Early May, Jon Levy wrote: “The hybrid workplace probably won’t last” and this might come as a surprise to many companies. Today, we hear a lot on the return to the workplace post covid and most companies seem to look at the future of work as a hybrid future. How do business prepare themselves and their employees? Let’s zoom into the why, how and what of these challenging times of reboarding.
In Belgium, several big companies made it to the news with their often spectacular seat cut: telecom supplier Proximus for instance, is cutting down on office space for more than 50%, bringing their office space from 105000 m2 to 40000 m2. Big companies seem to follow this example, leaving team leaders worried. We spoke with several of them and one question popped up a lot of times: how do you handle team meetings with your entire team if you only have seats available for a part of your colleagues?
In the Netherlands, organisations are slightly less ambitious: they expect to cut between 20 – 40% of their office space. Others just say that they will ‘wait and see what happens’. After all, who can really predict peoples behaviour in these uncertain times?
At the same time, a lot of employees are hesitant to return to the workplace. Not only because of traffic jams and the fear of covid 19, but also the idea of doing some chores during the day or the groceries or being able to go for a walk with the dog during the lunch break is appealing. The positive effects of working from home are numerous: higher productivity and flexibility, less travel time (which is considered lost time and one of the biggest happiness leaks) plus a positive effect on the environment.
Most companies in Belgium seem to be focussing on facility issues like we just described, transforming this time in which a lot of people are feeling insecure into an opportunity of cost optimisation. Professionals who care about the people in their team and organization, report to be feeling disappointed and discouraged. We even met a leader stating that in her organization the management was only thinking about buildings and physical wellbeing and that she was the only one “asking the irritating questions” about the human aspects.
In the Netherlands, many organizations started to discuss the future of work Post-Covid with their employees, some already starting in the summer of 2020. Which leaves them with a solid plan of action for reboarding now. The terms Hybrid Working, Flexible Working or Working-from-home policies are used interchangeably. So far we see three different starting points:
#officefirst: organisations expect employees to have the office as their ‘home base’. Employees are expected to work at least 2 to 3 days per week at the office. If they want to work from home, then they have to submit a request to do so. This permission is (or is not) given by the manager, and may also be withdrawn.
#virtualfirst: employees are expected to work from home most of their time and will only gather at the office when necessary: for meetings, brainstorms, important (or emotionally charged) conversations. The whole team is expected to be present at the same time. ‘Hybrid working does not mean half of the team at home, half of the team at the office,’ they say. ‘For a level playing field we need to be either in the same room, or all of us online.’
#workanywhere, anytime: other organisations let the employees take care of it themselves. In a culture where selfmanagement, responsibility and accountability are common, this seems the most logical way to go.
Flexible Working Policies are widely discussed. The need to make at least some agreements with employees seems to be the rule. Flexible Working policies in general contain at least four elements:
1: Definition: What do we mean by flexible working? What is it? How did we get here? How does Flexible Working fit into our organisation? What are the advantages and disadvantages for our organisation?
2: For Who? Who can work from home, which roles are suitable and which are not? Which activities are suitable and which are not?
3: How? What does that look like in practice? Expectations regarding number of days at the office vs. home, on which days, what are the boundaries within which teams/employees have freedom to decide where to work? How do we use the office optimally, how do we divide the space as well and effectively as possible? What about overtime?
4: Refunds: When is there an allowance for setting up a home office and how much is it?
Our advice would be to keep it simple. It all starts with trusting your employees. If that is not the case, well then there is work to do ;-).
In our vision the office should become an inspiring meeting place. Where people discuss, have a chat over a coffee, connect. Or, as Bas van der Veldt of Afas Software puts it: “We have a gym, climbing wall, webinar studio, green screens, photo studio etc.. You work from home.”