• Remote working brings unique challenges. People generally know that it is not a return to the old schedule, but no one knows how to do it.
  • Technology can help in the transition to a hybrid work model so that organizations achieve greater efficiency, customers benefit from a more personalized experience, and employees are happier and more productive.
  • A data-driven approach to designing the future hybrid workplace could address the uncertainties and make some difficult decisions much more straightforward.

The pandemic saw an abrupt shift to remote work for many knowledge workers, with lasting changes for the entire work ecosystem. This is creating much uncertainty about the future of work. Governments and businesses are reassessing traditional ways of working and looking towards more efficient models, which cater better to all stakeholders.

A McKinsey survey of top C-suite executives reveals that talent, hiring, processes, management, connections and productivity all need a rethink to align with a hybrid future. 50% of these executives believe that more than half of the work their organizations do can be shifted to a remote setup. If so, what are the ramifications of 50% remote work?

Hybrid work is on the rise
Hybrid work is on the rise
Image: McKinsey & Company

Employees, customers, and the organization are the three broad sets of stakeholders who would feel the impact of the new remote work setup. This is how it might affect them respectively.

Hybrid employees: facing unique challenges

Over the past year and a half since the pandemic started, employees across companies have proved the efficacy of remote work. In certain areas, employee productivity has even improved. These employees attribute their increased productivity to a better work-life balance, having more control over their time, and being less stressed in their everyday life.

The importance of employee well-being is increasingly prioritized by companies. Many are now veering towards the idea that a workplace is not where you go to work, but rather a place where work happens. Work can get done from an office, can be brought home, or done remotely. Most of the C-suite leaders also highlight that a hybrid approach increases productivity and engagement, which is crucial to retain talent.

This ideology is making way for a permanent remote working or a hybrid work model and we are already seeing the change: Finland is looking to implement 6-hour workdays; a number of tech companies – including Spotify and Twitter – are allowing for permanent work from home; others, such as Salesforce, are instituting a mix of flex, fully remote, and office-based setups; Uber and Citigroup are looking at two to three in-office days a week; while Google is giving flexibility to their employees to work remotely if they wish.

However, remote working brings unique challenges. People generally know that it is not a return to the old schedule, but no one knows how to do it. There is the risk of two parallel organizational cultures emerging - one, where we have strong, in-person collaboration and interaction, and the other cohort of workforce who might feel isolated with a lesser sense of belonging and purpose towards the organization.

A recent Achievers report states around 23% of employees surveyed felt their contributions go unrecognized in this new, remote way of working. Employee recognition is integral to creating a holistic and connected team. Managers must approach their employees with more empathy and fairness for remote working to be effective.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about mental health?

One in four people will experience mental illness in their lives, costing the global economy an estimated $6 trillion by 2030.

Mental ill-health is the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people aged 10–24 years, contributing up to 45% of the overall burden of disease in this age-group. Yet globally, young people have the worst access to youth mental health care within the lifespan and across all the stages of illness (particularly during the early stages).

In response, the Forum has launched a global dialogue series to discuss the ideas, tools and architecture in which public and private stakeholders can build an ecosystem for health promotion and disease management on mental health.

One of the current key priorities is to support global efforts toward mental health outcomes - promoting key recommendations toward achieving the global targets on mental health, such as the WHO Knowledge-Action-Portal and the Countdown Global Mental Health

Read more about the work of our Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare, and contact us to get involved.

Personalizing the hybrid customer experience

The way we interact with customers has seen a paradigm shift. Over the past year, along with organizations and employees, customers have evolved too. They are now more comfortable and flexible in engaging with vendors and service providers over multiple digital and virtual channels.

Businesses need to understand WHEN customers prefer to switch from in-person to virtual interactions as per their convenience, be it via phone, email, social media, or in-person interactions.

Companies must track these customer preferences in real-time and act accordingly by capturing data at various touchpoints and running appropriate analytics on this data to formulate strategies.

Gartner research reveals that many customers would still prefer virtual interactions even after the pandemic blows over. Virtual interactions would be crucial to drive customers through digital touchpoints and organizations should exploit these effectively. All major industries today recognize the need for a data-driven customer experience model. Relevant digital investments are being made to equip employees to deliver successfully in a hybrid workplace setup. It has also accelerated the adoption of cloud-based solutions, AI, and automation tools.

Companies are investing heavily in tools and technologies to understand their customers more deeply and to gain the advantages of superior customer experience. Companies now have access to a broad array of data sets covering transactional, social, behavioural and attitudinal aspects, generated by the Internet of Things (IoT). This data would help in providing more personalized solutions to the customers.

6 models - from entirely remote to hybrid to on-premises
6 models - from entirely remote to hybrid to on-premises
Image: McKinsey & Company

Embracing hybrid workplace tech to achieve operational efficiency

A complete virtual setup is viable for certain industries, whereas other companies need to operate on a fully on-premises model. There still exists in the middle a large group of industries that suit a hybrid setup.

As organizations try to demystify the hybrid model, they also need to understand there cannot be ‘one size fits all’ solution. It would depend on the work category, geography, risks and commitments. A test-and-learn approach is likely the best way forward.

Technology can play an integral role in the transition to a hybrid work model and could help organizations experiment with different operational models to achieve greater efficiency at reduced operating costs.

Solutions based on edge computing, AI in speech and computer vision, cloud computing, and data analytics would generate real-time insights for businesses to use as they transition to hybrid work models. Data collected from connected devices and sensors set up across the workplace would help corporations optimize their resources and ensure a safe work environment.

With use cases relevant for major stakeholders such as Administration, IT, HR, Security, and other departments, this technology can help explore trends, violations, improve compliance in terms of social distancing, mask compliance, and more. It also enables a quick response to pandemics and enhances business continuity planning (BCP) to manage unforeseen situations of various corporations in the future.

Stepping into the future workplace enabled with technology would create an impact for organizations focused on an employee-first approach. Enabling this way of work would contribute to an overall comfortable and sustainable workplace, which would ultimately result in the optimal use of organizational resources and increased well-being of for employees.

The future workplace looks distinctly different from what we perceived it to be before the pandemic struck – but a data-driven approach to designing the future workplace could address the uncertainties and make some difficult decisions much more straightforward.