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Post-covid employee engagement

Fiona Passantino, Early September, 2022

Hybrid is (still) here

At any given time, some of us will be working from home and some will be in the office. That’s the current reality of “hybrid”: a shapeshifting concept that will likely blossom into subcategories, evolve and be re-defined.

Some come to the office to escape the loneliness and solitude of home-working and collaborate with fellow team members. These individuals are looking to chat, engage, pause for coffee and play a round of foosball.

Others with small kids or needy pets come to escape the circus at home and look for a quiet nook in which to focus. They’re not out for coffee-corner talk and may even avoid the birthday cake on the second floor or team lunches.

In general, the return breaks down as follows:

55% come in once a week or less
28% come in 2-3 days

17% come in 4-5 days[i].

The reasons why we come into an office differs from person to person, but more than 80% of us generally fit into one of four basic personas[ii].

The Four Basic Working Personas

1. The Traditionalist

This “back-to-normal” in-office employee probably didn’t work from home much before the pandemic and now that it’s over, is simply returning to the normal rhythms of daily life.

Home is home, and work is work. Flexibility or rotation or the need for quiet, focus time is not necessary for this worker; he values the physical collaboration, the team, the building and doesn’t mind the commute. Don’t try texting this worker after hours; chances are there are clear boundaries between work and life, and few exceptions will be made to blur these lines.

2. The Task-Guided

For this worker, it’s all about the task at hand and the environment that gives her the best result. Is ideation or collaboration with the team needed to kick off a new project? She will come in for the day and make full use of all the perks and opportunities a live visit can offer, starting with Mindfulness Monday Morning on the fourth floor to joining the long table at lunch, to hitting the bar with colleagues at the end of the day.

However, if she needs to devote time to a deep-dive white paper, she will sequester herself at home for full focus and concentration. Having the flexibility to work when and where she wants based on the type of task at hand gives this worker the control she needs.

3. The Freedom-Lover

Experience, travel, or other life considerations makes this worker tick. He was probably never much for the regular in-office patterns. He generally prefers working late nights, off-site, as the freedom and possibilities this gives an integrated lifestyle without limitations is what inspires and motivates him. This worker type may well value his team and community but also find that spending a month working from Bali, going to a managed workspace near his home without having to commit to fixed days suits him best. This worker, when engaged, will easily blur the line between life and work, and may work evenings and weekends as needed.

The "Freedom-Lover"

4. The Fully Remote

This employee type is not coming back. Whether it’s because he is a new father, an introvert or lives on the other side of the world without the expectation of regular visits, don’t expect to see her at the lunch counter. She might come in for a town hall, party or team-building day, but do 100% of her work from home.

The challenge is to make sure a Fully Remote employee is sufficiently onboarded, feels connected to her team, gets adequate face time with leadership, and that her contributions are seen and recognised by others.

Accept and Adapt

Hybrid is great for employees but hard on leadership because they lose the perception of control over their workforce. Perception, because even full-time in-office workers are able to watch plenty of Netflix during their working days and some of the most engaged employees never see the inside of the office.

How to create a working model that takes all these needs and perspectives into consideration? One answer: accept that there is no going back to “the way things were”, and that we will have about a 50% occupancy rate, give or take.

The great news is that this creates new opportunities to reduce and re-imagine the office. If there is 50% occupancy, that means 50% of the space and physical resources are needed, costs are 50% externalised and energy requirements are 50% lower. Downsize and invest in the remaining space – design, comfort, branding and tooling.

The office is smaller but better; the natural best place to do work. Offers both focus-seekers and social butterflies what they need to achieve the best experience, that healthy buzz we are missing that is a function of maximum occupancy. Moveable furniture, breakout spaces, day lockers, Zoom integration rooms, shiny cafes and jazzy lounges. Miro-driven whiteboards, good cameras and blazing fast VPN in every quiet corner.

[i] Kalra (2021) “The 5 types of work-from-home personas: Which one is yours?” Human Resources Net. Accessed August 20, 2022. https://www.humanresourcesonline.net/the-5-types-of-work-from-home-personas-which-one-is-yours

[ii] Vozza (2021) “The four work personas that have come out of the pandemic”. Fast Company. Accessed August 20, 2022. https://www.fastcompany.com/90624919/the-4-work-personas-that-came-out-of-the-pandemic