Seismic tremors silenced as the workforce stood still, but a different tremor rippled through the world of business. The result – an emergency switch to remote working models. In this exceptional reset, aquatic life returned to cities like Venice and the Himalayan Mountain range became visible again. In this silence the race for economic survival was on and the hybrid working model began its ascent.
A socio-environmental shift of this magnitude caused by the hybrid model could never have been imagined and highlighted our joint impact on the planet. The earth was spared 2.6 billion metric tonnes of CO2 in 2020 (International Energy Agency) and particulate matter dropped dramatically in various cities (55% drop in PM2.5 in Dehli, India) providing cleaner air to breath, which has become a basic human right according to various courts-of-law.
But how possible is a sustainable hybrid model after such a drastic lockdown? It was forecasted that 51% of knowledge workers worldwide would work remotely in 2021 (Gartner), which was echoed by an actual 56% of South Africans reported to have worked remotely (Old Mutual; 2021). The real potential for the hybrid model to contribute to sustainability is possible and can add to the ESG and CSR values of businesses. If 25% of the 2.6 billion mt CO2 emissions reduction could be repeated annually through hybrid working, then this model becomes a strategic imperative. This will make companies more competitive, aligned to green-finance mandates and attractive to customers, investors and employees.
US statistics show that whilst 39% of employers want their employees back in the office full-time post-pandemic, only 29% of employees want to return (Owl Labs). A staggering quarter of the workforce is prepared to quit their jobs if they can’t work remotely and 1 in 4 will look for other work (Owl Lab). South Africans feel much the same with a mere 4% wanting to return to work full-time (Boston Consulting Group – BCG; 2021). One of the highest priorities for people is being able to manage their work/life balance with flexible hours.
Furthermore, BCG’s survey revealed that South Africans are more motivated by aspects concerning Diversity & Inclusion (D&I), culture and ranked company values as number one; 79% said environmental responsibility had become more important and 87% (Michael Page) believe the hybrid model will create environmental awareness. This means that a new social contract needs to be renegotiated.
But how comfortable are employers with this new working model? With concerns over productivity levels dropping, it is worthwhile noting that 83% of employers said that moving to remote work has been successful for their company vs 73% in the previous year (PWC; 2021). This indicates that trust in hybrid working dynamics is strengthening. Across various surveys, the results range from 50% to 77% of employees who reported increased productivity, and some even increased their work time. Less stress, less travel, fewer distractions and more contributed to this.
In response to indicators from both employers and employees that collaboration amongst colleagues takes strain in remote models, employers are focusing on incorporating innovation hubs and social spaces to facilitate spontaneous creativity, organic development of the organisation and enhancement of the company’s cultural capital. 58 % of companies anticipate opening satellite offices in suburbs (PWC; 2021). Working hybridlike can facilitate an increased level of D&I as migration to the city is no longer a necessity. Decentralisation of corporations by creating smart communities, as opposed to Smart Mega Cities, has vast socio-economic benefits.
The hybrid model demands various types of connectivity and speed. In SA, only a small number of households (1.5m out of 17.4m) are connected to fibre in urban areas. However, mobile connectivity has a high penetration rate with 108.6m mobile connections. This provides the potential to leverage such connectivity in the hybrid environment (DataReportal; 2022). Despite the development stage of connectivity, infrastructure and cyber-security, the available potential can assist companies in furthering the hybrid model and encourage upward social mobility.
Hybrid working is here to stay. Some businesses may increase, decrease or keep their office space unchanged with some form of internal redesign to accommodate the hybrid dynamics. Navigating and renegotiating the hybrid model will be unique to each sector, industry, business type and function.
‘The only limit to our realisation of tomorrow, will be our doubts of today.’ – Franklin D. Roosevelt.