How hybrid work has reshaped the future of work

What does the future of work look like?

It might seem like the new normal, but the shifts we’ve experienced to how and where we work started just over 12 months ago. While the pandemic has had widespread and devastating impacts, it has ushered in a new model of work that may have otherwise taken decades to fully realise: the era of hybrid work. 

Hybrid work is all about freedom and flexibility. It empowers employees to choose where and when they do their best work. And it’s set to be a model many companies follow in the months and years to come.

So, how can employers set their teams up to thrive in the era of hybrid work? Let’s take a look at what the future of work looks like in 2021 and beyond.

How did the pandemic impact where and how we work?

But before we jump into the future of work, let’s rewind the clock. 

In 2020, public health orders and mandated lockdowns caused many offices to shut their doors here in Australia and across the globe. Almost overnight, businesses moved their operations online and teams began to connect virtually via video conferencing and Slack. 

And it seems many employees welcomed these changes with open arms. A recent Qualtrics report into The Future of Work explains, “the pandemic helped point us toward a better way to work," in which, “employees found more meaning at work, and we're learning that workplace flexibility and productivity go hand in hand."

So, how did the outbreak of COVID-19 change where we work? A recent study by the University of Sydney’s Business School found that 20% of NSW-based employees were working remotely prior to the pandemic, jumping to 39% during 2020. 

As our living rooms, kitchen tables and bedrooms transformed into makeshift offices, the lines between work and home continued to blur. For anyone who has worked remotely, it’ll come as no surprise that a Harvard study found that remote staff work almost an hour (48.5 minutes) longer each day. 

But there are plenty of benefits, too. Respondents to Qualtrics recent survey reported their productivity increased while working from home due to flexible schedules (31%), no commute (26%), more control over workspace (24%), ability to focus with fewer work interruptions (24%) and more privacy and personal space (23%).

What changes are predicted to stay in 2021 (and beyond)?

With many companies returning to the office in some capacity this year, the impacts of COVID-19 have created a new appetite for flexible work arrangements. A recent study by PwC revealed 75% of respondents say their ideal work environment is a mix of remote and in-person working.

Plus, 75% of workers believe employers will continue to support work from home in the months and years ahead. 

Many of the world’s biggest tech companies are leading the charge towards hybrid work. Teams such as Salesforce and Microsoft are allowing employees to choose how often they come into the office each week, while Google is reportedly letting most of its staff work from home for the majority of 2021.

But there are still plenty of employees looking for in-person collaboration. Recent research has shown that 67% of respondents were craving more face-to-face time with their coworkers. Clearly, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to the way we work post-pandemic. 

So, what shifts can we expect to stick in 2021 and beyond?

  • Blended working patterns: companies are expected to continue giving their teams the flexibility to split their time between home and the office and adopt a hybrid approach.

  • Reimagined office spaces: 48% of employees in a recent survey are craving changes in the design of their office spaces, with top priorities including:
    • More quiet, private working spaces
    • More flexible meeting areas
    • More space between desks

  • Greater autonomy in work hours: the traditional 9-5 model is becoming increasingly obsolete as more teams embrace flexible start and finish times that fit their needs and lifestyle. 

How can businesses adapt to a hybrid work model?

It’s clear that how and where we work has irrevocably changed since the pandemic. Whether you’re working in or managing a team, we’re all looking for ways to adapt and embrace the new opportunities of hybrid work. 

So, what do companies need to consider to attract and retain the best talent?

  • Embed tech into every part of the business: with teams working across multiple physical spaces, digital connectivity will continue to be a top priority. That means using Cloud-based systems to seamlessly connect teams and design workspaces that allow for blended meetings of IRL and virtual participants.

  • Offer greater autonomy to your team: with remote working now a viable option, employees are looking for companies that support them to work when they're most productive. That means allowing employees to choose how often they work from the office, offering staggered start and finish times and focusing on output (not hours worked). 
    • This is incredibly important as more Australians relocated away from capital cities. In the last quarter of 2020, Australia’s capital cities saw it’s biggest loss of residents on record, meaning that employees are looking for companies that will support their shift to remote work.

  • Listen to the needs of your team: the era of hybrid work looks different for everyone, meaning companies need to be responsive to the varied needs of their teams. The biggest priorities for employees are set to be access to an office space when needed, ability to meet with colleagues in-person, and access to physical resources when needed. 

While more of us are working from home than ever before, it’s clear that office spaces are far from obsolete. In fact, the best thing companies can do is to redesign workspaces to offer greater flexibility for their teams. That means creating private spaces for deep-work, tech-driven meeting areas and more spaces for your team to collaborate IRL. Those companies that are able to embrace the opportunities of hybrid work will create happier, more productive and more engaged teams both now and in the years to come.