Two human resources experts weigh in on the future of white-collar work once the coronavirus crisis is under control.

Carolyn Byer, head of HR for Microsoft Canada

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, many employers quickly pivoted their operations, embracing innovation and adopting a fully remote model. Despite the continued uncertainty of the pandemic and the timing around returning to physical offices, I believe hybrid models — where some employees are in the office and others work remotely — should become the standard approach going forward. However, it’s important to remember it isn’t just about the physical space, but the culture that enables flexibility.

Read: LinkedIn, Microsoft embracing flex-work policy for post-pandemic life

In Microsoft Corp.’s annual report providing insights and trends for HR leaders, published in early 2021, 68 per cent of Canadian employees said they want flexible, remote working options. In fact, 64 per cent of Canadian business decision-makers are considering redesigning physical spaces to better accommodate hybrid work environments.

Microsoft has long operated with flexibility and this will continue to define our post-pandemic workplace. In November 2020, we introduced a new flexible working policy, which makes working remotely part of the time (less than 50 per cent) standard. As well, work hours and location are now flexible.

We’ve always believed that if you provide employees with the right tools coupled with a supportive culture, then we’re creating space for employees to work how, when and where they want to do their best work and be their best selves. For some, this means being in the physical office and, for others, it means having more flexibility. The workplace of the future needs to consider both.

Read: Majority of employees want hybrid work model after pandemic: survey

If organizations are using this time to re-evaluate their workspace, then leaders need to ensure they are listening and learning from their teams about what’s working, where opportunities exist, what they need and how they want to work. All things considered, a future of flexibility is here to stay.

Nita Chhinzer, associate professor of HR for the University of Guelph’s department of management

While I predict the hybrid work model will be the way of the future for the world of work, there are some best practices to consider. First, in order to benefit from the collaboration, development, company culture and advancement opportunities, I think it’s best for an interdependent cluster of employees to be in the office on the same day(s) of the week. Bringing employees back to the office for meaningful and purposeful conversation and opportunities can assist with building employee engagement and performance coaching and provides a platform for leaders to manage change. Organizing relevant groups of employees into bubbles and having a standard schedule that applies to those bubbles can assist in this practice.

Read: Remote work, employee retention key issues for post-pandemic workplaces: surveys

Second, employees who work remotely report higher levels of productivity when they have distraction-free time and the flexibility to manage their own schedule. Designated remote work days should be free of meetings to allow workers to focus on tasks and engage in deeper cognitive processing.

Third, the ratio of work from home versus work from the office should align with employer requirements, employee considerations and the nature of the work. Employees should feel empowered to discuss what they prefer and why, and employers should be clear in identifying their objectives. Moreover, work that has clear performance indicators, is relatively independent and isn’t susceptible to change is better suited for remote work.

Overall, the hybrid model provides the best of both worlds, but needs to be very systematically designed with employee, employer, work and team considerations in mind. Explicit agreement on the ratio and the days employees are in the office can eliminate ambiguity and prepare an organization for the post-pandemic recovery that’s on the horizon.

Read: Focusing on employee experience helping build new, improved work culture