Employees want flexibility to work from either office or home

A manager speaking to his team virtually to review feedback on working from home. [Getty Images]

As organisations scrambled to set up a remote workforce in the early weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic, few had formal documents or policies in place for such an unexpected and overnight reality. Employees had little experience working from home for extended periods, and employers often even less of a track record in managing remote employees. The result? Hastily drawn up policies to clarify the ambiguity of this radical transformation.

Fast forward three years and the world has largely adapted to new ways of working but the fact now is that remote work policies crafted just a couple of years ago are likely obsolete for most companies.

As we move forward in this new era of work, there is no blueprint for when and how to use the office. Some call it in-office mandates, others say guidelines. You may call it hybrid work policies or even suggested days in the office. Whatever it is, the concept of having an employee handbook for "regular" employees who work in the office, plus a remote work policy for that minority that works from home, is now antiquated.

It is a given that businesses may be at different stages of maturity when it comes to evolved HR practices, but one thing is certain, every business needs a workforce - no matter where they sit - that feels heard and engaged with in an appropriate physical and digital environment. At the same time, this workforce must feel they have the flexibility to achieve that often elusive work-life balance, which is, in itself, a difficult balance for any employer to get right.

This begins with realising that traditional management principles which underpin the employee value proposition (EVP) are probably outdated. There has been a clear shift in the relationship people have with their employer. Although traditional EVP features remain important - especially to support learning, growth and development - there is a new focus on holistic well-being, whether mental, physical, family-related or financial.

Organisations that understand the need for a 'value to' approach that gives value to employees instead of getting value from employees are demonstrating a reimagined EVP; one that uses human experience, rather than policy, to guide every effort.

What does that mean for work policies? A move away from rigid policies to supporting hybrid workplaces and strategies could be the pivot leaders need to navigate the evolution of work and to help employees thrive in new realities.

At Dimension Data we have brought a renewed Employee Value Proposition (EVP) to life under the two pillars of flexibility and connection. We want to give our people flexibility so that they can work in a hybrid manner and enjoy a healthy work/life balance. It's about when, how and why we work, not where we work. But we also believe strongly in connections and fostering a sense of belonging because people work with people. That doesn't mean our people should go to the office just because we said so. Rather, it's about going there because there is a reason for them to make it their work destination; we call this purposeful presence.

Purposeful presence is essentially about being in the office in the moments that matter, the moments where the person's presence is the most impactful for the work at hand and for their team. In fact, according to a recent Microsoft survey, 73 per cent of employees say they need a better reason to go into the office than just company expectations. There's no denying it. We must use in-person time to rebuild team bonds and networks but underpin this with a solid digital employee experience to help our people stay connected to each other, to leadership and to company culture no matter where they may be sitting.

Employees must feel that their organisation's in-person policies are created with intention and consideration, and most importantly, not written in stone. This means involving different hierarchies of leadership to create in-office strategies that are tailored to teams and defined by how they maintain flexibility without losing those connections. Hybrid means different things from company to company and even team to team, so the success lies in constant communication. It also lies in keeping up with employees during their time in the office and creating processes for seamless interaction with the office.

Leaders must realise that flexibility is not a fad. It can be easy to forget that a hybrid working environment was always meant to give teams the best of both worlds while optimising productivity and upping financial performance.

Ms Phaal is senior vice president of Human Resources Dimension Data