Megatrend hybrid work has come to stay


Barbara Stöttinger, Professor at the Institute for International Marketing Management (IMM) and Dean of the WU Executive Academy

Anatol B.: How hard will it be to return to business as usual after the pandemic?

Some people have returned to the office this year, many continue to work from home, and others still are switching back and forth between shifts of working on site and teleworking. Video conferences, online meetings, and digital tools have become part of our standard office routine. In times like these, many people are asking themselves when the coronavirus pandemic will finally be over, allowing us to return to our normal working life.

Megatrend hybrid work has come to stay

It’s a reasonable question. But here comes the bad news – or the good news, depending on your perspective: Hybrid work, i.e. a mix of in-person and remote work, is becoming more and more prevalent in companies around the world, even as pandemic-related safety measures are being loosened. And this megatrend has come to stay. Current studies show that in Austria alone, between 40 and 60% of employers plan to maintain teleworking practices even after the pandemic. In other words, this means: Our working life will never return to how it was before the crisis. And that’s a good thing, because we will be able to combine the best of both worlds: the newest developments in digital and online technology with all the benefits of normal working life. We should take this opportunity for what it is, a new way of working with added value for all of us.

Welcome to the “new normal”: Leadership, smart spaces und technology

Hybrid work affects many different levels.

First, the “people” level. This level is going to require new forms of leadership.

Working at a distance needs more leadership, not less. Remote leadership is based on trust and clear, open communication and provides individual structure and additional security based on employees’ needs. This is not to be confused, however, with micromanagement and supervisory emails or even phone calls. It’s important to get a feel for the atmosphere within the team, and it’s better to communicate once too often than not often enough, as recent studies have shown that working from home considerably increases the risk of burnout.

Second, on the “places” level, keyword “smart spaces.” This means fewer large open-plan offices and a return to smaller office units allowing more focused concentration, complemented by larger shared spaces for interaction and creativity to encourage innovation and digital cooperation.

 Innovation is based on creative collaboration. It’s up to supervisors here to create the spaces needed for this – in thought, time, and physical space.

And finally, the third level: “technology,” i.e. the use of new technologies and digital tools.

Not just supervisors but also employees now have the tools and skills they need to work in remote and hybrid formats. Companies need to make sure they are well prepared for hybrid work: Hybrid work is going to be the new standard. Employers without the necessary high-quality technical equipment and a corresponding workplace culture will be less attractive to potential employees and suffer a decisive competitive disadvantage.

Barbara Stöttinger, Dean WU Executive Academy, Professor at the Institute for International Marketing Management (IMM)

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