Remote teams, the new HQ and virtual company culture: the future of hybrid work

Image sourced from Forbes.
In May 2021, alongside other business leaders, IWG’s CEO Mark Dixon makes his predictions for the future of work in late 2021 and beyond

What will ‘going to work’ look like, post-pandemic? At The Economist’s virtual roundtable, IWG’s CEO and Founder Mark Dixon reviewed what has, for many, been a year of predominantly remote working. Joined in the debate by industry leaders from Aviva, Boston Consulting Group, Accor and Superdry, Dixon debated these key issues around the sentiment, logistics and realities of the return to work.

Remote work isn’t going anywhere
The fact is that, whatever CEOs want a return to work to look like, the workforce itself overwhelmingly wants a hybrid model: that is, a mix of office-based and remote work. In a 2020 Growmotely survey, 97% of respondents said they didn’t want to return to the office full time; a recent Flexjobs survey showed that 86% felt that working remotely reduced stress in their jobs.

“Given the opportunity to work from home, especially if they can get out of a long commute, is quite attractive to people,” emphasised Dixon. “There’s been a fundamental change in the way people want to work. Yet hybrid working, he said, has so many benefits for CEOs, CFOs and HR directors, too. “It’s much cheaper for companies – it’s a lot cheaper for people, they can spend more time nearer to their families and communities. We believe that from this will emerge a complete change in the geography and the method of work in the future.”

There’s no one-size-fits-all workplace
Companies shouldn’t rush to completely eliminate their central office space, said Dixon. There is still a role for a centralised property to play in the future of work, where employees might “go into a new type of company headquarters, perhaps once a fortnight or once a week, to imbibe the company spirit.” Danielle Harmer of Aviva agreed, saying her company’s philosophy going forward would be: ‘People do the work where it gets the best output’. For some, that might involve working from an HQ; other team members, such as new business reps, might more logically work remotely and on the road.
Having some presence in a city is likely to attract and retain a younger workforce, suggested Superdry’s Peter Williams, employees who may not have the facilities, space or quiet at home to work efficiently, and will remain attracted to the social surroundings and urban location of a city workplace.

The talent pool will expand
One major benefit for businesses of this new, more geographically widespread, more virtual workplace, is that it will enable companies to recruit from a much larger pool of talent. “In a digital world, you can open up the talent pool like never before,” said Dixon. “In our company over the past year, we’ve hired and trained people who we’ve never met – and they’re doing a fantastic job.”

Once the process of onboarding team members remotely has been refined, HR directors can increasingly seek out more candidates with a rare or specific skills set, regardless of their location. Furthermore, the shift to hybrid and the ease away from a lengthy and expensive commute will also open up roles to part-time workers and job-sharers, suggested Dixon, a trend that is proven to improve inclusivity and diversity in recruitment.

Leaders must encourage a ‘remote rapport’
While the benefits, viability and comparative efficiency of virtual-working technology are clear, going forward companies must work on building relationships and team rapport in their remote networks. As Dixon puts it: “How do we manage people, and get the best for and from people, in this new digital world?”

One answer might be actively incorporating social and personal time into work hours, in order to combat the efficient but brusque video call culture that has developed. “At IWG, we’re not just using Microsoft Teams to have meetings,” he advised. “We create ‘coffee moments’ after the meetings, and we just talk, as you would in a bar after work – there’s no agenda.”

Both Dixon and Wheatcroft suggested leisure spaces such as hotels and restaurants will become a larger part of working life, with events and in-person meetings becoming regular connection points in a mostly virtual landscape.

Business capitals will be transformed
With less emphasis on being a centre of work for a web of widespread commuters, the world’s major cities must also adapt and regroup, said Dixon. “One of the problems with cities is that they became too big, they became too expensive,” he posited. “If you take Sandton as an example, a season gautrain ticket to commute in takes up a lot of someone’s salary; while for the company, space and property taxes and the overall costs of operations are four times what they would be in the provinces.”

With workers moving out of urban centres and companies having less need for major office space within them, we can expect to see the major capitals transform: becoming places where people can afford to work, live and spend time. “Some of these big office buildings could be converted to apartment buildings, the cost of accommodation will come down, taxes will come down, and it will become a great place to work in the future.”
Staff writer