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Workplace dynamics: Steps regional employers must take to boost productivity in hybrid environments

Workplace dynamics: Steps regional employers must take to boost productivity in hybrid environments

Focusing on well-being and social connectivity will help employees recover faster from the Covid-19 crisis

Although the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in economic, health, and social devastation, events that transpired in the aftermath have created an unexpected opportunity for employers to gain fascinating insights that have significant implications for the future of remote work.

It’s hard to overestimate the disruption that has recently taken place, and everybody agrees that society went through an unprecedented shift and had five years of progress condensed into five months.

Given the speed and scale of the pandemic-related changes and employers having no time to prepare for remote working, a decline in employee productivity was widely anticipated.

However, a surprisingly large number have been able to maintain or even improve their productivity.

It sounds like a dream for employees and companies alike. Productivity goes up, expenses are saved concerning rent, utilities, and running costs. During the initial stages of Covid-19, many organisations in the GCC went to great efforts to boost the adoption of remote work through updated policies and regulations, while realising savings from optimising operational costs and transportation allowance.

Yet although a recent workplace survey demonstrated that remote working productivity can go up if four elements – mental health, social connectivity, physical health, and remote working tools – are ensured, there are more complexities to it than first meet the eye:

· Capability restrictions: Not all companies have the capacity to achieve distinction across these dimensions, which could lead to a decline in productivity and employees returning to office environments

· Employee reservations: Although 60 per cent of respondents expressed interest in having some flexibility concerning where or when they work post-crisis, 40 per cent do not. The reasoning is unclear, but remote working does have some disadvantages. In the past when away from the office, employees were not expected to attend meetings. Now everyone is home, staff are expected to attend meetings at all times. People may end up working more and thus not want current practices to remain permanent.

· Hybrid adaptability: A full on-site or off-site model is comparably easier than a hybrid model, which would take the best out of both worlds. It’s noticeable that, with meetings where some attend in-person and others virtually, the latter are at risk of being ignored. Companies and employees will need to learn how to mitigate this, which is not an easy feat.

Looking ahead to the post-pandemic landscape, the future of work will be increasingly hybrid – and productivity can be maintained surprisingly well in such a setting. In the region, many organisations have gradually returned to working from the office, either through a shift system of employee groups or through the traditional set-up with more flexibility to work remotely based on employee circumstances.

Crucially, though, the four factors previously mentioned correlate with continued and enhanced performance, and each requires employers to implement new systems, approaches, and technologies:

Social connectivity
Recreating social connectivity is essential as companies hire new employees who have not built social capital from pre-pandemic times, the power of which at work should not be underestimated. Therefore, steps should be taken to replicate informal interactions that take place in physical workplaces. Virtual coffee breaks, facetiming team members, holding meetings on collaborative platforms, and even engaging in virtual team activities such as video games to stimulate an interactive environment and enable complex problems to be solved by the group are all encouraged. More and more, organisations in the region are leveraging digital tools to foster a social connection, whether through informal team meetings or virtual seminars to increase engagement.

Mental health
While companies are increasingly recognising the importance of this issue, managing mental health-related challenges – recognising problems and addressing them – has never been easy. When personnel are working remotely, this becomes even more difficult, but solutions are there to be explored. Free therapy sessions and bringing in experts to educate staff on the importance of mental health and well-being are viable options. Furthermore, offering an employee assistance programme in the form of a confidential counselling service can help staff overcome difficulties related to work, family, stress, finances, and other personal issues.

Physical health
A productive workforce is a healthy workforce, and this entails promoting positive healthy behaviours in a hybrid workplace. Employers should create structures that enable personnel to remain healthy and active, whether built into workdays or through benefits. Meditation sessions, online fitness classes, health webinars, and announcing the winners of wellness challenges in a newsletter or emailer are all proactive possibilities, as is limiting how early or late work calls can be scheduled.

Workplace tools
Given the presence of digital technology in traditional workplaces, the hybrid environment should be similar. Employers should provide tools that enable employees to carry out their responsibilities and collaborate with teams and other members of the organisation – regardless of location.

Subsidising broadband costs and providing allowances so employees can purchase technology and office equipment to create comfortable workstations are recommended. Furthermore, to counter remote members feeling at a disadvantage to those attending meetings in-person, establishing a system whereby participants dial into calls individually would also be prudent.

Focusing on well-being and social connectivity will help employees recover faster from what has been a traumatic, painful, and stressful period.

Employers that bring these insights into the workplace of the future will not only position themselves for business success and longevity, but enable everyone to contribute to creative, innovative, collaborative, and productive practices.

Christopher Daniel is the managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group

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