Flexible models of work will shift focus from place to purpose

A new report from Poly claims that there is a ‘granular shift’ in focus from place to purpose of work as businesses respond to the COVID-19 crisis, redesign their operations and reinvent the way they work. Out of city coworking spaces, ergonomic at-home work setups and virtual water cooler moments will define the new age of flexible working, the report claims. Drawing on experts in the future of work, workspace design and psychology, the Poly report, Hybrid Working: Creating the “next normal” in work practices, spaces and culture, sets out the path to what it refers to (tediously) as the “next normal,” where employees enjoy flexibility and choice, and businesses thrive through motivated, collaborative and productive teams.

Triggered by COVID-19, businesses have the opportunity to challenge convention and redefine what “work” really means, the authors suggest. Hybrid working will introduce:

  • New working patterns – new working policies that bring employees flexibility on when and where they work;
  • Outcome-based working – taking the focus off the hours and location, to being productive and delivering results;
  • Optimised investment – looking beyond the company office to create collaborative, technology-enabled personal workspaces anywhere.

Tom Cheesewright, applied futurist and contributor to the Poly report, said: “Even before the pandemic, the nature of work was changing because the nature of business is changing. Today, few can claim that the technology is a barrier to changing practices, but the lockdown has highlighted the need for investment into the cultural and behavioral components of flexible work. The future is a flexible working environment that caters to the needs of all employees, giving them the most fulfilling work experience and in return allowing them to maximise the value they return to the organisation.”


Hybrid working spaces

In the report, Sarah Susanka, architect and best-selling author of the Not So Big series of books, also explores why creating the best environments for employees to be productive and collaborative will be vital to the new hybrid working era. Poly’s report sets out the following key global trends for hybrid working spaces that will emerge in 2020 and beyond:

  • Home offices will be given as much attention as the kitchen – ergonomically organised and crafted into places that inspire;
  • A prevalence of coworking – organisations will invest in co-working spaces in the outskirts of expensive cities to attract talent. Group collaboration and social connections with colleagues and others will lead to cross-fertilisation of ideas, with resulting innovation;
  • Cityscapes will change. Office towers as we know them will most likely become a thing of the past. However, the city as a vibrant social structure will remain, with the city’s amenities serving as extensions of the “not so big” individual apartment, e.g. restaurants become an extension of their kitchen and dining room.


Managing cultural change

Megan Reitz, professor of leadership and dialogue at Hult Ashridge Business School, believes that businesses need to “hardwire” fundamental habits into their teams’ culture to bring hybrid working teams together and ensure employees can speak up. For teams to be agile, innovative, ethical and compassionate, Poly’s report says that work cultures need to be:

  • Inclusive – diverse teams do better, but you must be able to harness and appreciate difference;
  • Inquiring – “one-size” management doesn’t fit all. Employees will respond differently to hybrid working and managers must learn the skills to inquire, be curious and ask questions;
  • Purpose driven – we are seeing a well-overdue widening of purpose and this focus on impact will serve as a compass in times of change and make for a more meaningful workplace.

Image: Herman Miller/Wellworking