Mercer's Lewis Garrad on why the hybrid workplace is here to stay

16 February 2021 5 min. read

While the disruption and adjustment to work routines has demonstrated people’s extraordinary ability to adapt, it has also highlighted how connection with the workplace is undergoing a fundamental shift. Lewis Garrad, Mercer’s Career Business Leader for Singapore, on the rise of the hybrid workplace and why it is here to stay.

As Asia and the world find their way to back to a new normal, business leaders and employees alike are posing questions around how the connection to the workspace will change, especially with a hybrid workplace looking to become a permanent change. How will face-to-face interactions be recreated? How to better balance work-life to minimise impacts to mental wellbeing?

And: How will equal opportunity be ensured for those who remain remote, the ‘zoomies’, and those who opt to go back to the office, the ‘roomies’? What policies need to be in place for the hybrid workplace to work?

Lewis Garrad leads Mercer's Career business in Singapore

Strengthening what we miss in human interactions

The traditional office concept is turning on its head. While many employees have found routine in remote working, businesses will need to decide the best way forward for their workers as Singapore charts a path to fully re-opening the country. Approaches vary. Some are allowing their teams to continue working remotely where others have implemented set schedules for staggered groups to return to the office, in line with current requirements.

As businesses reimagine what the office space will look and feel like in the future, many will retain an element of remote work. The latest pulse survey of APAC employers by Mercerfound that prior to the pandemic, 8 in 10 employers had less than 25% of their workforce working remotely. Now, 58% say they expect to see 25%-100% of their workforce continuing to work remotely for the longer term. 

If a hybrid workspace, consisting of office and home, is the future of work for the majority, there are multiple things to consider. Critically, businesses will need to reclaim aspects of work that risk disappearing without face-to-face interactions such as fostering team chemistry and recreating spontaneous moments of interaction that can spark collaboration and innovation. 

For example, virtual spaces should be created for informal collaboration so people can connect on nonwork topics and get to know each other better. For more work-focused meetings and discussions, virtual platforms will require new ways of running meetings and conducting presentations – rethinking how such sessions can be made more interactive and interesting for people in different locations.

Equally, office layout, design, functionality and space may also need to change. If only half or less of staff are typically in the office, does this mean organisations can reduce the total amount of space they will need? Perhaps, but what if there are still times when all staff need to be in the office together – would that mean a requirement to maintain the current amount of square footage? Or in fact, because of enduring social distancing requirements, will organisations actually require more office space, less common areas to limit the risk of casual gathering and so on? 

Business leaders and HR teams will also need to be mindful that interactions between ‘zoomies’ and ‘roomies’ could create an inequity of participation, especially how skewed levels of interaction could impact individual performance appraisals and the like.

To minimise inequities, team managers will need to ensure they are scheduling ‘face time’ with zoomies via regular check-ins and performance reviews, take an inclusive approach in group settings by allowing adequate time for zoomies to pitch in, and be aware of inherent biases when reviewing the performance of zoomies and roomies.

Flexing for the hybrid workplace

Flexibility will be the name of the game in a combined return to the office and remote working environment. Employers must recognise there is no one-size-fits-all approach given the range of roles and work requirements, as well as how these meet business needs. 

Key to the success of the hybrid model of the future is understanding employees’ preferences in this new reality – what type of flexibility is required by employees? How does flexibility work with different roles demanding different levels of flexibility? What are the different levels of flexibility required for different demographics of your workforce?

To design a hybrid workplace, employers should implement regular pulse surveys to ascertain what flexible work policies to put in play, review and update technology available to employees to ensure employees know how to work and communicate from home, and ensuring the right level of frequency on communication from leaders.

It will also be important for business leaders to partner with HR to ensure appropriate onboarding processes are in place so new employees can feel empowered and connected to their teams. Managers and team leads will also need to set clear goals and expectations with employees on working hours, updating on activity and the best modes for communication, to establish boundaries and set the team up for success.

Finally, business leaders will also need to strike the right balance for in-person meetings to build team rapport and drive creativity. 

The workplace of the future

The ‘new normal’ is bringing with it some permanent changes, including to the way that workplaces are set up for employees. Businesses are now looking to build on what was created as a necessary response to the pandemic. In creating hybrid workforces, they must focus on creating an environment and workplace culture that helps employees feel their most productive, while ensuring their health and wellbeing, whether they are at home or in the office.

For the future hybrid workplace to be successful and productive, business leaders will need to re-establish ways of working, enable teams through technology, communicate frequently and effectively, and ensure equal opportunity for all.