Hybrid working: Proactively preparing for the return to work
March 14 2021 - Once restrictions are lifted, any managing director or business owner expecting employees to return to the office and slip straight back into the standard nine to five routine is in for a major surprise. It just isn’t going to happen. The working world is facing a complete reset - and organisations need to get ready now.
Employees may have been instructed to Work from Home (WFH) during the pandemic but for many it has awakened them to a new process of working. Individuals can manage their time around other priorities and, with the right approach, productivity and wellbeing can benefit. Needless to say, WFH is not for everyone. Face to face interaction and the opportunity to collaborate and learn from colleagues remains essential.
But the future is clear: hybrid working is here to stay and the right hybrid working model will quickly become critical to attracting and retaining talent. Dan Harding, Chief Executive Officer, Sign In App insists that reimagining the office concept, creating flexible working guidelines and investing in the right technology can deliver a hybrid working model that works for everyone. But it will take some planning - and companies need to prepare now.
The coronavirus pandemic has altered working practices for good. Recent global research confirms that over 50% of staff will work eight or more days each month from home, meaning that 98% of meetings will now have at least one employee attending remotely.
Such research, however, does not disclose the nuance in the new hybrid working model. For every employee glad to avoid the daily commute and enjoying the lack of distraction that can hinder productivity in the office, there will be another eager to get away from the kitchen table and the frequent battles with teenagers over the limited broadband. Indeed, many will alternate between those emotions on a daily basis, which is why now, it is absolutely vital to have flexibility instilled.
Still, many organisations have not got a handle on employees’ new attitudes and expectations. One recent poll found as many as one in five people who could be working from home were not, with hundreds complaining they were under pressure from employers to attend the office even during lockdown. That hardly bodes well for post lockdown employee satisfaction. Furthermore, employees’ WFH experiences are not all positive. A Harvard study that analysed the emails and meetings of 3.1 million people found remote staff work almost an hour - 48.5 minutes - longer each day. And in many cases this is due to fear - fear that management expects people to be available even out of hours.
Such attitudes are not only completely inappropriate but thoroughly out of line with post-Covid thinking. This is not the way a company will create and support the successful hybrid workforce of the future.
A Hybrid Working Future
Nurturing a hybrid workforce requires a shift in management culture as well as employee behaviour - and one that will need trust on both sides. Policies combined with guidance will help to facilitate the transition - especially when it comes to building and maintaining relationships. Hybrid workers are still part of the company, part of a team - and creating culture remotely can be difficult. For new employees especially, getting to know colleagues via video calls will take longer than within a conventional office environment. From collaboration to mentoring and simply sharing experiences, face to face contact will always be part of the mix even if that is just a couple of days a month.
Organisations will need to think earnestly about how they are going to encourage employees back into the office, once they are permitted. Whether it is fear or just a love of WFH, some people will need motivating. This is where the office space needs to be reimagined to create a destination - an attractive touchdown space where employees are inspired to socialise as much as brainstorm and share ideas. Add in a simple app based way to book a desk or a meeting room, in line with Covid-19 capacity limits, and employees will be confident that the business is sticking to social distancing regulations.
Enabling Flexible Working
This is a once in a generation chance to establish a working culture that truly meets the needs of employees and employers alike. Forget the so-called flexible working policies of the past, where individuals were ‘permitted’ to work remotely one set day each week. This is about providing employees with the choice every day to work anywhere they want - the office, home or a local co-working space.
Furthermore, it is about realising that people can work differently from home - and empowering them to do so. Forget the nine to five; ditch the five days a week. If an employee likes to get started at 7am while the house is quiet, why can’t they finish work at 3pm? Or take two hours for lunch and a walk if that’s what makes them happy? Successful and productive hybrid working is about inspiring and allowing people to do the job - on any particular day, whenever and wherever works for them.
Time to adjust
Naturally, some business leaders will find it difficult to make this change; they will struggle against the need to trust employees to do the job without constant supervision. These individuals will have to change. Yes, flexible hours can throw up a few management challenges but nothing that’s impossible to overcome.
Apps that indicate when an employee is online, in a meeting, or at lunch, provide a straightforward way of keeping track of the hours worked - something that can also flag up if an individual is working too late or surpassing the expected hours. This information also means managers will be aware when someone is available for a call, for example, meaning they can avoid contact during downtime.
HR will need to create clear policies to help staff and managers during this transition. There will be greater responsibility on managers to consider staff wellbeing - although this is about taking time for regular team meetings in addition to one to one employee catch ups, rather than micro-managing and taking a big brother approach to keeping track of an employee’s every movement,
There are numerous organisations that are already ahead of the game. Over the past 12 months, companies have made vital investments in technology, such as video conferencing, digital assistants and cloud-based applications, necessary for successful remote working and the management of a hybrid workforce.
Adding to that investment with a proactive approach to developing a new business culture is the critical next step. A successful hybrid working model will allow employees to have the autonomy to work how and where they want - and to alter the approach as they wish. WFH in the summer, in the office in the winter; flexing hours around school holidays; or plainly returning to the office in search of company. With the right culture and the right technology, employees can be empowered to work wherever suits them best. And that makes them more productive and happier - greatly helping to support staff retention. Technology can also help businesses manage desk usage and use office space more effectively which may allow them to downsize to save costs in the long-term.
Hybrid working is the new reality - forget government announcements and back to work enticements. If companies are to nurture and retain top talent, they need to ensure that right now, they have the right plans, procedures and business culture in place.