By Lettie-Basani Phume, Group Human Capital Executive at Momentum Metropolitan Holdings
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the world of work will never be static. For the last two years, ‘you’re on mute’, ‘mullet’ dressing – formal on top, PJs below – or meetings from the car or in the middle of home-schooling have been the norm. Now, however, the call is for employees to start moving towards a hybrid model, where people split their time between being at an office and working remotely.
Many have embraced this as it offers the best of both worlds: the ability for individuals to manage their time according to their lifestyles and needs, and deliver on output rather than a tally of daily working hours. We have found that allowing people to work whenever and wherever suits them best drives efficiencies and productivity, and our employees have generally spoken about better work/life integration.
However, it has led to the rise of another interesting trend that we have seen: people have grown to prefer and want to keep the flexibility of remote work, but crave the connection that comes from being together in an office.
This is backed up by research. A 2021 Work Trend Index found that 67% of people missed in-person collaboration and engagement, while 73% wanted to retain the flexibility of remote work in their workplaces. They called this the hybrid work paradox, and it is a defining feature of workplaces today.
It presents a unique conundrum for modern organisations – because it is clear that hybrid is here to stay, and that businesses need to make room for different working styles and explore ways to bring the best out of their people by building and maintaining a culture of trust, while maximising convenience, performance, productivity and well-being.
Businesses need to think carefully about how they respond to the ongoing shifts in the way people work, and what they can do to enable hybrid work going forward. The crux of the ability to do this is an understanding that each person, team and working environment is different and that employers need to embrace flexibility to equip people with the tools, resources and environment that they need to focus and do their best work – according to the working style that suits them best.
Already we are seeing pockets of excellence within our own and other businesses. These pockets include teams that have a clear culture of trust, communication, connection and collaboration, where individuals are able to manage each other’s expectations and deliver what they need to when they need to no matter where they are working.
This has been enabled by the use of manager toolkits, which have equipped managers with the resources needed to create a sense of safety – so that employees know that their managers trust and value their work, helping them feel empowered and enabled to do their work.
An example of how many teams are putting this into practice is using meetings as opportunities to emphasise connection over task – getting to know teammates and colleagues as people, and understanding the realities of their day-to-day lives.
Other initiatives involve regular, dedicated face-to-face meetings to drive connection and human interaction, and quarterly Connect sessions to bring colleagues from different teams together, among others. One team has even developed a habit of working from their manager’s house one day a week, where they have meetings with their feet in the pool – while another manager cooks dinner for her team once a week.
The key is to “think human first” – and be flexible enough to cater to individual needs in a workplace that continues to morph. This means taking the whole human being into consideration and exploring opportunities to harness new and better ways to bring the best out of people and enhance their productivity and performance while prioritising their wellbeing.
For us, this means a company-wide focus on providing the tools and flexibility, plus digital support to help employees deal with everyday life and juggle both their work and personal lives through a remote working policy designed to help cope with the rapidly changing needs of the workplace.
It also means providing an environment where people can come to connect, collaborate and work. The Work Trends Index revealed that 66% of business decision makers are considering redesigning physical spaces to better accommodate hybrid work environments, and make them more conducive to strengthening relationships and allowing people to come together to brainstorm, collaborate, and problem solve.
We are part of that 66%: the company’s newly refurbished offices in Centurion and Bellville, Cape Town – which have shifted from private spaces to collaborative spaces, complete with hot desks and nooks for meetings – will open formally in April 2022.
This is matched by investments in digital capabilities. The shift over the pandemic from a technological perspective has been to focus on self service, enabling our employees and leaders to digitally interact with HR, anywhere and anytime and creating efficiencies at the fingertips of every employee. The self-service system has vastly improved, and even now, for example, includes a loadshedding feature to help employees see if themselves or their colleagues will experience any downtime and plan accordingly.
We have also enabled employees with Momentum Insure’s Safety Alert, an emergency panic button linked to urgent armed response or emergency services. This is a service that turns any smartphone into a panic button with assistance one click away, to help keep our colleagues safe and protected.
Leaders were additionally enabled with dashboards which provided insights into their teams to help them lead the hybrid workplace.
Other digital capabilities include providing online learning communities, mobile support for the organisation’s online learning portal and micro-learning content that is integrated into employees’ everyday activities. There is also our Digital Passport, an online access system that screens all employees and visitors quickly and easily, to ensure a workplace that is as safe and healthy as possible for everyone.
The questionnaire asks pertinent COVID-related questions that are adjusted regularly to accommodate the regulation changes as we navigate the various waves of the pandemic. It also serves as a reminder to everyone of ongoing protocols, like social distancing and mask-wearing.
We are by no means the only organisation implementing measures to facilitate a hybrid working environment – but in an ever-changing world of work, where nothing is static, businesses are going to have to think human first and incorporate flexibility into their approach to how, when and where people work in order to succeed.
Lettie-Basani Phume has extensive experience as a leader in Human Resources with over 20 years in the industry Some of her experience includes HR Consulting, Remuneration and Benefits, Industrial Relations, Coaching, Succession Planning, Organisational Design, Talent Management, Change Management and Recruiting.