The world of work has shifted dramatically since the advent of COVID-19 – and we are still coping with a tidal wave of transformation pains as we edge beyond the crisis.
How do we find that ideal balance between hybrid and remote working? What will it take to reconfigure and equip our spaces to benefit everyone? And how do we design a work environment and a new set of work practices that helps employees maintain work-life balance – the most coveted of states – wherever they happen to set up their desk?
According to KPMG, the move to a hybrid work model is not a short-term trend but a long-term transformation. Firms most successful will be those that deftly balance talent preferences, business objectives, and DEI principles.
Over-working has been a trend for at least a decade. One Harvard Business School survey indicates that 94% of professionals in the service industry put in 50+ hours a week. Although some people claim long hours are a necessary evil, a flurry of studies show that when work-life balance is missing, everyone suffers as a consequence, both the employees and the business.
A natural assumption is that working from home would be the answer to regaining that ideal state of work-life balance. After all, gone is the long commute and the overtime at the office. Surprisingly, quite the opposite is true. The blurred lines between home and work have actually caused a spike in stress levels and the erosion of well-being. Based on a recent study 29% of employees, in fact, feel that remote work has had a negative impact on their well-being – and more than half (56%) have found it difficult to “switch off.”
Another drawback to the remote working model is the loneliness factor. The great shift to remote work in 2020 created increased social isolation. Social time has been proven to be an important part of an engaging workplace. According to Gallup research, almost two in 10 workers reported feeling lonely. And there are business impacts as well. Having friendships at work, according to Gallup, is a predictor of many important business outcomes, including the delivery of excellent customer service and overall profitability.
So, could a return to the workplace on a part-time basis actually be a healthy thing for employees and businesses alike? We believe so, as long as employers take the right measures and an enlightened, compassionate approach when rolling out the new hybrid work model.
Here are the top five tips for supporting work-life balance in the hybrid workplace:
1. Keep flexible working flexible
After more than two years of managing their work lives flexibly from a home-based environment, employees have tasted freedom and don’t want to lose it. The idea of having to adhere to a hybrid schedule set by an employer may not be embraced with enthusiasm.
Instead, workplace HR experts now say that what workers need most in the new hybrid work environment is flexibility — the ability to figure out for themselves which days are in the office and which ones are remote. Take steps to allow your employees to have a say in setting their schedule. Prioritizing this “choice” – of when they will be in the office, and when remote – will be vital to your hybrid transition success. It may even make the difference between retaining and losing your most valuable talent.
2. Set healthy boundaries
It isn’t always easy for employees to effectively set their own boundaries between work and home life – especially in the remote world. This will continue in the hybrid work model. For this reason, hybrid managers need to lead by example, providing encouragement to disconnect and shut the laptop at certain times during the week.
A number of companies including Citigroup and HSBC last year introduced “No Zoom Fridays” to allow employees time to focus on their tasks without the interruption of meetings. Others are establishing core hours – set times when everyone must be in the office. The rest of the work hours are flexible, so employees can log time whenever and wherever they are working. Policies with flexible time built in will help your employees manage personal responsibilities – and maintain better work-life balance.
3. Keep task allocation fair
With different groups of employees working in the office and at home at various times, it may become challenging to manage workload distribution. It will be increasingly important for managers to ensure equitable workloads for all. Sometimes certain employees become overburdened with work while others find themselves under-utilized (which can also erode morale and employee engagement). To strike a balance, businesses need to distribute work equally so that everyone – whether working remote or in the office – has a good balance of engaging work, but no one is burdened with too much.
4. Ramp up fitness, collaboration, and social perks
One of the best things about the partial return to the office is the social aspect. No longer are we only connected to talking heads on a screen. It will be important to make that time in the office with colleagues not just productive, but also fun and re-invigorating. Be sure to have comfortable and attractive spaces ready for team collaboration sessions – with Keurig machines, comfy couches, and all the right new tools at hand.
Beyond that, consider upgrading your office fitness spaces, organizing wellness events, and special games or social occasions to have everyone not just working, but laughing and bonding together. Social events can certainly be a powerful strategy for fostering engagement amongst employees.
5. Use the right tools
You may think of tech tools as a way to keep your fingers on the pulse of productivity. They can also be used to measure (and improve) the well-being of your workforce. Implementing a desk booking tool can also help to alleviate stress about coming into the office. Beyond their practicality, these types of tools signal to employees that their employer prioritizes safety and well-being at work.
Consider using time-tracking and productivity software to glean essential insights into your team’s workload. This way, you will be able to assign projects more fairly, establish healthy work hour limits – and take the pressure off that overburdened employee who needs a bit more balance in their life.
A Sustainable Hybrid Work Model
In the new hybrid working model, achieving work-life balance matters more than ever. As we all face the stress of a workplace transformation, establishing a sense of equilibrium, self-care, and camaraderie for your talent is so essential. Now is the time to lead by example and action – and roll out your new hybrid workplace as a healthy, happy, and balanced new normal.