of work. According to a Gallup workplace survey of 140 000 US employees published in March this year: ‘…nine in 10 remote-capable employees prefer some degree of remote-work flexibility going forward, and six in 10 specifically prefer hybrid work’.
While properly taking into account and dynamically adapting to employee preferences is critical, so are performance and culture. Implementing hybrid work plans comes with upskilling managers, ongoing improvements to tech platforms and culture transformations.
One of the biggest challenges companies face is effective onboarding across hybrid workspaces. Your onboarding process is one of the most critical success factors when it comes to retaining new hires and getting the return on your recruitment investment. Even in the physical workplace, companies don’t all do onboarding well, but there’s little doubt that it is easier to build an early rapport with your new hire in-person.
The hybrid model slows down integration into the workplace and makes it tougher to quickly build strong relationships. The opportunities for on-the-job feedback, learning and one-minute manager interventions, which are so important to new hires, are also reduced.
There are a myriad of seemingly insignificant, unplanned daily interactions with co-workers in the office that can help engender a sense of belonging in a new person, that just won’t happen on the days when they are remote working. Screen-sharing is not the same experience as rolling your chair over to chat to a colleague or a team leader.
We’re seeing the effects of this first-hand. We were recently retained to replace a well-qualified employee who left our client after only nine months in a role. When asked why they were leaving so soon, the employee, who had been spending two days a week in office, said they missed the quality of connection that they had experienced with their previous colleagues and manager.
The hybrid work model clearly didn’t give them enough opportunity to be integrated in the new company and develop a sense of belonging. To pave the way for a successful hire, we worked with this client to rethink their hiring and onboarding strategies as well as their working environment.
The hybrid work options that your company offers must take into account the holistic needs of your new hires – not just their tools for the job, and knowledge about the company and their role – but also their connections to leaders and team members. For the younger generation workers, opportunities to learn and develop through exposure to more senior workers is important, as is being directly mentored.
While this can happen via tech platforms, it’s not the optimal way for every person. Managers need to get know their new hires well and be adept at assessing what their individual needs are and if they are being met.
Often employees will want and will choose a hybrid working plan if they can, and then discover somewhere down the line it’s not really working for them – you don’t want this to happen when it’s all too late. Remote working should not mean disengagement and isolation, which can happen all to easily with a new hire.
Tech platforms and solutions should promote high engagement and make frequent check-ins and connections easy. The onboarding learning process should blend high-touch with high-tech, and not all happen through self-directed, online tools. Good ideas for new hires are including them in in-person activities, inviting them into a community-building forum and implementing buddy systems while they learn the ropes.
The pandemic years have dispelled the myth that remote working equals lost productivity and have highlighted its benefits. Greater employee autonomy, increased tech reliance and a more flexible, dispersed workforce are here to stay.
But we also cannot disregard that, for high-performing companies, the physical office is a hub of creativity, collaborations and culture-making social interactions. The challenge now is to find the sweet spot, and the hybrid work model offers that potential.
What’s important is that whether they are in the office or working from home, there’s a relationship that needs to be built with your new hire each working day and the ways that you set them up for success must be seamlessly integrated across their new workspaces.