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Returning to work in a hybrid fashion

by Francisco Plaza: Managing Director at Janssen South Africa.
One of the things I have really missed over the past two years of various stages of pandemic lockdown, was to get up from my desk and visit the coffee station. It was my version of the watercooler, a place where I’d be able to meet and chat with colleagues from every level of the company. En route, the opportunity to engage in passage conversations or simply a hello from another colleague. This is probably also one of the things I look forward to as we all start returning to work in various guises.

Working from home was an adjustment at first. As a dad, with children at school, it started with sharing our internet connection bandwidth. And then, the novelty of online meetings saw diaries fill up like never before. There was no driving or walking time in between Zooms, Teams and Google Hangouts. It just became one click after another. Work-life balance was somewhat off-kilter and even though we were all home-based, screen time absorbed almost all of our attention span. Thankfully, it slowly evolved and a big lesson I learnt over this time was that a ten-minute, factual meeting could be as effective as an hour-long engagement.

But the evolution into shorter meetings and hard work was not a magic wand. I have a step counter on my phone and I was shocked to see that since going into lockdown during the second quarter of 2020, it clocked almost no movement! I had literally been in front of a screen non-stop, without any significant physical movement, for an extended period of time. Efficiency of meetings should not drive you to squash more into your diary at the expense of a work-life balance.

Previously, this notion was a human resources check box exercise. In a workplace that has changed forever, creating and maintaining this balance is critical to the wellness of employees. In a way, the virtual workplace gave us all insight into one another’s lives. Most people can recall a moment when either a colleague’s cat or children appeared during a meeting, or it happened to them. And we slowly started learning about one another’s lives. From a business perspective, this provided deep insight, over time, on how individual employees manage their lives. Some people perform optimally in the evenings, others, early mornings.

The near two-year long segue was not dissimilar to a reality show where the cameras are always on and rolling. It was a massive learning curve that now equips companies better in terms of understanding staff and optimising organisational efficiencies.

Translating these learnings into a new workplace model will be rewarding for both employers and employees. And the future of the workplace will take various shapes moving ahead.

As millions of employees get ready to return to the office after two years of living a virtual work-life, companies have had to start contemplating the shape of its workplace. Much has been said about it and by many, but after careful contemplation at Janssen we have settled on a flexible hybrid model. The objective is to marry learnings acquired during the pandemic and to adapt and shape-shift into a new, hybrid way of working. It nurtures collaboration, innovation, engagement and progress on many levels of an organisation.

A hybrid working environment will aid solving, over time, the back to back online meeting burden that has in some instances ‘mounted up’ to unsustainable levels. We will also see a return of face-to-face or, for now, masked-to-masked meetings in physical spaces. Collaboration and multi-functional meetings will become more common, too, as ideation and implementation, creativity and collaboration, take on both new meanings and shapes. In almost every sense of the word, hybrid could provide the best of both worlds to an organisation. It could be leaner, more productive on the one hand and, simultaneously, inject greater empathy, human to humanness and positive discourse into the equation.

It could really represent the best of both worlds for every level of a business. We get to enjoy and collaborate in real life with our colleagues at the office and, in addition, get to retain important elements of working from home. For me, the coffee station walks beckon and I am looking forward to that.
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