Enabling Productive Hybrid Workplaces: What Organizations can and Must do

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In March 2020, when the COVID-19 cases began rising in India, 1 million IT professionals were forced to work from home, overnight. Caught off guard, organizations nervously geared up to navigate unchartered territories, disrupted supply chains and dispersed employees.

Today, a year later, the way we work has changed dramatically. Even as employees are gradually returning to offices, work-from-home is here to stay as organizations are adopting a hybrid approach to work augmenting the traditional work-from-office with the work-from-home model. For instance, TCS announced their intentions to go hybrid as early as April 2020 with their 25/25 model: “By 2025, 25% of TCS workforce would work out of its facilities, without spending more than 25% of their time in a TCS office”. In fact, 82% of leaders surveyed by Gartner intend to permit remote working some of the time and 47% intend to allow it full time.

Employees are realizing the benefits too. A study by Cisco reports that 90% of office workers in India would prefer the hybrid work model going forward. Their respondents have experienced several benefits working remotely in the past year that they want to carry forward into the future. Key among them are greater autonomy, ability to work well with a dispersed team, faster decision-making and less travelling.

It is clear now that hybrid workspaces offer a win-win situation for employers as well as employees. In this article, we explore how organizations can enable better, more comfortable and highly productive environments that span working from home and working from office.

Legitimizing the home office

In a hybrid workplace, typically, employees split the 5-day work week into x days in office and y days at home. This means that every employee will work from two distinctly different spaces within the same week. Imagine a situation where someone works on a 21” monitor with an external keyboard at the office; and comes home to a 13” laptop perched on their lap. It’ll take them a couple of days to calibrate muscle memory to type accurately — losing valuable time and energy in the process.

To make hybrid workplaces work, employees need their work setups at office and at home as similar as possible. And it is in the organization’s best interest to enable that.

Why should companies pay for an employee’s home office set up?

Because there is distinct business value in it.

Cost savings are plenty

According to Global Workplace Analytics, “a typical employer can save about $11,000 a year for every person who works remotely half of the time”. As fewer employees come to offices, the expenses of keeping the lights on — food, coffees, foosball tables, commute, connectivity etc. — will reduce, enabling you to channel those savings back to them.

Productivity is improved

More importantly, having office spaces that are easy to transition between improves employee productivity, which is more valuable than any cost savings organizations can muster.

People stay healthier

Lack of ergonomic chairs and desks for working is one of the major causes for musculoskeletal disorders affecting the upper extremities and lower back. When people were pushed to work from home last year, many of them worked from their sofas, beds, even dining tables, none of which were designed to sit at with a laptop for hours on end. By allowing employees to have a home deskspace that is as comfortable as the office, organizations can ensure long-term health of their teams.

Employees are happier

A workforce is happy when they understand that their needs are listened to and better yet, addressed. By investing in the well-being of their employees, organizations can gain their trust, commitment and loyalty, even from afar.

So, what should companies do?

“Lack of dedicated workspace, inadequate IT infrastructure and data speed are impacting work from home.”

— CBRE survey

First, listen to your people.

While giving everyone an ergonomic chair is a good idea in theory, some of your employees might already have bought one and don’t need another. As the survey above suggests, problems of working from home stretch far beyond an ergonomic chair. So, before building your hybrid workplace strategy, speak to your employees.

At ANSR, we conducted a survey to understand our people’s needs. We learned that what people wanted varied based on their roles and everyday tasks. A handful needed a table and a chair. Developers mentioned that having a second monitor helps improve their efficiency significantly. An employee with a client-facing role pointed out that they needed better audio and video devices to interact with the clients effortlessly.

Based on what you hear, design a hybrid workspace benefits program.

At ANSR, we designed our hybrid workspace benefits program across two levels: A base pack and a few add-on packs. We populated our base pack with the bare minimum people need to work from home — monitors, keyboards, mice, headsets, ergonomic chairs, and tables. And then, we designed add-on packs for those who need different kinds of support. These packs included things like power backup for wi-fi routers, range extenders for those with large houses etc.

Operationalize benefits and get the best deals.

After designing these benefits, it’s also important to operationalize it in a way that you can get the best deals on these products. ANSR partnered with specialized vendors to get the best products at the best price, leveraging economies of scale.

Make hybrid workspaces sustainable.

It is important for organizational leaders to remember that the hybrid workspace benefits program is not a one-time activity, but an ongoing process that changes culture. What is work-from-home today might soon become work-from-anywhere. When that happens, the benefits program you’ve designed — with tables, chairs and monitors — might no longer serve the purpose.

To evolve with the times, organizations must continue to observe the situation, speak to its people, and re-design systems as we go along. You need to take the first step in that long-term journey today.

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