Today is ‘Freedom Day’ – and many business leaders are deciding how to manage a return to the office in a way that best suits their employees, customers and company objectives.  

With just over half of the UK workforce working from home, having had no choice but to do so for many months through COVID-19 lockdowns, the traditional concept of the workplace is no longer fit for purpose.  

The ‘hybrid’ way, a mix of office-based and remote working, has emerged as an increasingly popular solution for the new future of work – and research shows that 92% of people would want to work from home at least once a week post-pandemic.  

One of the top benefits of hybrid, aside from the obvious cost savings for companies due to reduced workspace requirements, it its potentially hugely positive impact on employee wellbeing. Companies need the right digital infrastructure in place to support this transition and maintain productivity levels.  

By this I don’t mean just video conferencing and remote email access. The technology needs to step up to create a realistic working environment, with the same access to colleagues and levels of engagement wherever the ‘office’ is – bricks and mortar or virtual – and the ability to nimbly skip between the two according to the need of the moment.  

Finding balance – putting health & wellbeing first After a year like no other, while many relish a return to the buzz of the office, some may feel anxious about re-starting their daily commute (35% said they were worried about travelling to work), fearful of the health ramifications of lingering coronavirus variants, having been shielding due to other health conditions, or coming back after furlough.  

Many have simply grown accustomed to a more flexible way of life and the work-life balance that came along with it. If employers insist on a full return to the office, without allowing workers the readjustment period they need, this could have severe ramifications on workplace stress levels and morale.  

Facilitating a safe and smooth return to work requires sensitivity on the part of managers, who should instead follow a staggered approach, ensuring that the lines of communication are open and individual employees’ concerns and needs are taken into account.  

Such a flexible, hybrid plan ensures that precious work life integration can still remain intact, and empowers people to structure their day in a way that meets not only their working responsibilities but also their own life goals.  

In the longer term, the payoffs go both ways by minimising staff turnover due to higher satisfaction levels. The CIPD agrees that companies should offer all employees a choice of flexible working options, adding that this will drive greater health, wellbeing and work-life balance – having released a survey showing that 78% believe that flexible working has improved their quality of life.  

It’s not one size fits all. While some cannot wait to return to a physical office, for others remote working is the best possible choice for their specific circumstances. However, 20% of those working from home long-term say that the biggest challenge is a lack of collaboration and communication, while a further 20% cite loneliness as a problem.  

The right digital technology can bridge this gap to enable teams to continue communicating and retain the same level of connection while online. Collaborative technology for a happy workforce Cloud-based tools incorporating advanced video technology allow distributed teams to come together in an immersive way virtually, replicating the interactions of their physical workspace.  

Today, such solutions are easy and quick to deploy and, most importantly, can facilitate that real-time sense of communication that people may miss when they are not in an office. This opens the door to an effective hybrid working strategy, and many are already taking advantage of it. PwC, for instance, has moved away from tradition to permit its 22,000 employees to blend their time half and half between working remotely and being present in an office.  

Of course, major global firms of this size have easier access to the full scope of digital innovation available but I’d argue that smaller companies can still achieve the same benefits for their staff through making minimal tweaks and leaning on SaaS solutions, without large expenditure.  

Further, to break down barriers to hybrid work, the Institute of Directors has called on the government to help SMEs gain access to workplace innovation through, among other measures, boosting tax incentives.  

Giving people the freedom of hybrid working is a vital step in prioritising employee wellbeing, happiness and, ultimately, whether they remain in the company or not. Fast-evolving digital technology is the key enabler of a successful hybrid strategy.