The world of work shifted irreparably nearly two years ago. But people adapted to the need to work remotely and have, in many ways, embraced the flexibility it offered. Now, there’s another great disruption for businesses to navigate: the hybrid work paradox. People want to keep the flexibility of remote work, but crave the connection that comes from being together in an office.
Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index found that 67 percent of people missed in-person collaboration and engagement, while 73 percent wanted to retain the flexibility of remote work in the post-pandemic workplace. Nine out of 10 people in an EY global employee survey said they wanted flexibility in where and when they work.
The implications are clear for South African businesses: leaders need to embrace extreme flexibility. If they don’t, they risk losing their people. The EY survey showed that 54 percent of employees who don’t receive the level of flexibility they need will quit.
Businesses need to think about how they respond to the ongoing transformation in the way people work, and what they can do to enable hybrid work going forward. This means looking at and investing in three critical elements: people, places and processes.
Where people, places and processes meet
The first step organisations need to take is prioritising their people and placing them at the centre of their hybrid workplace strategy. At the heart of this is the overall employee experience, with a focus on people’s wellbeing and on giving them the resources and tools needed to work and learn productively and seamlessly no matter where they are.
More and more, that means focusing on empowering people to succeed and be their best – and providing integrated platforms that are able to bring tools for employee engagement, learning, wellbeing, and knowledge discovery directly into the flow of people’s work.
This means also taking insights and data about how and when people work to create a system that allows them to prioritise time to focus, as well as protect valuable time such as with their families – ensuring a better employee experience, which will ultimately lead to a better customer experience.
As well as providing the insights and tools that people need to contribute and collaborate from wherever they happen to be working, there is a growing focus on how businesses can adapt physical places to enable better collaboration between people that are in an office and those working remotely.
The Work Trends Index revealed that 66 percent of business decision makers are considering redesigning physical spaces to better accommodate hybrid work environments.
Investments in this area increasingly include designing collaborative experience spaces to give everyone a voice – whether they are in the room or joining virtually. This includes tools such as smart in-room cameras and AI-powered active speaker tracking that use audio, facial movements and gestures to detect and zoom in on who in the room is speaking. Additionally, devices that enable seamless joining of meetings, multiple video streams and life-sized video panes of virtual contributors have the ability to ensure a more inclusive, collaborative discussion and experience.
Coupled with advances in adapting pysical spaces, businesses also need to invest in digitising traditionally manual processes to ensure work and business continuity.
According to research by the IDC, businesses have upped their investments in key technology over the past 12-18 months to enable this continuity and flexible work. This is true across both the public and private sectors – and is likely to continue as a trend as organisations continue to grapple with the complexities of the hybrid work paradox.
For more insights, stories and converstaions on the science of work and how people will work in the future visit Microsoft WorkLab.
Colin Erasmus started his professional career as an entrepreneur in start-up technology consultancy, and developed niche technologies that are still being used today in the electronic events registration industry.
He is one of a select few privacy certified individuals in South Africa, and assisted in drafting South Africa’s privacy legislation (POPI Bill). Colin has over 20 years of experience with Microsoft that has equipped him with strong business acumen and people management experience. He is an expert in Microsoft Modern Workplace solutions, which help customers improve employee productivity and satisfaction, and create seamless communication and collaboration across locations and platforms while maintaining the security and integrity of systems and data.