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Hybrid work mode a niche amid COVID

By ZHOU WENTING in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2021-10-14 07:38
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An employee of a high-tech firm displays a mobile platform, which enables users to remotely control work stations in the office, in Guangzhou, Guangdong province. [Photo/ CHINA NEWS SERVICE]

Trend of working from home bringing big shift to company-employee relations

Hybrid work, or working from home for one or two days a week, represents a big shift in a generation to how companies and employees move businesses forward, senior executives from several enterprises said.

The big shift to hybrid work initiated mainly after the COVID-19 pandemic required a new operating model that spans people, places and processes, said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a CEO panel held by United States-based professional networking site LinkedIn and the American Chamber of Commerce in late September.

Such a work model opens new opportunities for companies to hire talent remotely through the global talent pool and creates new ways of working, leadership and productivity measurement, the senior executives said.

In China, such a work model may help bridge the gap across regions as digital talent in the local market are distributed "quite unevenly", said Chen Yubo, senior associate dean of Tsinghua University's School of Economics and Management.

"The so-called traditional and less-developed big cities, such as Chengdu, Wuhan, Xi'an, and Chongqing, can become ideal destinations for digital talent in the hybrid work era. These cities will reacquire some of the digital talent previously flocking to major cities like Shanghai and Beijing," Chen said.

Hybrid work provides other apparent benefits both environmentally and personally to employers and employees, including by helping to reduce time and energy on commuting, lowering operational costs and addressing the issue of health and well-being at work, said Wendy Purcell, a research scholar at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Their opinions echoed LinkedIn's 2021 Future Recruitment Trends Report, which said that mixed working models combining working from home and going to the office have become common.

The report based on surveying human resource professionals in China and the Asia-Pacific from July to December last year showed that 45 percent of Chinese enterprises were open to work from home option, higher than the 41 percent average in the Asia-Pacific region.

As much as 57 percent of Chinese workers who experienced non-traditional working models since the pandemic, including work from home, said they preferred the hybrid work model.

In the Asia-Pacific, employees believe going to the office for three days and working from home on the other two working days is optimal.

Online travel services provider Group CEO Jane Sun's team began a trial in which different departments are tested for productivity on certain dates of the week. As long as productivity and innovation is not negatively impacted, Sun wants her employees to feel as comfortable, positive and engaged as possible while saving two hours of commuting time each day.

However, the report pointed out that more than half of workers were concerned they may miss the fun of working together at the office.

It also showed that more than two-thirds of employees believed that working in an office has a positive correlation with winning the favor of management. Many were concerned that remote work may negatively impact career development.

Some experts pointed out that by working from home, an employee's immediacy of responding to online communication may often affect how he or she can win the trust of superiors and influence their performance evaluations. Digitalization, which remote working heavily relies on, may put more stress on employees.

Microsoft 365 statistics between February 2020 and January 2021 showed that users sent 42 percent more content through online chat compared with the same period a year ago.

Liu Wentian, a human resources worker from the Shanghai office of a multinational accounting firm, which applied work from home across all departments during the pandemic's peak last year, said more efficient communication tools shall be provided for the hybrid work model.

"Otherwise, when colleagues cannot sit down together in an office, we spend much time communicating back and forth," Liu said.

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