Shaping the future of work for Hybrid flexibility and wellness

August 17, 2022

Before Covid-19 sparked the great working from home experiment – proving that old ways are not necessarily the best ways - the role of the workplace was already under scrutiny.

Two years of the pandemic served to underscore what HR departments already knew: that employees, in particular the young generation, have different expectations for the working environment than those who have gone before.

Bessie Lee, CEO of JLL in Greater China, (middle) joined the panel discussion at SCMP’s Melo Summit 2022.

During a panel discussion at SCMP’s Melo Summit 2022, Bessie Lee, CEO of JLL in Greater China, was among the CEOs and fellows sharing their insights on the future of work with the students from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Project Melo is a platform of futuremakers to drive positive change in Hong Kong.

After months of lockdowns, Ms Lee said, “Our relationship with the workspace has changed, and I think that change is permanent”.

Exploring these ideas with the younger generation, it was clear hybrid work has become the most popular way of working today. Global research revealed in JLL’s latest Workforce Preferences Barometer confirms that this trend is already well entrenched.

Responses from 4,015 office workers across the world shows a marked shift compared to previous surveys. In March 2022, 55 per cent of employees were alternating between different places of work every week – not only from home, but from third places like coworking facilities - versus only 5 per cent in March 2021.

This new arrangement is especially appreciated by managers (75 per cent), Gen Z (73 per cent), Gen Y (69 per cent), and caregivers (66 per cent), who regard enabling hybrid work as a sign of a flexible and empathetic employer.

And, it shows employers are listening. Only 5 per cent of “frustrated” office workers who wanted to did not currently have the opportunity to make hybrid work a reality.

But there are also challenges needing to be addressed: while the sense of being more productive at home for heads-down work keeps growing, 25 per cent of the workforce reported feeling isolated and unable to nurture close relationships with their colleagues.

Further, only 48 per cent of the workforce agreed that their company was a great place to work today.

However, as more people returned to the office as Covid restrictions eased – 73 per cent were back at least once a week in March 2022, versus just 5 per cent in March 2021 - their expectations about the workplace had also changed. 

JLL’s research shows that the hybrid model has spawned demand not only for remote working support, but also for in-office support, which is stretching further the traditional scope of responsibility of the employer.

Collaborative spaces in the office could encourage collaboration between colleagues.

Companies are encouraged to adjust the design of the office for the hybrid working style, providing, for example, more collaborative spaces to encourage collaboration between colleagues, and facilities for wellness. Landlords could also introduce the co-working space in their office buildings, as a facility for the tenants.

Mental wellbeing also came to the fore. Employees alternating between the office, their home and somewhere else - like coworking facilities - representing 20 per cent of office workers today, are the most engaged, empowered and enthusiastic about the changes taking place in the workplace. They are also the most overwhelmed and stressed group.

This suggests that having to constantly adapt to new work environments raises significant risks in terms of mental wellbeing, the researchers found.

JLL believes quality of life – which all groups in the survey cited as a priority – can also be improved in the office through pragmatic initiatives like free perks, social events, and stress management support. These have become key levers to create a more attractive workplace, the real estate firm points out.

According to JLL’s experts, encouraging employees back to offices is not only about supporting flexibility. It’s also about offering them inclusive work practices and amenities that enable a healthy work-life balance.

Offering an on-site gym could support the health and wellbeing of the staff.

They recommend adopting work agility gradually, supported by dedicated health coaching and access to a relevant range of health and wellbeing amenities. Notes the report: “The responsible employer of the future will be the one that helps their hybrid workers to manage healthy boundaries between their professional and private lives, maintain their social connections and redefine their healthy routines and rituals. By doing so, they will make sure ‘hybrid’ translates into empowerment and fulfillment”.

How to achieve that?

“Definitely go for flexi hours,” Bessie told the Melo Summit.

“Running an office is employee-centric, so ask your staff what will motivate them to come into work.”

Fostering a nurturing and supportive workplace culture is also key, she added.

“When you have the right culture in the organisation you don’t need to mandate a certain way of working. People will develop a commitment and accountability to the company – it doesn’t matter where they are, or the hours you set for them, they want to get the job done.”

The article was originally published on South China Morning Post on 16 August, 2022.