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Brislen on Tech: Hybrid working is the answer

Paul Brislen, Editor. 11 June 2021, 6:51 pm

I got mocked on a Teams call today for not being dressed up for the office. You're lucky I'm wearing clothes at all - could still be in my PJs, I retorted wittily, and we all moved on with our lives.

Welcome to the new world of working, although not all is rosy in this brave new world.

WFH.jpg

COVID has meant we not only all got to sample working from home, for some, we actively leapt in with both feet, pulled up the drawbridge, put on the stretchy pants and let ourselves go entirely.

I love working from home. I have a big home office, a big fat fibre connection, a fridge in walking distance, a wife who loves to bake and a cat who loves to snooze. The commute time is a tolerable 90 seconds or so, I can go sit in the garden if I like and I'm much more likely to get work done than if I go in to an office and sit with (whisper it) other people.

I fully acknowledge and appreciate that not everyone is in the same position. I have colleagues and clients whose home environment is not designed for work and who have to flee daily, if only for their sanity. Seeing one staffer on a video call sitting at his kitchen table with three flatmates all trying to work was a sobering moment, and seeing another being forced to parent actual children as well as colleagues was enough to make a grown manbaby cry.

But that's the beauty of the new world order, right? It's a hybrid working solution and we should all be able to work in a way that suits both our style and the work that needs to be done.

That work varies during the week. On Mondays I have lots of planning meetings. Ideally I would go into the office, sit around in said meetings, nod knowingly and then come home again.

On Tuesdays I'm generally trying to get stuff done. Being in the office would be a problem so I stay home to write. Wednesdays and Thursdays vary so I play it by ear, and Fridays, on the other hand, I try to keep aside for external meetings in case anyone decides I need lunch or a coffee.

The idea that we should be sitting in the office from 8.30am to 5pm every day, Monday to Friday, and that's the only working model is now as dead as the Victorian era that spawned it.

Except sadly for some employers, this brave new world adds a layer of complexity they simply aren't able to process.

This week I've been approached by someone looking for a spare monitor for their home set-up. They're allowed to work from home, but have to provide their own gear. Monitors, keyboards, mice, chair - it's as if the Health and Safety at Work Act weren't a thing and nobody had ever heard of occupational overuse syndrome or the PCBU (person conducting business or undertaking) and their role as responsible provider of work environments.

The idea that they can say "yes, you can work from home but…" is just not on. The primary duty of care means the employer is responsible for the health and safety of workers, including psychological and physical work spaces, regardless of whether they're in the office, at a client's worksite, on the farm or working from home.

There's a simple answer, many will say, and that's if you're so concerned about the crick in your neck from squinting at a screen that's the wrong height, then come into the office and use the proper set up.

That's not going to fly either.

The labour market is impossibly tight at the moment and not likely to change any time soon. It's difficult to find staff, and talent retention is the new name of the game.

So if you as an employer say "you can't work remotely" or worse, "you can work remotely but you have to figure it all out yourself" then you're not likely to be as attractive an employment brand as one that says "we trust you to be an adult - hit your targets and we don't care where you work."

Companies are saving millions of dollars a year by subletting office space they no longer need because staff are happy to sit at home in their jimjams. I've heard of at least one that has started a fund for each staff member to set up their own tech so they can have the tools they need to do the job. Buy a laptop, then next year maybe a new phone, or dual monitors, maybe a better chair and so on. It's still cheaper than having them come into the city and sit at a desk just because that's how your granddad used to do it.

But all this subletting opens up another opportunity and it's one that companies aren't really quite getting their head around yet.

For years we've sat in open plan work environments and been told we're more productive for it. Certainly, it's reduced the amount of fighting about who gets the corner offices because generally speaking there aren't any. But in this new hybrid work environment I've noticed fewer people sitting at desks and more people fighting over meeting rooms.

Take my Mondays, for example. These are full team meetings, to set the agenda for the week ahead. Generally speaking these involve as many people as we can get sitting around a table with a whiteboard to hand. That shouts meeting room, not open plan office space, but all too often we can't get into a meeting room because every other fellow has the same idea and has booked in already.

How about we reduce the number of desks but increase the number of meeting spaces? Maybe put coffee machines in them instead of out in the kitchen area. Maybe we don't need co-lab tables but co-lab spaces, like they have at Pt England Primary school where the kids come together for the briefing, then get sent off to various areas to get on with their tasks.

Now is the time to consider just how best to outfit the office of the future. Because unlike the soggy middle managers who get antsy if we're not sitting at our desks and who are soon out of a job, I reckon hybrid working is here to stay and we should adjust our work environments accordingly.


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