Connected workplace

How to beat the hybrid work blues

- January 31, 2023 3 MIN READ


As workers return from summer break, the post-holiday blues are more complex than ever. Many people face new, hybrid arrangements as organisations evolve their workplaces. It includes more time in the physical office than during the past couple of years or, in some cases, fewer days, writes Bill Zeng, Senior Director, Hybrid Work Solutions and Peripherals, APJ, Poly.

Traditionally the sinking feeling of ‘PVS’ – post-vacation syndrome – has been offset by the hype of reconnecting with colleagues, returning to old coffee haunts, and the buzz of energy and culture from being around people again. But in the hybrid workplace, there are fewer familiar faces, and CBDs are significantly changed from before the COVID crisis.

Building a new culture

As Gallup summarises, workplace culture is simply “how we do things around here”. It has often been tacit rather than explicitly stated. Leaders have often let it go unmanaged or relegated to HR. This is problematic enough in a traditional office environment, but culture can’t just be left to chance in a hybrid setting.

However, having a strong culture is integral to successful business outcomes. Gallup research found that creating a culture of engagement lowers absenteeism and turnover and increases productivity. Engaged employees are “more present and productive; they are more attuned to the needs of customers; and more observant of processes, standards and systems” which can result in a 23 per cent difference in profitability.

Some companies have tried to force everyone back into the office to reconnect employees to culture. But many people quit when mandated to return – particularly those with the most valuable, in-demand skills, who can easily get re-hired – making it a very risky strategy. According to Accenture, 83 per cent of workers prefer a hybrid model.

Fostering collaboration

Many organisations have focused on repurposing workspace for more collaborative interactions. The problem is that the workplace shouldn’t drive culture but rather the reverse. The office may be a key focal point for culture-building, but it’s not what makes culture. Instead, it’s about building a culture of being purposeful about why we come together.

This involves redesigning physical meetings around purpose and specific outcomes, being more intentional about encouraging people to build their networks and developing clear, evidence-based criteria for when staff should come in and when they can work from home.

This culture needs to be driven by the CEO and executive team, but it must also accommodate different sub-cultures within an organisation. Various departments and occupational groups have different needs and approaches, and strict rules can fail at a team level.

Three stacked wooden blocks with the words 'hybrid working culture'

Creating hybrid spaces

Trying to make old spaces work for new ways of working is difficult. There are seas of unused desks and insufficient conferencing equipment. Our research found that pre-pandemic, individual desks took up an average of 65 per cent of office space. Post-pandemic, this is expected to fall to about 40 per cent. Businesses must take a fresh look at the rooms and technologies that make up the office. There may be a need for new types of spaces altogether.

Pre-pandemic, only a minority of rooms in most workplaces were video conference-enabled. For a successful hybrid workplace, all meeting rooms need to be video conference-enabled, and video needs to be extended into social and breakout spaces.

Our research also identified the need to consider different workplace personas. Other employees will likely be doing similar activities across various locations and spaces.

Ensuring digital equity

For hybrid working to succeed, people need to be equipped with personal and group solutions that enable everyone to see, hear and share with everyone else equally, no matter where they are working. This digital equity in synchronous meetings is critical.

People working remotely don’t always have professional-level communication equipment in a home office, so they should be supplied with high-quality AV kits such as HD webcams and professional microphones. It’s also essential to train people on how to use new technology – a recent survey by Sharp found that only 47 per cent of office workers said they received training on new tech.

But where teams are physically meeting less frequently and may be distributed across different time zones, consideration also needs to be given to asynchronous communication. This means sharing collaboratively edited minutes, as well as transcripts and recordings of video calls – which need excellent audio quality.

Change is always difficult, but hybrid culture can’t be left to chance. As people return to workplaces, their needs and expectations should be considered to ensure that businesses have a shared vision and understand the value of human presence and where it is needed. From this, workspace and technology provision can be defined and shaped to fit the culture of the organisation.

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