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Creating the ‘next normal’ in work practices, spaces and culture

A new report from Poly finds that astutely navigating work practices, spaces and culture will help respond to crisis, redefine the purpose and reinvent the future of work

Poly (formerly Plantronics and Polycom) has issued a new report that highlights a granular shift in focus from ‘place’ to ‘purpose’ of work as businesses respond to the COVID-19 crisis, redesign their operations and reinvent the way they work. Out of city co-working spaces, ergonomic at-home work set ups and virtual water cooler moments – the effects of this pandemic will epitomise a new age of hybrid working.

Drawing on insights from experts on the future of work, workplace design and cultural change, the report explores how work will evolve as we emerge in the ‘next normal’. It sets out why 2020 will be the catalyst to radically accelerate hybrid working, where employees enjoy flexibility and choice, and businesses thrive through motivated, collaborative and productive teams.

For much of 2020, working hasn’t meant sitting at a desk in a company office for a set period every day and in many cases, the adoption of remote working on a massive scale has demonstrated how employees can operate with the same (if not greater) efficiency and productivity, while achieving a better work-life balance. One thing is clear – the enforced changes brought about by the pandemic have opened the eyes of employees and business leaders to new ways of working.

“The unfortunate circumstances experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity for businesses to challenge current thinking and shape a new future of work,” said Darrius Jones, Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer, Poly. “The next normal is all about hybrid working moving to the mainstream as we respond, redesign and reinvent – flexible working across multiple locations, with immersive, productive workspaces that accommodate the workstyle of every employee.”

Post-lockdown working practices

Triggered by COVID-19, businesses have the opportunity to challenge convention and redefine what work really means.

Hybrid working will introduce:

*New working patterns: new working policies that bring employees flexibility on when and where they work;
*Outcome-based working: taking the focus off the hours and location, to being productive and delivering results;
*Optimised investment: looking beyond the company office to create collaborative, technology-enabled personal workspaces anywhere.

Tom Cheesewright, applied futurist and contributor to the Poly report, said: “Even before the pandemic, the nature of work was changing because the nature of business is changing. Today, few can claim that the technology is a barrier to changing practices, but the lockdown has highlighted the need for investment into the cultural and behavioural components of flexible work. The future is a flexible working environment that caters to the needs of all employees, giving them the most fulfilling work experience and in return allowing them to maximise the value they return to the organisation.”

Hybrid working spaces
In the report, Sarah Susanka, architect and best-selling author of the Not So Big series of books, also explores why creating the best environments for employees to be productive and collaborative will be vital to the new hybrid working era.

Poly’s report sets out the following key global trends for hybrid working spaces that will emerge in 2020 and beyond:

*Home offices will be given as much attention as the kitchen – ergonomically organised and crafted into places that inspire;
*A prevalence of co-working – organisations will invest in co-working spaces in the outskirts of expensive cities to attract talent. Group collaboration and social connections with colleagues and others will lead to cross-fertilisation of ideas, with resulting innovation;
*Cityscapes will change. Office towers as we know them will most likely become a thing of the past. However, the city as a vibrant social structure will remain, with the city’s amenities serving as extensions of the ‘not so big’ individual apartment, e.g. restaurants become an extension of their kitchen and dining room.

Managing cultural change
Megan Reitz, professor of leadership and dialogue at Hult Ashridge Business School, believes that businesses need to hardwire fundamental habits into their teams’ culture to bring hybrid working teams together and ensure employees can speak up.

For teams to be agile, innovative, ethical and compassionate, Poly’s report says that work cultures need to be:

*Inclusive – diverse teams do better, but you must be able to harness and appreciate difference;
*Inquiring – one-size management doesn’t fit all. Employees will respond differently to hybrid working and managers must learn the skills to inquire, be curious and ask questions;
*Purpose driven – we are seeing a well-overdue widening of purpose and this focus on impact will serve as a compass in times of change and make for a more meaningful workplace.

Technology-enabled change

“Technology has a big role to play in creating the next normal, powering new workflows between people and places and enabling seamless communication and collaboration so virtual teams are motivated and engaged,” said Jones. “If we respond, redesign and reinvent, we can meet challenges head-on and constantly evolve with any changes we may face.”