It’s 2022 and the world is different. The way we did things two or three years ago has changed. Hybrid work, remote work, flexibility and ‘the new normal’ are just some of the buzzwords that have characterised the last few years.
Hybrid work is a flexible working model where employees can work from the office, home or any other workspace on a flexible basis. Organisations need to focus on finding an optimal workplace model, taking into consideration the lessons of the last few years. Employees now find themselves with the choice of returning to the office or working from home. The 2022 Work Trends Study by Microsoft found that 43% of remote employees in the US have decided to move away from their physical office because they can work remotely. Organisations are benefitting from this trend as they now have access to a wider talent pool without having to relocate new employees.
Hogarty (2021) outlines the advantages of hybrid working for the employee as increased productivity, increased employee wellbeing, decreased risk of COVID-19 infection and economic benefits such as no or lower transport costs. For organisations, the benefits of hybrid working include the advantage of attracting top talent, decreased need for large office spaces and an overall decrease in overhead costs.
However, the adverse effects of the hybrid working model include social and professional isolation, employee perceptions of threat to their professional development, limited supervision from line managers and the mental and emotional exhaustion caused by being in a virtual, ‘always-on’ work environment when working remotely (Babapour Chafi et al., 2021).
Towards a new employee wellbeing model
Organisations can continue to support their hybrid workforce by doing the following:
- Give a voice to your employees
Regular employee surveys help to stay in touch with your workforce and identify trends. By listening, organisations can be alert and ready to make changes based on the challenges employees are facing. Surveys on mental health can help identify issues such as depression, burnout and loneliness.
- Facilitate open and honest communication
Linked to giving employees a voice, it is also important to keep the lines of communication open. Sharing good news stories, important company and individual achievements through an online newsletter can help the employee to feel connected. Line managers can set up catch-up sessions where instead of discussing work, the conversation can focus on the employee’s wellbeing and any possible issues they are facing.
- Provide employee wellbeing resources
Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) still have a role to play in the hybrid workplace. HR can play a vital role in making sure that employees are aware of the different options available to them. Leadership must encourage employees to make use of these resources.
- Train managers to recognise an employee in distress
Managers can act as the first line of defence in recognising the signs of mental illness such as depression. Although line managers cannot assume the role of a professional mental health practitioner, they can do their part by cultivating a culture where mental health is spoken about openly and mental illness is not stigmatised. Recognising when your employee needs some time off or displaying understanding for what your colleague is going through is often the sign of a healthy team and organisational culture.
- Wellbeing programmes that consider the remote work scenario
Working remotely will mean that not all employees who would like to take part in wellbeing initiatives such as a lunchtime exercise session will be able to. You can solve this problem by ensuring these initiatives are offered both in-person and online or by encouraging all employees to come into the office on the day the initiative is offered.
An employee wellbeing programme in a hybrid workplace is certainly achievable. But it can only be achieved if organisations put measures in place that ensure the success of a hybrid way of working for employees and the business. An employee wellbeing programme oriented toward the hybrid workforce is only successful if a solid foundation is in place.
Changes at an organisational level can make the hybrid model successful for all
According to Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trends Study, hybrid work is the new “disruption”. From the results of the study, they propose that organisations and business leaders implement the following strategies to successfully make the move to a hybrid work model:
- Create a plan to empower people for extreme flexibility
The plan should detail policy changes, technology needs and physical space issues.
- Invest in space and technology to bridge the physical and digital worlds
Ensure that employees have the necessary tools they need to work from home or the office such as electronic devices and access to a reliable, fast internet connection. The office space needs to be appealing enough to make employees want to work from the office, so creating inspiring spaces that cater for teamwork and collaboration as well as pods for individual work is important.
- Combat digital exhaustion from the top
Changes in organisational culture such as encouraging a work-life balance and frequent digital breaks need to be driven from the top. Executives and managers should set the tone by ensuring they have time blocked out in their diaries for deep work and that they require all meetings have a clear purpose, agenda and outputs.
- Prioritise rebuilding social capital and culture
The focus needs to be on building networks in a digital environment. Managers need to facilitate opportunities for their team members to build strong social support systems and connections within their team and across the business. This can be achieved through various means. One example is managers can organise social events for project kick-offs and project milestones that are either online or are attractive in-person events that make remote workers want to make the effort to be there. This allows the team to meet each other and their cross-functional project team members, building their social capital and team culture.
- Rethink employee experience to compete for the best and most diverse talent
Hybrid work can be used as leverage to attract and retain employees from a global talent pool. Organisations need to be clear on what employee experience they are cultivating, including employee wellbeing as a key focus, and communicate this to the market.
Dual focus: employee wellbeing and hybrid model success
Hybrid work has its advantages for both the employee and the organisation, but also disadvantages that can harm employee wellbeing, making employee wellbeing programmes more important than ever before. However, a good employee wellbeing programme can’t do much if the organisation’s hybrid model itself is poorly set up. Focusing on required changes at an organisational level to make the hybrid model successful is equally important to foster employee wellbeing.
University of Johannesburg