The future of work is hybrid

The new normal

© Fraunhofer IAO, Illustration: Thomas Kuhlenbeck

The coronavirus pandemic has forced entire workforces to work from home. HR managers the world over are now dealing with the consequences of this shift. Dr. Josephine Hofmann, team leader for Collaboration and Leadership, has been researching the topic of new work for several years now. She sees the pandemic as an opportunity to re-organize the way we work.

The challenge

On March 13, 2020, two days after the COVID-19 virus was officially classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization, Dr. Josephine Hofmann published a post on the IAO blog that quickly broke the institute’s record for clicks. The piece focused on remote working under coronavirus conditions and offered 12 tips for making the switch as quickly as possible. Almost overnight, the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic put flexible working high on the agenda of companies worldwide.

“In the past, teleworking was seen as wishful thinking for digital bohemians,” says Josephine Hofmann, team leader for Collaboration and Leadership at Fraunhofer IAO, who has been researching this topic since 2012. “Then suddenly, the entire economy was transformed into a living laboratory for new work.” It was not long before companies and public authorities in Germany began asking for her support in implementing new work models. It was a complex challenge that demanded case-by-case solutions. “Of course, it’s not just a case of simply sending people home to work,” Hofmann explains.

The task

On the contrary, Hofmann maintains that new work demands an entirely new working culture. Many questions needed to be answered: How should work be organized under these new conditions? How does management work? How do we hold teams together? How can we measure performance? And more importantly, how can employees avoid becoming overwhelmed by too much flexibility? And how about our actual offices? How should they be designed when a portion of the workforce regularly works from home? “For new work to succeed, everyone has to pull their weight,” Hofmann maintains. “However, everyone also stands to benefit immensely.” This is borne out by the studies Hofmann and her team published during the pandemic.

By May 2020, Fraunhofer IAO, together with the German Association for Human Resource Management (DGFP), had already published the results of a survey of HR managers from around 500 German companies. Focused on the transition to a new normal, the survey looked at different ways of working through the coronavirus pandemic. Around 70 percent of those surveyed stated that their company had largely switched to working from home. However, the study also showed that comprehensive measures are necessary for overcoming the challenges of digital working.

The solution

As a follow-up to the survey, a detailed analysis of the data was carried out in December 2020. It showed that productivity has remained predominantly stable, and even increased in some cases. However, as office attendance declines in significance, the question often arises as to how companies can evaluate the performance of their employees. “We must first work out answers to questions like this,” says Hofmann.

Overall, the innovation-driven push towards flexible working that has come in response to the pandemic has opened a door for companies, organizations and society as a whole. According to Hofmann, the future of work will be hybrid, meaning that work will be done partly on site and partly from home. “We have now learned what is possible and what advantages this gives us.”

Now we have the opportunity to initiate change.

Dr. Josephine Hofmann, Team Leader Collaboration and Leadership

“For a long time, flexible working was seen as wishful thinking for digital bohemians. However, because of the pandemic, Germany has become a living laboratory for reconstructing the world of work. Within just a few weeks, most businesses had embraced mobile working. Many quickly noticed that working from home had the potential to be a lot more than an emergency measure. If organized properly, it can increase the productivity of a company and the satisfaction of its employees. Our goal is to find out how to organize the working world so that new work provides real added value to companies and employees. What does management look like under these conditions? What skills do employees need to develop? How can we measure performance in the future? One thing is clear: if we are going to succeed in redesigning the working world, then everyone must do their part. Managers have to show more trust, and employees have to acquire new skills. But in the end, everyone will benefit. We now have a historical opportunity to initiate change.”

The future of work

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