The “next normal” is hybrid working—flexible, productive, and spanning multiple locations.

There are a number of ways in which organizations around the world are going “back to work.” Many are planning to safely and effectively transition some or all employees back to the office. Some are reducing office space as they reevaluate real estate requirements. Still, others are extending their work-from-home policies until 2021 and beyond. While the right path forward varies for every company, there is one thing we can all agree on: very few organizations will go back to the way things were at the start of 2020.

During this historic time, we see customers moving through three phases in order to survive and thrive despite the pandemic: Respond, Redesign, and Reinvent. Our recent report, Hybrid Working: Creating the “next normal” in work practices, spaces, and culture, lays out these phases in detail.

Respond Phase: Prioritize Business Continuity

The Respond Phase—the first wave in response to the pandemic—focused on mitigating challenges and ensuring business continuity. Organizations of all kinds had to “flip the switch” almost immediately, whether that meant moving every employee to a work-from-home environment, equipping teachers with tools for effective virtual learning, or enabling healthcare first responders to manage drastically increased call volumes. Bottom line, everything had to be done fast.

In many cases, this led to hurried, makeshift home environments with a mix of employer-provided and personal technology, such as headsets and web cameras. These DIY approaches may have done the job at the time, but that quick fix proved to be inadequate long-term.

Redesign Phase: Become Digital First

As organizations stabilized basic operations, they moved into the second phase: Redesign. This phase—where many companies are today—is all about reimagining workspaces, business models, and ways of working. The end goal: Companies are working to future-proof their organization by becoming a digital-first company.

This new path looks different industry by industry:

  • Financial services companies are exploring remote banking interactions and ways they can improve the in-branch experience with on-demand experts available to customers in the bank
  • Manufacturers are focused on streamlining production, improving visibility into the supply chain and understanding real-time inventory levels
  • Automotive companies are concentrating on improving communication and collaboration across stakeholders, including design, engineering, manufacturing, and sales
  • Pharmaceutical companies are looking at ways to accelerate clinical trials and how they can provide home health and personalized medicine
  • Professional services companies are considering new ways to give clients access to experts wherever they are

Reinvent Phase: Digital Transformation as a State of Mind

In the third phase, Reinvent, we expect companies will embed digital transformation into the fabric of their organization. The notion of digital transformation has circulated for a decade, but there was always this question of when it would become a reality. Based on conversations we are having now, digital transformation is more central to strategy than ever. And companies in a Reinvent mode will commit to pushing the limits of what’s possible to prosper long-term.

Redefining Work Itself

Today we have a great opportunity to redefine what work means. It isn’t a place you go, but a purpose that is powered by collaboration and workflows. The “next normal” of work is what we call hybrid working, a blend of office, and remote work. It allows workers to seek out purposeful workspaces tailored for different needs. For example:

  • The office environment is the best setting for innovation, problem-solving and serendipitous interactions as well as for building connection, trust and culture
  • The home environment lends itself perfectly for individual work projects as well as coordination, planning, and reviews
  • The third space environment—be that a cabin, the backyard or a simple walk with the dog—offers much-needed moments of reflection, creativity, inspiration, and restoration

It all comes down to empowering employees to be productive no matter where they work. It’s about listening to their needs and creating environments that accommodate their individual workstyle so they can do their best work.

Give employees a choice of places to collaborate, think, create, or simply check in with others. Review the idea of purposeful workspaces and enable customized, fit-for-purpose spaces for different needs. Provide enterprise-grade equipment for home offices for both personal focus and group collaboration. And complement that with office spaces that encourage innovation, problem-solving, and moments of connection.

Inevitably, new winners will emerge during this period of disruption—and legacy industries are sure to be reborn out of necessity. Because in uncertain times, innovation naturally surges. As humans, we show our amazing ability to adapt and problem-solve. As we gain clarity about what matters most, we summon the insights and creativity to shape a better future.