Post-lockdown, the new buzzword that has managers debating working style policies is 'Hybrid Working'. But what does it really entail? Is it really suitable for your workplace, and more importantly, your employees?
What is 'hybrid working'?
Hybrid working is a relatively new term, coined to demonstrate different ways of working combined, including:
Working in the office
Remote working options
Working from home
It's been born out of companies adjusting to the Covid pandemic and the necessity under government guidelines for business to pivot to digital working and working from home under lockdowns rules. Now as restrictions lift, companies are considering what it means to head back to the office and whether we really want to.
According to the ONS, prior to the pandemic around only 5% of UK employees worked from home and a recent report from the CIPD showed that pre-pandemic, 65% of employers did not offer remote working options at all. The report also shows that now 40% of employers expect more than half of their workforce to work regularly from home in the future.
Do you employees want hybrid working?
The short answer is YES! Positive employee experiences are essential to productivity, reducing staff turnover, diversity and culture. According to Microsoft’s 2021 report, 73% of employees wanted flexible, remote work options, post-lockdown.
If you CAN offer options for hybrid working to your employees, whilst maintaining business goals, why wouldn't you? If you're in doubt about its need, conduct an employee survey and ask what options your employees would like.
The pandemic has created new employee expectations. It's not just about flexible working anymore, it's about individuals managing their own safety and working in a way that they feel secure and comfortable, and that also respects each others boundaries. If you have a mix of employees that have different health situations, you can't force them to conform to one set scenario. It just won't work. You should care enough about employees wellbeing to invest in hybrid working options and the associated tech to support it.
Hybrid working also helps to create better work/life balance for employees who may be suffering from health complications, are working parents or carers, and people with other stressful responsibilities outside of work.
What are the challenges of hybrid working?
Dependant on the type of work you do and how large your teams are, there will be some challenges to offering hybrid working. Here's a few things you need to consider:
Some of your roles may not be suitable for remote or hybrid working
Keeping track of everyone - who is working from where and when
Effective management - monitoring productivity, meeting deadlines
Communication - meetings, group chats, keeping in touch, performance reviews
Training & Development - better online or in-person?
Wellbeing - isolation, new employee onboarding, socialising
Tech - resources, hardware, connectivity, costs
How will hybrid working benefit your business?
One way hybrid working may benefit you as a leader is in a reduction of office space, work space rental and facilities costs. With a reduction of people in the office, you could reduce the office size, moving savings to other areas of your business.
Hybrid working can also hinder the spread of illnesses, (not just limited to Covid), and mean you have a fully functioning and healthy team. Employees suffering from a bad cold may feel well enough to work but don't want to pass germs onto their co-workers, so working from home is a great option.
However, the main benefit of introducing hybrid working is a big one. Employee happiness! We all know that happy employees are substantially more productive, making your business more profitable. Flexibility for working styles and personal needs create better work/life balance. This in-turn creates a positive working environment, stronger collaboration, employee loyalty and a reduction in staff turnover.
How do you implement hybrid working?
1. Policies - Ask yourself whether your policies are long, or short term? Talk with all managers about what will work for their team. Will you still be able to meet customer expectations and continue performing at an optimum level?
When implementing hybrid working, it's important to outline very clear policies. Detail the working options available, specify what they mean and what they entail. Also outline what is expected from your employees and what happens if those expectations are not met. You can also offer one to one conversations for special cases. Some roles may not qualify for hybrid or remote working, so it is best to discuss this with anyone affected individually.
Once you have a policy outline in place, look at how achievable those policies are utilising your current resources. Are there any obvious holes in your plans? Do you need anything new and what are the costs involved? Ask for feedback from your employees on what they need for working outside of the office.
Give careful consideration to the contractual implications of hybrid working, as implementing a new policy can sometimes amount to a formal change to terms and conditions of employment. It is best to run your draft policy past a legal advisor. If you are welcoming people back into the office, make sure you stay up-to-date and comply with Government guidelines and conduct a health and safety risk assessment.
2. Technology - Many stumbling blocks regarding hybrid working can be overcome by utilising technology. For example - using Zoom and Microsoft Teams, creating an intranet, updating employee communications or incentives, and managing projects in platforms such as Slack and Basecamp. Also think about new employees and how they will be onboarded. How can you make new recruits feel welcomed but also supported if they are not in an office? Make a list of your current tech and tech support, then review and source any new platforms you need.
3. Hardware - It's important you keep on top of your hardware such as laptops, monitors, hard drives etc. Are they all fit for purpose? How will they be assigned and monitored? How often do they need to be checked and updated? Do you have a support company or IT dept. that will be able to manage this?
4. Performance - With employees being in and out of the office, or working remotely for long periods, performance may be harder to observe and monitor. You may need to shift how you perceive good performance. For example: from employees being at their desk whenever you call, to instead looking at actual outcomes of work and meeting deadlines. Performance reviews and meetings should wherever possible be in person to maintain relationships.
5. Wellbeing - What are the wellbeing implications for your new policies? Managers should receive training in understanding and spotting potential signs of poor wellbeing and mental health symptoms. Ongoing mental health support and information should be readily available and regularly promoted to all employees.
Respect boundaries going forward. Just because someone is now working from home and has the tech to be available at anytime, it does not mean they are now contactable 24/7. Work hours should remain fixed and non urgent contact kept to a minimum outside of those hours.
Fairness & inclusivity is also an area of wellbeing to bear in mind. During the pandemic there was a disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities and also with women being much more likely to be both furloughed and undertake childcare responsibilities. Identify areas where inequalities may have developed, or could develop in the future and set out plans to address these. You should also do your best to ensure equality of experience between employees in the office and employees at home and have plans to address any potential conflict.
In a few years 'Hybrid Working' could be standard for most companies. Data from OpenSensors shows that 9 out of 10 UK workers want the option to work remotely once offices reopen. Early adopters and tech giants such as Twitter, Facebook and Google, are already offering a variety of hybrid working options.
Whilst the future remains unclear, having a choice of flexible options for hybrid working could mean the difference between success and failure for your business. We've seen throughout the pandemic, that companies who embrace hybrid or remote working, digital technology resources and ecommerce, can not only survive but actually thrive!
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