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Refining the art of hybrid working in six steps

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There will undoubtedly be bumps along the road as organisations transition to a hybrid working model – including logistical hiccups, cultural changes and employee anxiety. How can HR make the move to a more autonomous and flexible workplace a smoother process?

11th Jun 2021
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As lockdown restrictions begin to ease, organisations everywhere are having to make new decisions that will impact the day-to-day lives of their employees in relation to working practices and locations. Many companies have already said they expect to have a mixture of staff in the office and at home and to offer some level of flexible working, while others are piloting different working styles.

Whichever pathway a company decides to take, it’s highly likely that many of us will adopt some kind of hybrid approach for the long term. This is an obvious change from the pre-Covid model but is equally different to the complete remote approach we have experienced during the pandemic.

Now, what we have to remember is that simply ‘returning to the office’ and transitioning into a hybrid form of working are two completely different things. There are complications and practical aspects to a hybrid workforce that we may not be familiar with. 

Six steps to a successful hybrid workplace

This is obviously a hot topic on all business agendas, but it’s really come to my attention as I've been working with a number of clients recently who are looking to do things a little differently once offices reopen. One in particular has been really courageous, as they’re looking at this change from the individual’s point of view. They’ve gone out on a limb, giving everyone their own choice on how they want to operate within the ‘new normal’. Equally, I know others who are completely set on returning to the office and going back to business as usual. I’ll let you guess whose staff are the most enthusiastic and engaged about the future. 

Hybrid working patterns still need to be win-win.

If you’re looking to embrace this opportunity and give your employees a choice rather than just reverting back to pre-pandemic conditions, it is worth thinking about the fact that this is still a significant cultural change as people have to either adjust to office working once again or deal with a true hybrid set up. Here are six steps that can help you on the way.

1. Consult your employees and agree on what the future will look like

Employers have a responsibility for addressing any anxieties that people may have about returning to the office, even on a part-time basis. Understandably, many will be anxious about the return. Inviting views and listening to staff helps us to work together to address any challenges up front. Mental health and wellbeing are at the top of the agenda, so it is important to be aware of what employees are experiencing so we can offer support proactively. 

2. Challenge managers to overcome their own biases to consider individual needs and preferences 

Our ability to work at peak performance and productivity varies dramatically according to our personal preferences. Just because it suits us to have everyone in an office on a Monday morning for team meetings or training may not suit others and we all have biases about work styles and preferences. One person's idea of flexibility may be very different from others and line managers can have a tendency to impose their own preferences unwittingly. 

3. Highlight interdependencies with your employees to help them appreciate the bigger picture

Hybrid working patterns still need to be win-win. They need to enable the business to perform as well as support individual choice. Ensuring that people understand the impact of their working preferences and their responsibilities around availability and information sharing allows them to be treated like adults, and enables them to make responsible choices in everyone’s interests.

4. Explore the logistical challenges of a hybrid model

For example, what would happen if everyone said they want to work flexibly? What would happen if everybody went into the office at once, or nobody at all? A lot of the challenges are unlikely to be solved immediately, and many will not appear until a hybrid model is fully in practice. Nevertheless, it's important to start talking about aspects of it that are not working as early as possible, and how best to solve this.

5. Result-based accountability

We know that this is the best way to manage performance, however many managers are still drawn to the management of process or inputs, which encourages presenteeism rather than productivity. Encourage everyone to be held accountable against their outputs which provides more freedom and empowerment than monitoring days and hours.

6. Emphasise the journey and pilot new approaches

It’s clear that many employees still see the need for having the office as a ‘hub’ that keeps us connected through work, but a lot of the need to be in the office can be centred around presenteeism. A hybrid workplace could eliminate those stereotypes by trialing new ways of working, that instead focus more on output, delivery and value.

We are accustomed to working all under one roof at the same time – we’ve been doing this for decades. Arguably, due to the implications of the pandemic, we are also now well-equipped at collaborating together, from our separate home offices. What we have not had the opportunity to truly master, is refining the art of both, and making this sustainable. By following these steps, perhaps we’ll begin to see a brighter, more autonomous and flexible future for our workplace.

Interested in this topic? Read How can hybrid working work well?

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