At the moment all the talk coming out of lockdown is around hybrid working. It seems to offer the win:win of more flexibility, greater productivity, greater employee choice, reduced travel time and costs, and reduced office space. Here are some thoughts about what you need to consider.
What is your purpose?
One of the notable changes in 2020 was the number of people who took time out to question what they were doing and what it was that fulfilled them. Some, like frontline and key workers, who are often lowly paid, may not have had the luxury to take the time to reflect. They have, however, been wondering at the difference between their pay and their importance to the ongoing running of our society.
As the pandemic recedes, or even if it doesn’t, these questions will more frequently come to the forefront for people, especially for those workers who have choices about who they work for and what they do. To keep your organisation together while some people are in the office and others are working from home your purpose needs to be clear. Does your organisation have a clear purpose and does that feel worthwhile; and will it allow people to make great decisions when they are working in different locations?
What do you mean?
When you talk about hybrid working what exactly are you talking about? For some it just means being in the office some days and working from home others. For others it means a combination of home and workplace activity AND flexing actual hours of work. Think it through – what do you really need to happen and what will deliver your purpose and what will get in the way?
Much still remains uncertain. Will another lockdown happen? How is the market responding? What does really good Hybrid working look like for us? And the answer to this latter is – find out. Don’t be too quick to set your policies in stone, or tell colleagues what can and can’t be done. Set some boundaries, some key principles – we need staff in the office every day, or we have core hours where everyone has to be available; or we will have face-to-face meetings on a Monday afternoon.
And then try them out – and if they don’t work – change them. Experimentation is key. This is crucial for two reasons. First is you don’t know the right answer. Second, it increases the engagement and productivity of your colleagues.
In a recent McKinsey survey two of the top hopes and fears of staff were the same – whether they were returning to work, working in a hybrid fashion, or continuing to work from home – work/life balance and wellbeing. The evidence from lockdown is very clear – paying attention to the wellbeing of staff and how they are managing their work drives increased levels of engagement and productivity. Many people relish the sovereignty hybrid working promises – the freedom, choice and control they are given over their lives.
On the flip side lockdown also saw an increase in burnouts as people found it much harder to switch off and step away from work without that physical transition of the journey back home. Something seen in the Vitality healthy hybrid research. This long-term study across the pandemic highlighted that certain groups: female carers, young colleagues and BAME colleagues were more adversely impacted by working from home. Ensure that whatever hybrid working ends up looking like for you – you pay attention to the challenges working from home creates for these groups.
Are your arrangements fair? Some people may not have an option about where they work and may resent the fact that their colleagues can. Some may make considerable savings by travelling less, again potentially stoking resentment. Others will have to convert rooms at home to work, or need new furniture, or may not have a good space to work at home. Be open and engage with colleagues about these issues. You won’t be able to satisfy everyone, but you do need to hear what is being said and consider it in designing your hybrid way of working.
At the end of the day, however, we are all human and every human has some degree of need to feel that they belong. The reality is that some industries and organisations have been hybrid working for a number of years already, and research exists to show how people feel when they work remotely. Key among the findings is the sense of being left out, if you are the one who is working away, and others are in the office. Or feeling the lack of the camaraderie that comes with being a part of a close-knit team, if you are all working variable hybrid hours. Needless to say, that need for belonging and how it is achieved varies from person to person. So how are you going to ensure that you build strong teams and that the teams fit together well. One feature of working from home – when everyone is working remotely – is that strong teams can be built, but they tend not to connect so well with the rest of the organisation. Is there a risk that this will happen when you ‘hybridise’?
The other big challenge when you have team members working in different places potentially at different times is how do you enable collaborative working. And this is where technology really can play an important role. What is your technological infrastructure, and does it support the ways of working you are hoping to move to? And crucially does everyone know how to use it? While it’s great to allow teams to experiment with new technologies, you do need some core infrastructure that is shared across all your organisation so that everyone can communicate and work effectively with each other.
The reality is some forms of hybrid working have been around for a while and it is only fear or a lack of trust that have prevented the benefits from being more widely realised. Trusting your colleagues and investing in building the cultures, systems and processes that will create a sense of belonging aligned around your purpose, will enable you and your colleagues to be successful, agile and happy.