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Rohini Sachitanand, APAC HR Leader, Hewlett Packard Enterprise writes exclusively for HRO on what to expect from the new era of hybrid working.

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives of millions of individuals worldwide, including those who did not contract the virus.

The sudden move to work-from-home was an unexpected alteration in work routines. But most companies – and employees – have navigated these waters successfully, enabling a new definition of “office” … it’s no longer a destination, but an experience.

Eventually, the pandemic will fade away. But its impact on how businesses operate is here to stay. We expect more than 50% of our 60,000-plus global workforce will never return to pre-pandemic office life at my company.

This working arrangement offers many benefits, but can also lead to challenges concerning effectively collaborating with colleagues or feeling included in a workplace culture.

With lessons learned during the pandemic, here are some suggestions for ensuring that the new hybrid workplace is effective, and satisfying for all employees.

Two-way communications are critical

Companies must open two-way communication channels. Dialogue must be frequent and meaningful from the CEO, and other leaders, down the line. Ask team members what’s on their minds and encourage them to be forthcoming.

By creating an open platform that enables feedback, team members – be they in-office, working from home or on the production line – will feel empowered to share opinions and insights that can inform your work procedures and guidelines.

Besides, be sure you are actively listening. Don’t simply ‘tell’ employees what’s going on; encourage them to respond and engage. With a forum to safely share their fears, opinions, and questions, employees will have a crucial role in decisions that impact their lives. Their comfort in expressing their thoughts will increase if they feel you are genuinely listening to what they have to say.

Many firms, including HPE, have been doing this through digital chat tools such as Slack or TEAM. With these tools, team members can share stories, ask questions, raise concerns, and make connections from wherever they work. Frequently, senior leaders are hosting more intimate round table discussions or virtual chats as another means of giving team members a platform for their thoughts and opinions.


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Establish more frequent manager check-ins

As much as employees enjoy working from home, many, at the same time, feel equally disconnected from their employers and teammates as they no longer have the ability to have water cooler conversations and impromptu hallway chats that are such an essential means of building workplace relationships.

To be exact, one in three employees have reported feeling disconnected from their leadership teams, according to a new study, 2022 Global Culture Report.

One effective way of ensuring team members are continually engaged is to prioritise frequent manager check-ins. By instituting or encouraging regular scheduled check-ins in various virtual forms, team members will feel more appreciated and involved. And that can improve their state of mind, while also bolstering key relationships.


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No physical proximity to managers, no problem

With hybrid working coming into full swing across sectors, employers must treat all employees equally. Workers in the office or at the plant shouldn’t have an advantage regarding access to resources, benefits, or information.

By acting holistically, regardless of where team members are based, all will feel empowered, informed, and involved. Often, that can mean tapping the latest technologies to offer an easy-to-access repository of information on policies, benefits, and news available to all.

One way we’re doing that at HPE is through our new collaboration centres. Instead of making them a ‘co-working space’, the new collaboration hubs went a step further. The facilities are centred on meeting rooms, open seating areas and lounges, with less than 30% of space designated for individual work desks – and only a very small number of them are allocated to specific people.

For example, if seating capacity is around 500, there would be fewer than 150 work desks. That’s because most of the space is designed to emphasise collaboration through a variety of meeting rooms, telephone pods, seating booths, and breakout tables.

The collaboration centres also focus on wellness and the environment. They have large areas for bike parking, excellent public transport connectivity, as well as gyms, sports areas, showers, cafés, and restaurants on-site or close by.


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Creating a caring culture beyond business

Uncertainties brought about by COVID-19, as well as the economic and societal changes associated with the digital transformation, have created enormous pressure on employees’ mental health.

If companies make mental health services more accessible, and establish a more well-rounded caring/supporting system to improve employees’ wellbeing, there’ll be real improvements in employee outcomes, and consequently, in company performance.

Besides, employers can also boost retention by showing employees they care. According to The Science of Care, 60% of workers who said they felt cared for plan to stay with their companies for three or more years, as opposed to only 7% of those who said they don’t feel cared for.

With that in mind, employers need to show their employees they care about them beyond work. Encourage them to take regular vacations, and to disengage from work while away. When they truly get away, they will return to work refreshed and more productive.

For example, at my company this year we introduced our summertime Wellness Fridays. Team members were able to take a day off from work every other Friday to have more time to relax and do something for themselves.

As the workplace culture evolves, companies will continue to experiment and learn new ways to improve the employee experience. While the tactics and techniques will vary, workers will embrace them if they afford them the flexibility and resources to work inclusively and productively. And that may help breed satisfaction and loyalty, two keys to success in a tight labour market.


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