There is near-universal agreement that many organizations will adopt a hybrid work model once lockdowns ease and offices reopen. On the whole, employees have had a positive experience working from home. A hybrid model would allow these workers to split their time between the office, the home and other workspaces as they see fit, giving them permanent control of where, when and how they work.
Since the start of the pandemic, countless studies have found that few people want things to return to exactly as they were before the pandemic. According to PwC’s most recent US Remote Work Survey, more than half of employees would prefer to work away from the office at least three days a week. Research by my organization has also found that most people in many cities would like those work-from-home days to be Monday and Friday. Office utilization and peak days will vary in different global regions and industries, but most conventional offices in the western world will assume these patterns.
It’s easy to see why employees want to shoulder the weekend with work-from-home days.
Our body clocks are often out of sync when we wake up with the alarm at the beginning of the workweek. The assumption is that those lie-ins on Saturday and Sunday allow us to catch up on missed sleep but doing this can make a mess of our circadian rhythm, leading to that familiar Monday morning jet lag feeling.
But giving employees this kind of autonomy and power will cause leaders new operational and cultural headaches if they do nothing to change the process and behaviors that govern their organizations.
Like Swiss cheese
A workforce that only comes to the office from Tuesday to Thursday is unsustainable for numerous reasons. If organizations stick with a traditional ownership-based model where every employee is designated a desk, it would overload office floors in the middle week and leave them practically empty on either side of the weekend.
Organizations may also plan to reduce space and save costs with fewer people coming to the office every day, at least in theory. But this would be counterproductive if everyone chose to make the journey on a Wednesday. Employees would get frustrated at the lack of available desks and booking systems could be overwhelmed. It would also be highly inefficient from an economic and environmental standpoint if organizations need to heat and cool spaces barely used on certain days.
There is also the issue of employee experience. Workplace utilization would resemble swiss cheese, creating large pockets of empty space throughout different floors and departments, leading to listless offices. The employees who have no choice but to use the office on Monday or Friday would be deprived of the buzz and social connectivity, the very things that the office is expected to deliver in a future hybrid world.
The office, the home or in between?
As a result of these changes, organizations are likely to settle on one of four dominant work models: office based, office centric, home centric hybrid, and home centric.
Office based – Many organizations require employees to head to an office every day because they cannot meet specific business demands while working from home, including regulation, heightened privacy and security risks, or access to specialist facilities and equipment.
Office centric – Some organizations will deem team activities are best suited to the office but afford some flexibility to employees. Business leaders are likely to adopt this model if they are reluctant to change their own style but recognize that others want to work away from the office occasionally.
Home centric hybrid – Those using this model will have determined that most work tasks can be done from home using digital collaboration tools but understand there is a strong social and business need to have everyone come together regularly in a physical setting.
Home centric – At this end of the scale, teams would work from home effectively and only head to the corporate office to meet people, celebrate or socialize.
Before the pandemic, a growing number of organizations were adopting activity-based working. This system provides employees with a rich variety of spaces, allowing them to be more mobile and to do different tasks effectively. I discussed the workplace evolution of this model here. In hybrid work, it may quickly become the norm to help minimize the demand on space. Organizations will also need new systems to schedule space daily and ensure that employees have access to the facilities and environments they need when they go into the office.
Moving to a hybrid model will pay plenty of dividends, including the potential for lower running costs and greater productivity. A permanent switch to higher levels of home working would also cut daily commutes significantly. Low demand for office space would reduce building energy consumption, allowing organizations to hit zero carbon targets. Meanwhile, more virtual working would require less paper, food, cleaning and other consumables.
But all of this requires proactive workplace management. Business leaders and department heads need to consider the workplace’s role in a hybrid model and what value employees get from it. Turning the office into a destination on Mondays and Fridays by planning certain entertainment or social activities and arranging rotas among specific teams is just one way to manage office utilization better.
In this new world, organizations need to rethink their practices and reinvent their culture. There will always be detractors, so leaders need to be bold and imagine a better future. Do nothing and blue Mondays are here to stay.
For the original article, visit: Forbes.