Late last year, organizations all over the world were ready and gearing up for a smooth rollout of hybrid work in 2022. Companies already crafted policies and procedures on who should report physically in the office and who will work remotely, the frequency of remote work, monitoring and reporting structures, and others. Human resource (HR) leaders were expecting a certain degree of stability in 2022, where employees just need to get vaccinated, follow health protocols, and go on with their daily lives amid the pandemic.
News about the new COVID-19 variant Omicron broke in November, but we all knew little about it. People considered it as another deadly Delta-like variant that the current vaccines can ward off. Economies and businesses continued opening in December, taking advantage of the merriment and spending sprees of the holiday season. People were intoxicated with the prospect of living normal lives in coexistence with the virus.
Then in January, news sites and the internet were littered with how the Omicron cases had been doubling every day. In the US, hospitalizations break record cases as Omicron surges. The Philippines broke the 30,000 mark on daily cases just recently. The infectivity rate of the new variant is unprecedented, acting more infectious than the common flu.
While the severity of the symptoms brought about by Omicron is not as grave, people infected were rendered bedridden. HR leaders had to rethink and even reset their hybrid work plans.
In France, the Ministry of Labour updated its guidelines imposing on all companies operating in France “to ensure that each employee (whose role allows for remote working) works remotely at least 3 days per week, and up to 4 days per week whenever compatible with the organization of work and the employee’s situation for a three-week period starting on 03-01-2022 (i.e., until 24-01-2022).”
South Korea, the Netherlands, Germany, and Ireland were among countries to reimpose partial or full lockdowns, or other social distancing measures in recent days, impacting the implementation of hybrid work.
BBC News reported that “finding a ‘new normal’ in the workplace as impossible” and that “amid constantly shifting circumstances, it’s hard to pin down where we might find ourselves in 12 months’ time.” Further to the report, “a call for shorter workweeks and condensed hours has been gaining traction around the globe, with companies and entire governments alike already exploring this alternative.”
Another report from Forbes wrote that “there is increased speculation that some work may be shifting more permanently from offices to the home.” Furthermore, “a large permanent shift would have major implications in many spheres, including the future of office work and downtown Central Business Districts (CBDs).”
The changing circumstance of the pandemic is now compelling business leaders to revisit, and even reset their hybrid work policies.
Luxury toilet maker Lixil Corp.’s chief people officer, Jin Montesano said that the company has deviated from Japan’s rigid work structure by dumping core working hours and morning meetings, and rethinking what the office should be, as reported by Reuters. “It’s no longer the place to work … wherever you get work done is where you work,” said Montesano as reported by Reuters. “What we want to do is reimagine the office.”
When some workers finally do return to the office in 2022 or down the road, many will find the layout and function to be completely different. Nicholas Bloom, a professor of economics at Stanford University, US, told BBC News that “companies will reconfigure spaces this year to meet the needs of a newly hybrid workforce, and accounting for how people actually want to work when they’re together in person: collaboratively.”
So how will hybrid work look like in this year and the years to come? There are many prognostications from experts. In the end, we don’t know what we don’t know. The virus may show other mutations that have differently.
But one thing is certain — the pre-pandemic office doesn’t work the way employees in 2022 need it to. Business and HR leaders need to configure the work set up with enough flexibility. Companies will need to implement a distributed enterprise strategy that mimics the central office operations to the homes and locations of workers. Constant adjustment is key.
Reynaldo C. Lugtu, Jr. is the founder and CEO of Hungry Workhorse, a digital and culture transformation consulting firm. He is the chairman of the Information and Communication Technology Committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX). He is a fellow at the US-based Institute for Digital Transformation. He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. The author may be e-mailed at email@example.com