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Roy Morgan Research released the results of a survey in June 2020 that reported 32% of the Australian workforce were working from home at the peak of the lockdown measures. However, the greater take-up of working from home arrangements hasn’t totally eliminated the need and desire for organizations to hold physical office spaces, which carry many tangible and intangible benefits. Nonetheless, the “flexible” or “hybrid office” is basically certain to be a permanent and central fixture of work from the present, far into the future. At Alex, our People & Culture team drove the restructuring of our workforce in response to the pandemic. The results of an internal future working arrangements survey, and the way we have been working since, shines a light on what the future may look like.

Future Working Arrangements Survey at Alex: What do Our People think?

There are many interesting facts present in the results of the internal survey regarding working arrangements. Perhaps the most common-sense objection or demerit to a remote working arrangement is the lack of connection to other team members and the company at large. But a large majority of Alex employees maintained a feeling of connection while working from home, with more than 93% of our people indicating a positive level of connection. Another point of much discussion has been potential differences in productivity between in-office and working from home arrangements. Curiously, about 47% of Alex employees say they are equally productive in-office and at home, but 38% feel more productive at home. A minority of about 15% feel more productive in the office. These results are somewhat surprising given that employees self-report that they are doing “collaborative work” with their teams about 64% of the time they are at work. This might indicate that working from home arrangements are less disruptive to collaboration than one might reasonably assume. One reason for this could be the prevalence of highly collaborative social working tools such as Google Hangouts and Chat, Zoom, Slack and the like. But 24% of Alex employees do identify a struggle with collaborating when working from home, and a further 11% experience loneliness, so none of these collaborative platforms are a silver bullet. Most important of all,almost 47% of Alex employees believe that working one day in the office a week is “ideal”, with under 15% of the workforce wanting to spend 3 or more days in the office.

What have We done to Adjust to this?

So much. Google Hangouts standups are an essential part of daily operations. These provide a working meeting that sets the agenda for the day and week ahead and keeps teams together. We’ve opened up “virtual water cooler” spaces in our Google Chat platform where team members can drop in to chat about everything from pets invading their workspaces to home improvement or cooking projects. From here, Alex employees have spawned numerous organic chat channels including ones devoted to sharing and discussing the music people are listening to and the books they are reading. It’s simple, but it keeps people connected and having fun getting to know their colleagues better. Regular whole company meetings have been held as usual with rotating host and speaker slots to ensure everyone has the opportunity to engage and lead. 

Getting Hybrid Right

Doing hybrid right is going to be different for every organization, but there are some key lessons we’ve learned. The flexibility of working from home can carry many benefits. Increased productivity and a better work-life balance have been reported. Our people overwhelmingly enjoy working from home, and remain largely engaged and connected to their teammates. But one size will not fit all. It’s notable that most employees only self-select to spend one day a week in the office. In order to retain the benefits of regular, intimate collaboration that really makes any organization great, there needs to be a clear structure around hybrid arrangements. Processes and initiatives have to be put into place that can extend collaboration from the one day in the office out to the whole work week where the majority of time is spent working from home. Agility and compassion are key. In many ways, we as a company have benefited from organic initiatives driven by people across the entire organization. People & Culture teams should take the lead from their people and harness these organic initiatives in formal processes that encode collaboration, connectivity and engagement into every stage of the hybrid work week. When you do that, a foundation is created for a future where everybody in the organization, regardless of where and how they work can find a sense of belonging and inspiration.