There is no doubt that one of the biggest challenges facing companies today is how they can better engage with employees in hybrid working environments. While some businesses have pushed for workers to return to the office full time, it is clear that a more flexible approach, and one that does not risk employee safety, is proving the more popular choice.
Despite this, our recent research suggests that only 41% of business leaders have accepted the work-from-home reality as a result of the pandemic and as such, expect to adjust their HR policies to account for more flexible approaches to remote work. Thanks to ongoing, changing government guidance, the latest of which calls for employees to work remotely once again, individuals working for these inflexible businesses continue to face significant disruption as they flit from the office one minute, to working from home the next.
The ‘great resignation’ is one consequence of this, in addition to a pandemic-induced evaluation of life and career choices, as skilled and in-demand workers are now on the hunt for employers that will accommodate their unique needs and preferences. This environment is marking a massive power shift from business leaders to workers.
The evolution of the office
While our preferences are changing, it doesn’t mean that the office no longer has a place in our working lives. What we can in fact expect to see over the coming year is a growing awareness among individuals of the benefits of being in the office. However, it won’t all be plain sailing, and organisations will have to find new ways to encourage employees to come back to the office as and when they feel comfortable.
Currently, a common approach is to try and co-ordinate office attendance so that individuals are in the office at the same time as their teams. However, moving forward, new approaches will take centre stage. In 2022, business leaders will begin to strive to create a more collaborative environment in which employees will be given the opportunity to meet with other colleagues they wouldn’t normally interact with on a day-to-day basis. Doing so will help to facilitate cross pollination across the wider business and re-ignite some of the innovation that has been lost during the pandemic.
Making the virtual world work
To support the virtual side of the flexible model, we will need better collaboration tools. This will see existing platforms like Slack evolving to become more sophisticated beyond simply acting as video conferencing tools, while there will also be a market for start-ups to offer something entirely new and different.
Likewise, any technology that can aid employee experience will be in high demand from business leaders. While just-about-adequate remote collaboration experiences were essential in the initial days of the pandemic lockdowns, they simply won’t cut it as hybrid and remote work settles in for the long term.
As such, many will be exploring virtual and augmented reality tools (collectively known as extended reality or XR) to shift remote collaboration from a flat, one-dimensional experience into a multi-dimensional one. By equipping employees with anything from AR or VR head-mounted displays (HMD), to gaming-like consoles, to a browser-based enterprise metaverse, businesses can pave the way to more natural, productive, inclusive and more engaging ways for workers to interact, wherever they are geographically.
With XR, people sharing a virtual space can move around, make eye contact when it really matters, and use body language to express themselves. Moreover, it can bring those working remotely into the physical workspace, reducing any advantage or disadvantage based on location by merging into the geometry of a meeting seamlessly.
It’s up to businesses to decide their next move
While employees currently hold the power when it comes choosing an employer that offers the flexibility they desire and meets their values, it doesn’t have to be the end for businesses that are currently struggling to retain talent. The ball is well and truly in their court. To remain on the front foot, things need to change in 2022. This means making the office a more attractive environment for employees to work in, and ensuring they have the tools to collaborate in the virtual world.