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The transformation to a hybrid working model brings many challenges for business leaders – but it also creates a world of new opportunity. The transformation to a hybrid working model brings many challenges for business leaders – but it also creates a world of new opportunity.

It's clearer than ever that the way we offices has changed forever, with hybrid working rapidly being instated as standard. Leading companies such as Microsoft, Ford Motors and Google are embracing this new work paradigm, and research by Accenture has found that the vast majority of employees believe this is the optimal way of working.

“They want to work wherever is most convenient and productive, and employers who fail to embrace the hybrid model risk losing their best talent,” says IWG Founder and CEO Mark Dixon.

The transformation to the hybrid model, in which employees divide their work time between a central office, their home and a workspace close to home, is not without its challenges but, at the same time, it also brings many advantages, says Dixon. These include increased productivity and a happier workforce, as well as a more cost-effective and more sustainable real estate strategy.

It starts with technology

As Dixon points out, the shift to hybrid working is not a new phenomenon – the trend had already begun pre-pandemic, thanks to advances in technology.

“The shared workplace only ever existed because it contained the materials and equipment workers needed but didn’t have at home,” he says. “But, today, digital technology puts into every white-collar worker’s hands all the tools they need to do their job.”

The first challenge for business leaders as they contemplate the switch to hybrid is ensuring that their newly distributed workforces have the right technology to do their jobs wherever they happen to be.

Research by Cisco has found that almost all meetings are likely to have at least one remote participant in the hybrid world, so it’s vital that IT solutions ensure everyone in a meeting feels engaged and fully able to participate.

“There’s an onus on organisations to put in the digital infrastructure to help employees securely communicate and collaborate wherever they are – and that’s going to have to be a little more thought out than just a webcam on a laptop,” says Chintan Patel, Chief Technologist at Cisco UK & Ireland. “At Cisco, we’re very focused on giving dedicated video endpoints that provide a much more immersive experience for employees, irrespective of where they are, because you want to have a uniform experience.”

Data security is also a significant factor, according to Patel. “Employees need to be reassured that the technology they’re being given is security driven,” he says. “If work is going to be distributed between different locations, we have to make sure that security is absolutely embedded in everything that we do, whether that’s at the endpoints, in the physical infrastructure, in the cloud, in your private data centre or anywhere in between.”

A place to work

The design of our office spaces will also need to evolve, according to Doug Demers, Managing Principal at B+H Architects and the Centre for Advance Strategy.

“The move to hybrid is a chance for companies to fine-tune their real estate footprint to be more appropriate to the way the next generation of employees are looking to work,” he says. “That means finding the right mix of spaces based on whether people are coming together or working apart.”

The flexible hub-and-spoke model is likely to become the norm, he believes. “It’s a definite trend and this will be part of organisations’ portfolio optimisation,” says Demers, who adds that the model’s sustainability benefits are a major factor for companies, as it means employees travel much shorter distances and are also more likely to walk or cycle to work.

New culture, more productivity

According to Christie Smith, Global Lead of Talent & Organisation/Human Potential at Accenture, allowing people to work where they feel most successful and effective boosts productivity. But structures and systems need to be put in place to allow workers to reach their full potential.

“That means a shift in how we structure work, and how we manage that work,” she says. “It also means a fundamental shift in the employee experience and how we engage with one another.”

In Smith’s view, this will involve offering more flexibility to employees, breaking down hierarchies so that work is designed around people, and driving ‘digital fluency’ so that workers are not only digitally literate but also know how to apply new digital solutions to their work.

The shift to hybrid working is also an opportunity for companies to reassess their culture. “It’s a chance to pause and say, actually, what do we want our ways of working to look like in the future?” says Jane Sparrow, co-founder of business consultancy The Culture Builders. “The first thing we tell organisations that are moving to hybrid is that their culture is going to change whatever happens, but they have to be on the front foot and make sure that it changes in a way that is true to what they want to be.”

It’s time to talk

There was a consensus among the experts we spoke to that listening to the views of all stakeholders is vital during the switch to hybrid.

“You have to look at a multi-dimensional solution,” says Doug Demers. “If you look at it from just one point of view, you’ll end up with a problem. My advice is to put together a multidisciplinary team internally, not just when it comes to optimising your real estate footprint, but for your whole transformation strategy.”

Get it right and the rewards are considerable. “Companies and organisations that embrace the hybrid model have the world to win,” says Dixon. “And now is the time to make that change.”