The future of work: optimising hybrid for 2023

These soundproof meeting pods are installed across DBS office floors to enable hybrid work. Photo: DBS

As hybrid work becomes the norm, explore strategies for building an effective hybrid workforce and fostering a supportive hybrid workplace environment

According to the Straits Times, a hybrid work environment is now a major consideration for job applicants in Singapore. An increasing number of workers see hybrid work – a blend of remote working and office work – as a key component of their work-life choices. Progressive employers have also been quick to spot the benefits, which can range from reduced office space requirements, to improved talent retention and a more motivated workforce. However, some companies may need to review existing protocols, to better implement and optimise a hybrid workforce.

What is a hybrid work model?

In general terms, a hybrid work force is one that blends remote work, with traditional in-office work. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, hybrid work models have become the norm for many employers in Singapore. As far back as 2020, for example, Singapore’s banking industry had already made flexible work arrangements a permanent fixture for employees.

A common example would be a hybrid workplace where employees come into the office two or three times a week, but the spend the other work days working from home (or another remote location). This is colloquially referred to as a scheduled hybrid work model.

DBS has permanently adopted a 60-40 hybrid working arrangement, in which employees are given the flexibility to work remotely for up to 40 per cent of the time. Other flexible work arrangements the bank offers include up to 100% work from home for six months for employees with a newborn or newly adopted child, and a job sharing programme where one full time role is performed by two employees.

Other variants of hybrid work models exist as well. In sales departments, for instance, salespersons may work in or out of the office as they require, without any fixed schedule. Some companies choose to apply this to their entire workforce.

Other employers may prefer task-based hybrid workforces. This is when employees may choose to work remotely for some types of tasks, but not others. E.g., a company’s programmers may not be required to write code in the office, but they may be required to work regular hours for other projects.

At its core, however, a hybrid workplace is aimed at allowing employees greater flexibility, whilst ensuring the company still has a consistent, on-call presence in the office. For those who are working in the office (or will be at least part of the week), DBS works closely with leading designers in office space layout, to ease the return to the office.

What factors are driving the hybrid workplace?

Hybrid models have been described as the “future of work.” Some of the key drivers include:

  • The cost of physical office space – SMEs and start-ups often need to be lean, and a simple way to do this is to reduce rental costs. If a company is uncertain of how much its headcount will grow (or shrink) in the near term, or is facing a high rental market, then hybrid work models can allow them to rent smaller spaces, or minimise the need for real estate
  • Increased digitalisation of work processes – Many offices no longer require a physical presence of paperwork. E.g., Reports and applications can be emailed or even sent via messaging apps, without physical copies needing to be submitted. Meetings can also be conducted via online apps, as opposed to formerly expensive teleconferencing tools. This has minimised the need for employees to be in the same physical location, and makes a hybrid workplace

At DBS, hybrid work models come with an upgraded process and infrastructure, to accommodate customers and clients on a digital basis – ensuring that digitalisation can be accomplished without loss of service quality.

  • Globalised workforces have become more common – Also due to advances in technology, it is more common for work teams to have remote workers in different geographical regions. It is more cost-efficient to allow remote work, than to require employees to physically relocate.
  • Environmental concerns – Hybrid work models can reduce a company’s carbon footprint. Employees working from home do not need to travel, thus lowering carbon emissions and consuming fewer resources.

Benefits of a hybrid work environment

As the recent Covid-19 pandemic showed, companies that adapt to a hybrid workplace also have greater resilience; they may be able to maintain operations, even under circumstances such as lock-downs and travel limitations. At DBS, hybrid work models also support business continuity management: these are programmes that ensure essential bank services can continue, even in the face of unforeseen events or business disruptions.

Besides this, there are many advantages to the work environment.

Hybrid work arrangements – when executed well – can contribute to employees’ improved mental health by offering greater work-life balance, increased control and autonomy, and reduced stress levels.

Employees have more flexibility and reduced commuting stress. The absence of a daily commute allows for more leisure time and the opportunity to engage in self-care activities, such as exercise and hobbies, which can positively impact mental well-being.

If an employee doesn’t have to commute to a hybrid workplace, they can save on transport costs; and the accumulated savings can be significant in the long term. They can even save on food costs, as employees don’t need to spend on eating out.

With the ability to choose where and how they work, individuals can create a personalised work environment that suits their needs, leading to increased satisfaction and decreased burnout.

Furthermore, the flexibility provided by hybrid work allows employees to better manage their personal commitments, reducing the strain of juggling work and personal life responsibilities.

Existing surveys also show that hybrid workforces have employees who take on more active physical lifestyles (75% of respondents), and have higher job satisfaction (88% of respondents).

These factors also increase talent retention, and raises the desirability of the company as an employer.

Challenges of managing hybrid workforces

Existing protocols may need to be reviewed to adapt to new hybrid models. In particular, management may need to be wary of forming “silos.”

If a work team lacks cohesion, it can result in each member focusing on their own work, without consideration of the others. It can cause inefficiencies, such as team members working on problems that have already been solved by others.

Several management models, such as Agile Management, or Holacracy-style management, have been adapted to suit hybrid workforces; and managers may have to be trained in these approaches to handle the hybrid workplace.

Conflict resolution models also need to be updated, as disputes between team members may not occur in face-to-face situations. There may be risks of misinterpretation, such as an email or text message that unintentionally comes off as rude.

Flexible working, especially for fully remote employees, can lack the quality of interpersonal relations; and employees’ feelings must be taken into account for indirect communication.

Managers may also have to adapt to new work tools, to co-ordinate a hybrid workforce. This becomes more essential if some team members are overseas, and working on different time zones. It also helps to ensure equitable distribution of work, if there’s a blend of full-time and part-time employees.

Despite these challenges, the factors that drive hybrid work models are here to stay, and it’s imperative that company managers adapt to them.

Best practices for hybrid workplace models

Some of the key elements of successful hybrid work include:

  • Emphasis on personal initiative – Micro-management is not viable for hybrid work, as managers or supervisors are not constantly present. As such, rather than rely on step-by-step instructions, employees may be given a goal, and left to their own devices on how to attain it. Encouraging this sort of self-sufficiency is vital to a hybrid work
  • Equal inclusion of all team members – With remote workforces, a common pitfall is for managers to communicate with only a few key employees, while ignoring the others. This can cause some team members to feel superfluous or unsupported. It’s important to ensure that, remote work or otherwise, everyone feels like part of the same team.

To intentionally encourage inclusive meeting behaviours among employees, DBS has established meeting rituals (such as MOJO) to ensure that both physical and online meeting participants are equally and actively engaged. We also dialled up the use of “Wreckoon” – a tool for psychological safety – to enable meeting participants to challenge one another’s biases and offer alternative views for consideration. This encourages teams to challenge the status quo and be willing to experiment.

  • Regular checks on team members – Not all team members may enjoy being in a hybrid workforce. More extroverted personalities may feel fatigued or lonely, and may do better to return to the office. Some team members may also fail to communicate if they’re having difficulties, or are feeling overwhelmed.
  • Social interaction beyond work is still important – Not every team interaction must be work-related. Birthdays, festive events, or team-building games and events are still an important form of interaction, even if they’re to occur online. This helps to maintain a positive employee experience, and retain the company culture.

Hybrid work is an increasingly desirable quality by employees. Companies that lack this option may find restricted or diminished talent pools going forward: from digitalisation to global competition, the forces that drive hybrid workplaces are likely here to stay. It is imperative that companies adapt, and find ways to use these new models to their advantage.