Just after the start of the pandemic, when a lot of people were forced to work from home, many business leaders, especially in Silicon Valley, praised the virtues of working remotely.
For them, it kept people safe and resulted in many other benefits — more time for the family, savings on gas or on the commute to work, higher productivity, and reduced operational costs for companies, to mention a few.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey even said he would allow his employees to work from home “forever” if that’s what they wanted. “Remote work” seemed to be the way to go.
And yet, after more than a year of experimenting with working from home or hybrid work arrangements, some are having misgivings.
For example, in May last year, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon said working from home is just not ideal for employees who hustle. For him, it didn’t allow for spontaneous idea generation or the development of company culture.
He has a point. Certain industries or some types of work thrive in a face-to-face set-up. While some may agree, the danger is in abandoning work-from-home or hybrid work arrangements as a misguided idea.
People still want flexibility
A survey by Ernst & Young last year found that more than half of employees in Asia Pacific would be likely to leave their jobs after the pandemic if they didn’t get the same flexible work arrangements they enjoy now. Around 87 percent prefer flexibility in working hours, while 88 percent prefer flexibility in location.
Striking a balance is the key. Companies generally approach the problem in two ways: by setting a limit on the number of days each week that an employee may report onsite, or by asking the employees what arrangement they prefer, whether or not they want to work from home permanently.
Of course, there is no such thing as “forever”. There is only change. And that change is seen in how companies implement or think about hybrid work models.
Facets of hybrid work
Productivity is not tied to time and place. In many companies where employees were allowed to work from home, there were reports citing that productivity level among them increased. At the place where I work, most people working from home are observed to be clocking longer hours, myself included.
The more people see that productivity is not a function of physical presence but of engagement, the more companies will explore a hybrid work environment.
Office spaces need a make-over. Some companies have done this already. Some are beginning to reinvent or innovate their office spaces to cater to the changing needs of employees. Perhaps more huddle rooms for smaller groups are needed, along with fewer cubicles.
Those planning new office buildings may want to consider a flexible and smarter workspace that considers the fact that people can and want to work from anywhere. There is, of course, the side benefit of saving on overhead costs as mentioned earlier.
Data-driven workplaces mean more digitalization. In many world-class companies, data analytics has driven the development of products and services and increased customer satisfaction. In the same way, I see data analytics and AI being used to bear on the problems of maximizing employee productivity, creativity, and collaboration.
This is not to neglect the needs of employees to manage stress and disconnect from work while, at the same time, allowing for people to hustle and enhance company culture, as Mr. Dimon of JP Morgan wanted.
Hybrid can work
I’m fortunate and extremely grateful that my employer (BPI) has embraced this hybrid work model, which is very much aligned with our ongoing digital transformation. In fact, even before the start of the pandemic, we were already preparing to change how we do work — classifying our workforce as hybrid, work-from-anywhere, and on-site.
For those working in the branches, the work obviously requires physical presence. Our salespeople can work from anywhere, depending on where their clients are. Some of us in the support groups are perfect for a hybrid work model where we report only on some days of the week at the office.
Of course, all this is still a work-in-progress. The hybrid work set up complements our phygital approach — a strategy that aims to deliver a seamless, optimized, and convenient customer experience through our digital and physical channels. It also supports how we continue to reinvent the banking experience relevant to the times.
I think the hybrid work model works and is the way to go in the new normal. But for many other companies, the challenge is to find the right balance and enough political will to make it happen.
The author is the vice president and head of corporate affairs & communications of BPI and is concurrently the executive director of BPI Foundation