Navigating uncertainty and ambiguity is a given in this new economy, and embracing a hybrid work model is par for the course. The fluidity and flexibility we’ve experienced these past two years is the model of the future, and is here to stay. Throughout the two years of working from home, we’ve seen the positive impact flexibility has afforded the team. Teams are able to balance between work and life demands, manage expectations on both ends, and design their own work day.

Studies have shown the positive impact of enabling flexible work arrangements for employees. However, as a full return to the office becomes possible, many employers seem to be embracing hybrid, but also rushing to mandate time back in physical office premises.

Enabling an inclusive culture

Since the pandemic, what was once seen as a luxury (working from home) has now become normalised. Employees see it as progressive, a symbol of trust and freedom, and as their new baseline of engagement. The resistance of returning has become the preservation of that right.

It hasn’t become uncommon for new hires to question a company’s stance on hybrid work in the interview process, nor is it uncommon to have business meetings preface the discussion with curiosity of the other party’s employer expectations - with the subtext being how progressive the company’s culture really is.

We’re all made differently, and the experience of working from home has allowed us to truly be ourselves. For the introverts to be introverts, the parents to be present for their children, the children to be present for their parents, for people to be there for themselves, the list goes on.

In the bid to embrace diversity and enable inclusion, it is down to employers to normalise that choice and expectation for all. Mandating office hour roll-calls takes that choice away and signals nothing but the lack of trust and the harking back to a time gone by.

Benefits of perpetuating a truly hybrid model

Alongside the Covid-19 global pandemic, the silent scream of mental health issues further emerged, with societal awareness of these issues similarly increasing. The pandemic caused spikes in anxiety and depression across the world, driven largely by uncertainty, isolation, financial insecurity, amongst others.

With stress levels higher than usual due to the amount of change happening in the world, the ability for talent to determine and design their workday whilst maintaining productivity and efficiency, and the trust that employers inadvertently put in them, has proven to have intangible and multifold benefits. It has worked in a way that Millennials and Gen Z’s have welcomed with open arms.

More than ping-pong tables and pantry perks, Millennials and Gen Z’s are looking for understanding, connection, psychological safety, and belonging. That comes from a sense of community felt amongst the teams - but coupled with respect and trust in how they choose to interact with each other.

“Going back” is going backwards - the future is here and we’re embracing it

If the last two years of working from home have taught us anything, it is that our workforce can absolutely be trusted and empowered to design their workday and deliver what they need to and more.

Specifically, four lessons stood out clearly from this two-year global experiment of an almost entirely decentralised workforce:

  • Respecting the whole person and enabling a “you do you” philosophy means teams are able to design what works for them - and, therefore for the business.
  • There’s no trade-off. What’s good for employees and good for business is not mutually exclusive. If we take care of our employees, they take care of the work, the clients, and each other.
  • As leaders, our role is to create a safe space for teams to fail, and a safe space for them to create their best work.
  • Giving teams the element of choice is not to the detriment of the business, and instead improves morale, satisfaction, mental health and ensures the highest expected  outcomes.

With access to some of the world’s best and most progressive collaboration tools like Slack, Zoom, Figma, Flutter and Google Workspace, a modern way of working has become massively adopted, effectively enabling us to work in a way that doesn’t tie us to a physical space. It has allowed a culture of real-time collaboration to take place, whether we sit in the same room or distributed across the island or oceans.

The best of us have thrived over the last two years by focusing on how people work, not where they work. Coupled with a culture of mutual trust and respect, genuine interest in each other’s growth, and a safe space for teams to fail and flourish, it has shown to be the secret sauce to business success. Mandating office attendance does nothing to add to that.

As for us at R/GA, we aren’t closing our office space, but we’re also not mandating everyone to return to it. We’re not determining how many days, if any, or what days people should come to the office. We’re leaving the door open to a multitude of possibilities.

We’re not going back. We’re moving forward.

The writer is Dorothy Peng, VP managing director of R/GA Singapore

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