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The Future of Offices Following Work From Home

Today’s discussions within corporate circles often revolve around the evolution of the workplace and the implementation of the hybrid model, where employees blend work-from-home (WFH)

Today’s discussions within corporate circles often revolve around the evolution of the workplace and the implementation of the hybrid model, where employees blend work-from-home (WFH) with a few days at the office. Countries such as the UAE, Spain and Scotland have adopted innovative work schedules, be it different weekends or changed workdays.

However, after Omicron, when offices across the world eventually open up once again, work life may return to a pre-2020 state and organisations may look back at the past two years as an aberration. Even so, organisations across the board must consider whether a return to a pre-2020 workplace would be a missed opportunity to reconsider certain legacies of the last century and to revolutionise workplace practices.

The WFH model has highlighted the need for collaboration and adaptability. Some employee groups, such as at Apple, have even petitioned for freedom to plan their schedules. But as pointed out in Harvard Business Review, in an article entitled “Don’t let Employees Pick their WFH days” by Nicholas Bloom, professor of economics at Stanford University, such freedom could give rise to an “office in-group” and a “home out-group”, alter workplace dynamics and muddy the collaborative waters.

Companies will now need a formal, structured approach to help employees understand and build “social capital” – the ability to leverage goodwill in the professional space, navigate bureaucracies and get things done. For instance, companies can normalise the practice of colleagues asking one another for help by setting in-place initiatives such as “Ask A Buddy” sessions. This would build a positive ethos and encourage employees to show gratitude towards colleagues. Most importantly, companies can provide employees with tools to support social connections at work, and enable projects that involve cross-functional teams, as well as knowledge sharing sessions between diverse groups.

Social capital also has a bearing on a crucial segment: graduates entering the workplace. While it is challenging for anyone to build social capital in a virtual workplace, it is especially hard for new employees, as one typically picks up unspoken rules of corporate life by observing and emulating colleagues.

Over the past 18 months or so, companies successfully took the hiring process online, but this was intended as a temporary solution. As online recruiting becomes a more normal practice, companies will need to design programmes for new employees so that they can learn, imbibe workplace culture and smoothly assimilate into the workforce.

Even before the pandemic, one of the LinkedIn Global Talent Trends (2020) was the rise of internal recruiting. It was not merely about being cost effective, as companies realised that they could tap into a talent pool with ready-made knowledge of company processes, systems and culture – in short, social capital.

While data is still insufficient, anecdotes suggests that some employers tend to schedule several rounds of interviews, only to fill the job vacancy by promoting internally. Companies will need to understand the implications from the perspective of an applicant and his or her experience, but must also weigh this against a longer-term view of the talent they seek to hire and build. In the future of work, it remains to be seen whether domain expertise will lose out to knowledge of internal systems and processes.

Another key focus area for organisations for the better part of the past decade has been Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). It was initially assumed that a widespread remote working culture would only help the cause of D&I. However, the pandemic exposed a paradox. Though WFH had built-in flexibility and had long been seen as a policy aimed at retaining women, data from McKinsey, a management consulting firm, reveals that close to 2 million women across the world fell out of the workforce during the pandemic.

About the author

Rajesh Tamada