According to Microsoft’s The Next Great Disruption is Hybrid Work – Are We Ready? Report 71% of U.K. workers want flexible work options to stay in a post-Covid-19 working landscape. Additionally, more than a third (37%) are likely to move to a new location in the next year because they can work remotely.
Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft, stated: “Over the past year, no area has undergone more rapid transformation than the way we work. Employee expectations are changing, and we will need to define productivity much more broadly — inclusive of collaboration, learning, and wellbeing to drive career advancement for every worker, including frontline and knowledge workers, as well as for new graduates and those who are in the workforce today. All this needs to be done with flexibility in when, where, and how people work.”
This new way of working places the human at the centre of the enterprise. The How on Earth consultancy defines the human organisation in their report. Report author John Drummond strongly believes the current model of work is detrimental to employees. “Job descriptions, approval processes, financial rules all deliberately introduce friction to reduce employee freedom. A Human Organisation is about enabling employees to connect with each other and with customers, opening up to new ideas and collaborating to bring their purpose to life,” he explains.
From corporates to the smallest freelance enterprise, how we work has been changing for decades, but the pandemic has clearly accelerated this change. As small business owners look to the future, how they organise their workforces and, indeed, their own working week, means a cultural shift is taking place. Paying close attention to wellbeing, mental health and striving for a good work/life balance is now more paramount than at any other time.
New ways to work
How businesses of all sizes will organise their workforces is still in a state of flux. Says Jonas Prising, chief executive and Chairman, ManpowerGroup: “Looking forward the data tells us that most business leaders are planning to bring their people back to the workplace most of the time (51%), 36% will offer a hybrid blend, 5% will offer flexible shift patterns and just 4% will shift to full remote work. We are now beginning to see what some of those plans will look like. Skilled tech and knowledge-workers will be able to enjoy more of the kind of freedom and flexibility that used to be available only to freelancers and creatives, the ability to work when and where they want to a greater degree than before.”
The ONS recently looked at home working hours and concluded that care must be taken not to create a two-tier workforce. Dr Lucy Davey, a coach for professional women, is concerned that an increase in permanent homeworking may mean more women are at a disadvantage when it comes to career progression.
“Many businesses are shifting towards more flexible working options which give employees the choice between working from home or the office,” explains Davey. “The trouble is that despite appearing more inclusive, it’s likely to result in the complete opposite. A higher proportion of women will take up the offer of working from home to fit around their childcare needs. Ultimately, this means that they’ll spend less time in the office, will be less visible than their office-based counterparts (often male) and less likely to be next in line for a promotion.”
With Julio Taylor, CEO, Hallam also commenting: “Freelancers and small business owners have always been flexible. What’s changing now is how do we build entire companies with large workforce around solid principles that empower them to work from home or hybrid? There’s a big difference between how you choose to work as a freelancer and how you operate with a large organization that is designed from the ground up to enable remote and flexible working.
Taylor continues: “In my view, there are two different things to consider: firstly, how to evolve beyond the office-centricity of the past and empower employees to work from home or any location they choose. This can be defined as ‘hybrid’ or ‘remote work.’ Secondly, how do we adapt working hours and long-established cultural pillars (such as meetings and social events) around the needs of employees, rather than the needs of the company? This can be defined as ‘flexible work’.”
Across the small business community, hybrid working had been expanding even before the pandemic. Says Steve Jude, CEO of NewFlex:
“Many small business owners housed in our flexible office hubs have been hybrid working for years. This is why our business model has always been based around short term and flexible contracts which allow small business to scale up or down as required. Even pre-pandemic, many small businesses do not want the risk of 10, 20-year office leases so a flexible working style has always been the preference both in terms of lifestyle and from a financial and risk perspective.”
Liz Sebag-Montefiore, director of 10Eighty, an HR consultancy, explains her approach to hybrid working: “I feel I’ve always worked in the hybrid model. Pre-Covid I worked four days week, three of which were with childcare and the final day I chose when I put those hours in at times that suited me. Small business owners must be agile and able to react quickly and flexibly when situations arise or circumstances change. I’m a business developer and coach, whilst with my director’s hat on I focus on the strategy of the business. A small business owner will find they are drawn in multiple directions and have to develop many skills so it’s important to be disciplined but flexible and find a good balance.”
When and where people work is today a core competence that will shape the success or failure of small enterprises over the short term. “The goal for future is to achieve location equity: to be a company that finds the best people, wherever they choose to live and gives them what they need to do their best work,” stated Julio Taylor, CEO, Hallam.
“Whilst work will always continue to be an integral part of our lives, it is not the sole purpose of life. Everyone should have the opportunity to be happy at work, and people will demand it loudly and clearly. Work should exist to make home life better, not the other way round. And when your best people have the choice to work for someone who will give them that freedom, what will you do to adapt? There’s no question — the future has to be about freedom for the employee.”
And ManpowerGroup’s Jonas Prising also concluded: “The workplace will become a destination to collaborate and socialize. Our data found that workers valued the physical workplace to separate work from home, socialize and collaborate with colleagues with less distractions. In our own HQ in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as vaccinations become increasingly available, we are planning a phased return guided by what our employees want – a blend of work and home with a workspace to collaborate and innovate.”
The future of small business is to take a measured approach to hybrid working. One size does not fit all in their scenario. Workers want flexibility and crave a physical connection for at least some of the time with their colleagues. Here the small business community can lead. Being Agile and innovating at speed, smaller enterprises will define what a hybrid business and a hybrid worker is as we move into a post-Covid-19 world.