For decades, organisations and their managers have dictated where work takes place, but thanks in no small part to the fact that the virus proved that productive work was possible outside an office, employees are now in a position to demand a greater say on their place of work.
There are some organisations that embraced this flexibility early in the pandemic and are already reaping the benefits of being able to draw from a global pool of people. And there are some who are pushing back on it and find themselves in the position where they are now nervous about the decisions they make and the communications they release.
Or else, they’re being completely bullish about the viability of the current working conditions and insisting that it doesn’t work in an attempt to convince people that the world of work hasn’t, in fact, changed at all! Goldman Sachs boss David Solomon is one such person. In March 2021, he called remote working ‘an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible’.
Many senior managers feel likewise as it’s not the kind of environment that they have grown up in. For these people the office is a place that you go to, to get work done. The reality is, however, that it’s just one place where work happens. Not the only place.
In making the shift to hybrid working, organisations need to realise that it’s not simply a matter of updating a policy or changing the name of their existing flexible working policy. It’s much more than that and, should they get it wrong, they are likely to lose the kind of talent that they’re looking to retain or, worse, create a legal minefield and become a case-study in ‘what not to do’.
There are six things that organisations need to both consider and then create action plans around, for hybrid working to be successful:
1- Culture — The organisations that thrived during the pandemic were the ones who recognised that the way work gets done has changed significantly and as a result the micro-experiences between staff would have to change too. They focused not only on the wellbeing of staff, but also the interactions between them. They recognised the fear and anxiety that people felt and created a space where it was OK to both talk about this and strive to bring their most productive self to their work.
In short, at the start of the pandemic they focused less on the tactical mechanics of work and took a proactive approach to building emotional connections between people and to redefine the culture they needed to be successful. These organisations didn’t remove discretionary spending on people and culture development, they increased it!
2- Eligibility — Organisations need to be crystal clear about which roles have flexibility when it comes to location and which don’t. This is the crucial difference between hybrid and flexible working. A flexible working policy may allow a pilot to change shifts/routes to attend a doctor’s appointment, but obviously she can only fly the plane from the cockpit!
There are therefore two elements required to provide employees with clarity. One that outlines the ‘rules’ around flexibility and one that outlines the ‘conditions’ for hybrid working. Flexibility should be available to everyone, but not everyone will be eligible for hybrid working.
3- Management — As I discussed in a recent blog, for hybrid working to function effectively managers will need an improved skill set, especially given that in a recent survey only 20% of them felt up to the job of leading a team when people weren’t in the same space.
Managers will need to build strong relationships with their people so that empathy and compassion are prevalent when discussing working arrangements. They need to be master communicators, so that messages are clear and understood by all. And they need to be able to set expectations well (around outputs or outcomes, not working hours), to provide staff with the best chance of delivery. Organisations have a responsibility to ensure that all of their managers have the skills to be able to excel in a hybrid working environment.
4- Workspace — For most organisations, hybrid working means ‘workspace’. However, ‘work’ is not a physical space, it’s what you’re able to achieve. Either as an individual or as team. You don’t go to work, you do it.
When it comes to working spaces, organisations need to not only rethink the way that their offices are laid out, but they also need to help their employees set themselves up for success at home or else in a co-working space. For work to be done effectively multiple workspaces are required, it’s not simply a choice between office and home.
5- Technology — Most IT managers will tell you that it’s been possible to use technology to support hybrid working for years and they’re right. What got in the way of hybrid working for so long was not technology, it was human behaviour.
Similarly, what determines whether technology enhances productivity, collaboration and the quality of working lives, is also human behaviour. So it’s not enough to have a suite of tools that support collaboration, everyone needs to know how and when to use them and how to keep information secure in the process.
Also, setting oneself up to work from home can be an expensive business, so organisations need to be clear on how hybrid roles will be remunerated and whether any expenses will be provided to help people create a home environment that generates productive work. Staff will also want to understand what their development pathway looks like when they’re not visible in an office every day.
The move to hybrid ways of working is long overdue and organisations who work in areas where talent pools are limited, need to move quickly to ensure that they’re considered an employer of choice. However, it’s not an approach to rush into. All of the above need to be considered and action taken to ensure that hybrid working is as productive as it can be.
My new ebook ‘The Hybrid Handbook’ will be released free to all Culture Maker Community members w/c 19th July. Members will also have priority access to a limited print run.
The book will be released free as a .pdf to all Pocket Square subscribers the following week. If you know someone who would like to receive a copy, ask them to sign up at this link.