Thinking about the new normal: hybrid working

about 1 month ago Sarah House-Barklie

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​As I ‘leave’ an online meeting with my team to discuss how we continue to develop and support our people, my mind casts back to 13 months ago. The point in history where our government imposed the first lockdown in the UK, and organisations were forced to shut their doors and physically say goodbye to their colleagues for an unspecified and unknown period. Daunting and worrying for all, globally.

At that time organisations, who historically felt that working from home was in fact ‘skiving,’ and were reluctant to consider any form of flexible working, were suddenly forced to embrace full on home working, ‘The New Normal’ (probably the most overused term of 2020), has meant that since then, we have all had to evolve to work with the lockdown arrangement in some form or other.

Now, with the speed and success of the vaccine rollout, coupled with the longer and slightly sunnier days, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel and offices are once again starting to open their doors to employees. Us included. One thing is certain about ‘returning to the office,’ and that is ‘The New Normal’ does not mean everyone will be back in the office, and nor does it mean working from home full time.

For many companies, this forced arrangement over the last year has enabled them to recognise the benefits in terms of work-life balance for their employees AND an increase in their overall productivity (so not skiving!) as well as a reduction in the cost of office space. Academics and leaders alike are also recognising that the office space is actually a good place to build relationships, network and collaborate, leaving other productive, individualised activities to be carried out remotely.

We’ve certainly been able to show that our people can be engaged and productive with remote working. We continued to be profitable last year, further increased our company employee engagement score, and last month saw us have our most successful month EVER as a business. A fantastic achievement and testament to how resilient and passionate our people are.

All this evidence combined with studies such as one published by the Future Forum, suggesting that as little as 12% of workers want to go back to working in the office full-time after lockdown, certainly does question what the new normal should in fact be.

So what is everyone talking about now as being The New Normal?

HYBRID WORKING!

A bit of working remotely and a bit of working from the office. This seems to be the most likely win-win model for all, allowing everyone to embrace the best of both the pre and post pandemic worlds.

Sounds perfect. BUT it’s clear that this model throws up more challenges than an all or nothing model. My team and I have entered a rabbit hole recently trying to capture all the nuances that a hybrid working approach may bring. We know that how things worked before won’t all fit this new arrangement.

Let me share some of the key things we are considering at this time as we move to a hybrid working model:

  1. Wellbeing: Although working from home is more productive, there’s growing evidence that it’s also more intense. We have a responsibility to support this and ensure we have good mechanisms in place for work-home boundary management, ensuring our managers are able to quickly recognise the individual signs of pressure.

  2. Flexibility: There also seems to be a divide between some employees wanting to work from home permanently, and others preferring to balance out being in the office for some of the week and at home for the remainder. We need to provide an opportunity for individualised consideration.

  3. Culture: We need to consider how we maintain the camaraderie we have now that is heavily influenced by face to face interaction – how do we keep up the jokes, stories and grumbles round the water cooler?

  4. Leadership: Ensuring that the leadership team is totally aligned to avoid sending mixed messages and identify who owns the decisions around how people can work

  5. Managers and co-workers: Remove any lingering remote working biases in terms of career development and progression

  6. Development: Developing people in a hybrid world is an interesting one. People learn through a number of different means, nothing new there. It’s generally accepted that most learning is done ‘on the job’, and much of that can be learning from others around you, both manager and colleagues. This may mean that employees will need to be taught to be more self-aware as to their development needs and how and who to meet up with in person when in the office. It may also mean that managers and team members need to be very aware of others around them and when they might be needed to go into the office to help support and develop the team around them, for the greater good. Balancing one’s own wants versus helping others.

  7. Role types: There’s a need to consider what roles can be carried out remotely, or as a hybrid arrangement, and which must be in the office...as well as how these decisions can be perceived as fair.

  8. Infrastructure: What needs to change to support our people in the best way and how are our processes or policies impacted?

  9. Benefits: We may need to review our offering to ensure it reflects a different world of work. We have, amongst other things, a cycle scheme in place, but we may need to expand to consider more home based benefits such as loans for gym equipment or nationwide employee discounts.

  10. People managers at all levels: To get this right in practice, as with many things, a huge amount hinges on how well managers are prepared and supported to implement new ways of working; skillsets will need to shift to embrace this blend and to keep their teams performing from any location:

  • Motivation – how do they continue to create a shared purpose and a sense of belonging, setting clear and stretching individual goals around this?

  • Co-creating a new hybrid team agreement – re-establishing boundaries and expectations for all, wherever the team is working.

  • Communication – needs to be regular, well considered and executed, ensuring that everyone is kept front of mind.

  • Time management – planning and coordinating the ‘in office’ versus ‘at home’ plan, and making it work for all.

  • Internal relationship building and engagement – explicitly valuing this with teams wherever individuals are.

  • Wellbeing – more of a focus on recognising signs of pressure.

  • Equal career development – ensuring that hybrid working doesn’t place an assumed limit on an individual’s career ambitions.

  • 1:1 conversations – helping individuals to understand how and where they are at their most productive and which tasks are best achieved in which environment.

  • Using data – being clear on what productivity means for all, whilst resisting the urge to assert too much control over those working remotely.

Each of these points is a minefield, and I’m sure there’s more I haven’t covered here. It’s a learning path that we’re all on and one we will happily share with you over the coming months.

We welcome any thoughts from you on productivity and engagement with remote working and how you are embracing your ‘coming out of lockdown’ journey.