Hybrid workplaces: Opportunities in the next normal

"Many companies still see the 'new normal' as a stopgap measure and are counting on the return of the old familiar status quo," says Benjamin Schulte, COO of Comma Soft AG. Read on to find out why this attitude is risky and how companies can instead ensure sustainable growth and future-proof business through hybrid working models.

The current situation has not been “new” for us for a long time. We have long since arrived at the “next normal”. Working from home, selectively chosen face-to-face meetings, virtual contact with colleagues, customers and business partners: all of this existed before the pandemic, but in the last two years these things have become commonplace. Although more and more companies have caught up digitally and enabled mobile working, many still see themselves as being in a transitional situation. According to bitkom, 45% of the companies it surveyed want to reverse some of the measures, and 27% even want to reverse all of them, if the pandemic situation allows. This is a regression and a manifestation of clinging to old structures, which can stand in the way of innovation and future viability.

Working from home offers more advantages than disadvantages

What is actually wrong with working in a home office or any other location of your choice? For example, Fraunhofer FIT identified the following issues in its long-term study:

  • A lack of spontaneous interaction with colleagues and physical proximity.
  • Creative and innovative collaboration is less productive in virtual form.
  • Less technologically savvy people don’t do as well.
  • Reconciling work and family life is made more difficult depending on the home and school situation.

On the other hand, the study also highlights factors that support working from home:

  • Exchanging professional information works as well as in the office.
  • Individual productivity is at least as good when working from home as in the office.
  • Collaborative tools now support daily work routines very well.
  • 80% of employees are satisfied with their home office situation.

Although there are just as many advantages as disadvantages, depending on how the study is interpreted, the latter seem to be holding many companies back from making a permanent switch to mobile working. Let’s imagine that they could resolve the technical and organizational downsides: the productivity and satisfaction of employees would increase further and create scope for greater motivation, commitment and creativity – all prerequisites for a resilient, future-proof company that remains capable of dealing with the “next normal”. What can companies do to leverage this potential?

Taking hybrid working into the next normal

Life is not black and white. Why should it come down to a decision for or against working from home? Flexible working models offer a whole range of options that meet the requirements and expectations of employees, line managers and companies. However, it is essential to examine the concept of a hybrid workplace in depth and to develop a holistic approach that best meets the needs of all parties involved. What needs to be considered in this kind of holocratic approach? Here are a few carefully chosen points, which I can confirm have been successful based on my own work at Comma Soft, where we are already putting them into practice:

Modern IT infrastructure: This is what a lot of companies think of first. In addition to mobile devices, employees need access to all the data that is relevant to their work and to the company network – if it is not already hosted in the cloud. Most companies have taken this step toward digitization quite quickly. What often fell by the wayside in the rush of the first few months of the pandemic, on the other hand, were the security aspects. This is where we are seeing an awakening and a need to play catch-up, which involves investment and time and effort. However, once the foundation has been laid, there is no longer any reason from an IT and security perspective to completely do away with mobile working again, as it can offer flexible, hybrid options.

Collaboration from any location: Collaboration tools, such as those offered by Microsoft 365, provide the best support for communication and collaboration irrespective of location. Workflows can be adapted, and even simplified and accelerated through automation. Companies that build on this and at the same time evaluate their data using AI support create efficient business processes, reduce the workload of their employees and respond more flexibly to ever-changing market requirements. All of this not only helps in enabling mobile workplaces: it also makes companies fit for the future in the long term.

Lead with trust: Experience has shown that home offices are most likely to fail because of a lack of technology. It is trust that many a manager still lacks. Do we really assume that employees will put their feet up whenever they work from home? The last few months have proven otherwise. People naturally strive to achieve self-fulfillment and experience success. If they can do that in their job, there is no need to worry. This is where managers are called upon to place more trust in their teams. Regular professional and personal feedback on an equal footing as well as giving encouragement to take on more responsibility are better in the long run than micromanagement – when working from home as well as in the office.

Tangible team spirit: The small talk at the coffee machine, the company Christmas party – these kinds of social interactions with colleagues can’t be completely replaced by virtual contact. However, joint virtual events such as regular chats over a cup of coffee, a bite of lunch and company celebrations help to maintain connections during times of separation. When the situation calls for it, hybrid events are also better than dispensing with all meetings. And let’s not forget our colleagues and business partners who must travel long distances: they can also work in a hybrid way with their team during “normal” times. However, it is advisable to distinguish these events from everyday professional meetings by giving them a real event character. There is demand for creative ideas – and they can be implemented conveniently using collaborative tools.

Healthy work-life balance: Remote working is supposed to make it easier for employees to reconcile their professional and private lives. If this is not possible for them due to their domestic or family situation, they need the support of their company. There are plenty of opportunities: counselling for difficult situations, mindfulness and health courses, or simply a sympathetic ear in HR or senior management.

Individual solutions instead of a uniform template

Admittedly, the points mentioned here are by no means an exhaustive list. A holistic approach to hybrid work takes time and needs to be well thought out. Based on my experience, I can only recommend listening carefully to what employees need and aligning these requirements with the corporate strategy. A neutral, external perspective is also often helpful when your own company needs to be analyzed as a whole and repositioned. The effort is worthwhile. Far from cutting costs, for example by eliminating the need for hotel rooms or travel, hybrid working brings about something much more important: satisfied employees who find more creative freedom and thereby motivate and innovate the entire company.

As COO of Comma Soft, Benjamin Schulte is responsible for corporate strategy, its implementation and numerous customer projects, as well as everything to do with human resources, from recruiting to personnel development. If you would like to discuss concepts or solutions for hybrid working models with him, please feel free to get in touch at: +49 228 9770-0 or via our contact form.