The professional world, as we have known it to be so far, has just been disrupted. The hybrid work model is being adopted by individuals and organisations alike at an unprecedented pace.
Moving forward, every organisation will need a new operating model - one that doesn't rely on old norms, like the 9-to-5 workday. It's also clear there is no single standard or blueprint for hybrid work.
Every organisation's approach will need to be different to meet the unique needs of its people. Our research tells us that while a vast majority of employees say they want more flexible remote work options, at the same time, they also say they want more in-person collaboration, post-pandemic. This is the hybrid work paradox that we're facing today.
Employee expectations have changed for good, with nearly 74 per cent of Indian employees saying they want more flexible work-from-home policies to stay.
To compete in this new world, leaders need to embrace extreme flexibility in when, where, and how people work.
An organisation's approach to hybrid work will ultimately impact who stays, who goes, and even who seeks to join the company.
This is a moment that requires clear vision. And in a world where ongoing disruption is part of the new normal, we need to be prepared for responding to sudden changes.
Flexible policies hold the answer, providing clarity and guidance to employees as they experiment. Hybrid work represents the biggest shift to how we will work in our generation. It will require a new operating model, spanning places, processes and people.
Once the policies for extreme flexibility are determined, we must use them to approach the physical space. From here on out, we will no longer rely solely on physical spaces to collaborate, connect, and build social capital.
But that doesn't mean physical places and spaces cease to be important in their entirety. They will just need to be re-imagined.
Moving forward, office spaces need to bridge the physical and digital worlds and meet the unique needs of every team and their specific roles.
As we think about workplace design, we have to maintain consistent person, reference, and task spaces for all employees, whether they are on-site or remote.
No matter where people are working, they should be able to connect with all participants, have access to the same shared information, and be able to see what everyone is collaborating on, whether it's a whiteboard or a document.
Of paramount importance in a hybrid workplace is security. The threat landscape has never been more complex or challenging, and security has never been more critical.
As corporate networks are suddenly without firm borders, this calls for change in the approach to security. Security is as much a board-level agenda as it is every employee's responsibility.
From device security, data, corporate networks to leveraging AI, there's a non-negotiable need for zero trust architecture and investments in a comprehensive platform instead of multiple point solutions.
Every business process will be impacted by the move to hybrid, and every business function will need to transform.
From product development and manufacturing to marketing, sales, customer service, and facilities, HR, or IT, every business process will need to be reimagined.
Over the past year, companies have also found that employees struggle with work-life balance. The Microsoft India Work Trend Index 2021 reports that more than half (57%) of Indian employees feel overworked and 32% feel exhausted.
With high levels of burnout, wellbeing became a significant focus area. As leaders, we need to accept that in the new world of work, the digital experience is the employee experience.
To help people thrive in a more flexible work world, we need to rethink the entire employee experience-from creating culture to attracting and retaining talent and building listening systems.
Every organisation needs to build digital empathy into every aspect of its culture. Maintaining everyday connections between employees, their managers, and the company at large is also important.
One positive outcome of the hybrid work model is the widened talent marketplace. We have been seeing increasing instances of location no longer being a barrier to career growth.
Organisations are also investing resources to upskill employees with capabilities needed to thrive in a hybrid world of work. Employees need to have access to the right insights, tools and platforms to learn and succeed in today's digital-first economy.
Work is evolving rapidly, and there's just no going back to our pre-pandemic world. A hybrid workplace model must be such that it provides employees with an exceptional place to work, create greater collaboration and community, and showcase an example of the modern workplace that is both flexible and hybrid.
The next phase will bring challenges and opportunities, but we need to remain optimistic about the future.
If we take what we've learned from overcoming a once-in-a-hundred-year challenge and use it to chart a path forward that gives people the flexibility they need, we can build a better world of work for everyone together.
(The author is Chief Operating Officer, Microsoft India.)
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