Building a happy hybrid workplace
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Building a happy hybrid workplace

As I returned to the office early last week to complete some required paperwork, I found a whole floor that was once filled with enthusiastic editorial staff nearly empty.

With many Covid-19 cases reported in our company, most of my colleagues continue to prefer doing their jobs outside the office. Thankfully, the nature of our work and technology allow most journalists to perform daily tasks remotely.

Indeed, the past two years have clearly changed the way employees across the world perceive work and carry out their duties. Working remotely is no longer be seen as a benefit, but rather a requirement. As such, organisations need to define how a hybrid model will work best for their employees. The most popular arrangement among employees seems to be three days a week outside the office and two days inside.

A new study from Qualtrics, an American research company, indicates that hybrid is now the clear preference in Southeast Asia. Employers also recognise an increasing need for flexibility.

Asking people to return to the office full-time will pose an issue with retention. About a third (34%) of workers in Southeast Asia said they would look for a new job if forced back to the office full-time. The trend more more pronounced in employees over 50 and among women more than men, according to the Qualtrics 2022 Employee Experience Trends report.

"With almost consistent intention to stay through the pandemic, the talent reshuffle is a potential threat in 2022," the report noted, adding that respondents felt remote work improved their mental, physical and financial health.

While intent to stay is higher in Southeast Asia than the global average, in most countries there has been a drop in the number of employees planning to stay with their current employer this year. Findings show that while 7 in 10 employees in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines will stick with their job this year, just 53% will do so in Singapore.

The survey, based on interviews with 5,045 respondents in a range of industries in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, highlights how important flexible work will be in attracting and retaining talent.

One of the most pressing challenges for employers in a hybrid model is prioritising long-term employee wellbeing, and setting clear guidelines for ways of working. The scope of wellbeing has expanded beyond physical safety to encompass emotional, social, financial and community aspects, and of course career opportunity.

Despite Asean countries reporting some of the highest levels of wellbeing globally, there has been a drop in employee resilience over the last 12 months; Thailand was down 12%. This suggests current levels of wellbeing are not sustainable unless employers focus on improving resilience among their teams.

In light of the Great Resignation, it's no surprise that work-life balance matters to people. Employee turnover has become a hot topic worldwide and talent shortages are already apparent. Organisations have to work harder not only to retain valued employees but also to attract new talents.

In Singapore, for example, a 15-year high in talent shortages calls for a new approach. Talent retention through building a culture of inclusion, learning and development, and wellbeing initiatives will be particularly valuable tools for employers.

For employers wanting to increase retention in competitive job markets, creating a culture of belonging was identified as the top driver of intent to stay. Ensuring employees felt like their career goals could be met, prioritising wellbeing, and aligning individuals with the strategic goals of the company were also cited.

As well, investing in technological improvements yields great benefits. Employees who are equipped with effective technology report improved levels of engagement, are more productive at work and more likely to recommend their workplace to others.

Equally important is regularly listening, understanding and acting on employee feedback to ensure needs are being met. By better and more frequently understanding the complete employee experience -- from the technology used through to drivers of retention -- organisations can design new and improved offerings to meet changing expectations.

Addressing workplace challenges is no longer as simple as setting new work schedules as people have varied needs. The ability to quickly identify and respond to issues is crucial. Businesses across Southeast Asia must continue to adopt new mindsets, and refine their ways of working to successfully navigate the shift to hybrid, and effectively compete in the race for talent.

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