Anyone working in HR right now is having conversations about hybrid working. As we consider a safe return to office life, there’s growing interest in combining our working lives with some elements of remote work.
For those working in people management, this presents some challenges and opportunities as well as.
Consider this a once-in-a-generation chance to change the way we work in a profound way.
Let’s discover some of the considerations but before that, let’s define what we mean by the term hybrid working.
What is hybrid working?
This is the term used for when the whole company – or team of employees – sometimes work together on-site and at other times, work remotely. Also known as “blended working”, hybrid working is a form of flexible work.
Pre-pandemic, hybrid working was traditionally seen as a way of retaining talent but usually for the few rather than the majority. Informal arrangements tended to evolve in order to retain an individual member of staff.
Hybrid working is here to stay
In spite of recent headlines proclaiming businesses want and need people to come back to the office, there are many high profile brands (like UBS, for example) that are embracing hybrid working as it’s seen as a way of accessing top-quality talent.
According to CIPD research, as the pandemic subsides many workers will want to be based at home, at least for part of the working week. Here lies the opportunity to formalise an approach that delivers on employee engagement and productivity.
Hybrid working is not the same as last year’s work patterns
Huge parts of the global workforce transformed their work practices almost overnight when stay-at-home orders were given out. Business observers were quick to point out the benefits in productivity and the seamless transition to remote working. But not everyone felt this way as it emerged how some workers felt marginalised as a result.
The challenge facing HR leaders is how to ensure hybrid work harnesses the positive benefits of both remote and co-located working patterns.
This means combining the productivity, autonomy, work-life balance and wider access to talent offered by remote work with the proven track record of good communication, collaboration and sociability afforded by teams working in the same physical location.
There’s another important factor to consider too – that of fairness and equality. Whatever the hybrid working approach, it needs to be inclusive, open and transparent.
Your employees’ expectations and experiences have changed forever, and this must be at the forefront of leaders’ minds. Some of them will be anxious about a return to office life as they knew it before.
Having a go at hybrid?
This is what you need to think about:
Hybrid working needs to be a tailored approach
There is no single template for successful hybrid working. Leaders and managers need to decide what’s best for their business. There will be different appetites for hybrid working across your organisation and if you have a long-standing non-flexible culture, then it’s going to be tough to change.
The banking world is a good example of how different approaches are working. US banks like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs are looking for a full return to office as opposed to the flexible approach adopted by European banks like UBS. Conversely, various digital businesses are taking a totally different step. In February, Spotify unrolled My Work Mode allowing every employee the chance to choose how they wanted to work, be it at home, in the office, or a combination of the two.
Decision-makers need to get together to shape the strategic approach for the organisation. Striking a balance between employee needs with business objectives. This process needs owning, by leadership and middle managers. They are the ones implementing the model on a more granular level and without their by-in you could end up with a policy in name only. Spend time with your management team thinking how hybrid working will benefit your business. Use the lessons from 2020 to inform how the work and teams are structured going forward and be prepared to review.
Consult your employees – it’s an iterative process for many businesses
Employees have adapted to new ways of working but large numbers were also affected by fatigue, issues around mental health, and difficulties disconnecting in the wake of the pandemic. Therefore, they will be expecting employers to offer changes to the way they work going forward.
As an HR professional, you are likely to be navigating a tricky path. You need to balance the business needs in the service of its customers with that of your employees.
Consider how the business will be conveying those changes to work-life and be ready to offer forums to consult with employees right from the off so that they have a say on how changes will affect them.
It’s likely to be an iterative process for many companies to define what hybrid looks like for its teams. Some of these decisions taken won’t be easy ones to make. For example, how will employees feel about reducing their London weighting if they are no longer having to commute?
Leaders need to model whatever strategy evolves
If you’re adopting a hybrid working model, then your leaders need to model this too. You won’t have a truly hybrid business if your leaders are never in the office. Neither will you if you reward people simply because they are in the office more frequently.
Leaders need to find tangible ways to demonstrate this. At the Post Office, car parks reflected a shift in emphasis. Senior leaders’ car spaces are furthest from the building. Call handlers’ spaces are closest because of their mission-critical work.
An important consideration is the additional work planning required to co-ordinate in-office work in order to facilitate collaboration between people working in different patterns. If there aren’t enough people in the office at any one time, for instance, then serendipitous interactions will not happen. If you’re a multinational, then managers need permission at a local level to work it out because each country is still at different stages of handling the effects of the pandemic.
Pay particular attention to your middle managers
In her book Working From Home: Making the New Normal Work For You, author Karen Mangia writes: “The real crux of the work-from-home culture falls on the shoulders of those who are caught in the middle – those who are asked to monitor and supervise a workforce they can’t see, while managing up to a leadership team.”
“The centre is where your organisation needs to focus, if you want to develop a sustainable culture of engagement, high performance and trust.”
Middle managers are balancing their own workload and wellbeing and supporting team members to do the same. They need training and support to communicate effectively, set expectations and build trust, to manage both up and down, and be inclusive. Managers need to keep themselves and their teams happy, safe and productive, recognising the signs of burnout, in a hybrid environment.
A fundamental shift for managers is around performance management. They need support to help them focus on their teams’ outputs rather than how and where the work is done.
Training is essential
The hybrid model is a step away from the old ways of working. You cannot expect your teams to easily slide into their new roles overnight. From delivering an online presentation to managing work-life boundaries, training can help employees maximise their productivity, improve collaboration and communication and maintain a healthy work-life balance in a hybrid environment. At BiteSize Learning, we’ve developed a suite of training modules to specifically address the opportunities and challenges presented by hybrid working.
They range from a facilitated workshop covering a strategic approach to hybrid working to supporting individuals to work effectively in a hybrid model . We have other courses tailored to middle managers and individuals on subjects such as managing effective hybrid meetings to managing for mental health.
Clearly there is scope for businesses to evolve new practices at work. Let’s seize the opportunity together. For more information and to talk through how we can offer support, please contact Abby Hodder.