Over a year into the pandemic, the world has seen the emergence of a completely new way of working. Amidst this, there are three clear camps: one in favour of remote working, one wanting to come back to the office and one favouring a hybrid approach. Keeping in mind the demands of the new normal, businesses across the globe have taken a strong stand, and made major announcements on their mandates for working remotely to ensure employee safety. Closer home in India, startups have also declared themselves as a remote-first company.
In order to mitigate any challenges that come along with such announcements, many companies have taken the initiative to offer packages that ensure their employees’ well-being is looked after in the best possible way. One such practice is that of offering reimbursements for setting up home offices and with that, best practices to set up a home office. While not everyone is working from home, the last year also saw the rise in popularity of digital nomads- those who have been working from anywhere much before the pandemic and that thesis has now found more momentum, especially among the millennials.
On the other hand, a lot of people have also shared sentiments about wanting to be back in the office, having had enough of work-from-home. Employees today find that the lines between their personal and professional lives have become increasingly blurred, and challenging, which has led to multiple complications. The allure of working in the fast-paced office environment surrounded by one’s team or those brainstorming sessions are thoroughly missed.
Hybrid working - The balanced approach
Taking cognizance of both sides of the argument, the most balanced approach seems to be a hybrid one where companies maintain their offices but employees get more flexibility in terms of working from home. To this extent, organisations are trying to figure out this balance, an effort which is mostly led by startups. Recently, we sponsored a week-long workation for its employees in the Maldives to come together and bond. Several other startups and enterprises have also come up with various initiatives to bridge the WFH-WFO gap.
The New Normal in Employee Engagement
Amid this WHO-WFO scenario, organisations that have worked hard to build a sense of belonging in their usual work environment are facing the challenge of this new physical distance shaking up their company culture, leading to new norms and practices emerging. Hence, at this time, employee engagement is quickly becoming one of the most important indicators in determining work satisfaction. Employees today are looking beyond just a 9-to-5 job. They want to be involved in their work, enthusiastic and excited about the organization they work for and committed and connected to their fellow workers. According to a study by Slack, 85% of remote workers want to feel closer to their colleagues. Encouraging interaction through platforms like video calls and conferences instead of just phone calls, and even through social group chats outside of work on WhatsApp can help reduce the communication gap and feelings of isolation, and build strong relationships between coworkers, no matter where they are logging in from. In fact, we have also seen companies opt for innovative ways to connect with their employees, where hangout meetings are literally hangouts for conversations over coffee!
Organisations that are already thinking ahead know the importance of team-building exercises and the ones where team members come together to bond and connect and retreat to their own spaces for focused work. Online channels for employee engagement is also a trend that is picking up. Inhouse mindfulness experts and productivity-boosting initiatives are becoming the norm. New-age startups are also emphasizing making employees more independent by supporting personal wealth creation along with achieving company goals. Traditional employee benefits like PPF, medical insurance, and the likes are passe; Gen Z is looking for more meaningful and visionary work where they feel a part of a team that is creating genuine impact. Companies now plan to sustain these reinventions as a part of their long-term plans. Founders and company management are working to adopt these new themes and in some cases, lead from the front to create this new culture of openness, diversity and a more flexible work culture. A holistic outlook is required when it comes to looking at remote work culture and accordingly, organisations should look at how they can support and motivate employees during their hybrid working tenures.
While some companies will eventually go back to rigid work-in-office policies, it's expected that most will realise the benefits to employees and that in fact, it can be done efficiently. If nothing else, they will have valuable experience about what is needed and how to accommodate work-from-home needs in the future when it's required again due to another crisis or other reasons.
Keeping cognizance of employee engagement while working remotely would encourage companies to ensure a long term commitment to the practices followed during this time and then bring them to brick and mortar offices once the hustle begins again.