Businesses to press on with hybrid working in 2023

Dr Pirata Phakdeesattayaphon, Consulting Partner at PwC Thailand
Dr Pirata Phakdeesattayaphon, Consulting Partner at PwC Thailand

Businesses are expected to continue with hybrid working in 2023 despite a push to get workers to return to the office. At the same time, the need for greater flexibility is leading companies to rely more on contingent workers, PwC says.  


While there’s no one-size answer to return-to-office planning, it’s crucial that businesses set a clear and transparent policy that balances employee benefits and organisational expectations. 


A recent report ‘CHROs balance return-to-office plans with workforce streamlining’ by PwC US revealed that 42% of business executives across industries expect their employees to work onsite for four or five days a week, whereas 19% expect them to work at the office one day a week or less. 


Dr Pirata Phakdeesattayaphon, Consulting Partner at PwC Thailand, believes that hybrid working is here to stay, but warned that return-to-office planning is a sensitive issue: 


“Businesses are likely to settle for a hybrid working model that combines onsite and remote working. Employers are making a push to increase onsite working as a means to foster meaningful workplace collaboration and to help workers feel part of the corporate culture. 


“But we have to understand that there’s no single right answer to return-to-office planning. It’s a sensitive matter that may go against what employees need and expect. Many employees need the flexibility that work-life integration brings. Working remotely allows workers to work efficiently while reducing the time, costs and stresses involved in their commute to work,” she said. 


Workforce streamlining to improve flexibility 


Dr Pirata also explained that Thai businesses are hiring contingent workers as they look to streamline their current workforce. Most contingent workers are hired directly on freelance contracts and specialists through third-party firms, but the push to streamline is also resulting in employers bringing in technology and automation to replace low-skilled workers.    


“Today, all occupations are affected by workforce streamlining because organisations want to increase their productivity and flexibility. Establishing a contingent workforce is one approach to workforce management that is gaining popularity and is likely to increase in the future,” she said.


The recent PwC Survey confirmed that businesses are taking action to streamline their workforces as they face risks from multiple fronts, including post-pandemic repercussions, and economic, social and geopolitical instability. 


With global volatility rising, businesses are looking for ways to increase operational efficiency and maintain business continuity. In the survey, 34% of HR leaders reported they had shifted the ratio of staff to contingent workers, while 26% planned to reduce the number of full-time employees in the next 12–18 months. 


Bring clarity and transparency to return-to-office planning


Dr Pirata said businesses must have a clear and transparent return-to-office policy to encourage employees who want flexibility to return to the office. The challenge for human resource leaders is to balance workforce requirements with employee expectations, including reducing bias towards employees who prefer working remotely.


This is despite 79% of human resource leaders in the PwC Pulse Survey believing that management favoured onsite working over remote employees.


For businesses that are considering their return-to-office planning, she advises that human resource leaders should focus on these four issues:


  1. Create joint measures by involving the team’s people manager and employees in setting onsite working schedules together and deciding which are suitable for remote working. This approach creates freedom and room for decision making as well as encouraging both parties to be involved in shaping the team’s policy.


  1. Organise a hybrid working model training course to eliminate biases and assess the impact of hybrid processes. The training should be extended to management level to train them how to bring out the full potential of their team members and set measures to regularly monitor performance.  


  1. Improve the performance management system (PMS) so that it focuses on delivering goals and outcomes rather than monitoring workplace attendance. Leadership must set clear goals and align work expectations with their team members.


  2. Put workplace flexibility at the core of business planning to encourage retention while supporting career growth for employees. It’s important that organisations foster a culture of flexibility that enables employees to connect their personal needs with the overall purpose of the organisation.