Two years ago, if you had told any large organisation that 40% of their staff should work from home, they would have said it would take at least two years to put into practice. It turns out it can be done over a weekend. With people all over the world returning to the physical workplace, many are demanding a more hybrid working model – a blend of working at the office and working from home. They no longer want the long commute, the time wasted sitting in traffic. Despite logistical difficulties, many have enjoyed the improved work life balance and are reluctant to give it up. Around the world, the offer of working in prestigious offices in city centres is no longer the attraction it once was. So how do companies move forward from here? If hybrid working is to be successful, we cannot continue with our emergency working methods.
Why have we not had hybrid working before?
The number one obstacle to remote working has always been a lack of trust on the part of managers. They want their people where they can see them to know that they are working hard. However, what the pandemic has proved is that our people are flexible, trustworthy and, above all, productive when they work remotely. They also dislike being micro-managed. As managers, we need to give them the freedom to flourish. What came about due to a global emergency has become a sustainable, long-term way of working.
Adopting a hybrid or agile working model will not just happen on its own. The pandemic has shown that there is a danger of teams working in isolation, looking only at their own part of the business without thinking of the organisation as a whole. It is important to find ways of joining up these separate silos so that everyone is pointing in the same direction. Organisations will need to evolve, identifying the things that have worked and finding a way of hybrid working that suits the majority. They should then formalise the changes, creating robust hybrid policies, principles and processes. Most importantly, they must communicate these clearly to every staff member, remote or not, in order to embed a change of attitudes and real behavioural transformation.
Bringing hybrid working teams back together
Many large organisations will have had a mix of staff who had to work from home, some who had to stay and work on site, some who did both and, maybe, a group who were furloughed. Each of these groups may well feel that they were hard done by, leading to tension within the workforce. Some repair will be needed, getting people together to explain their experiences, feelings and challenges they had to overcome. Everyone needs to feel part of the family again.
How can we make hybrid working a success?
A new set of rules
As we said earlier, your emergency working-from-home strategy will not work for a hybrid workforce long term. Any organisation committed to hybrid working needs to refine, stabilise and formalise its strategy. Take the time to consult with your employees to find out what worked really well for them, and what difficulties they experienced. Set new norms and processes based on this feedback. What is expected, how and when work should be done, when it will be due. Be transparent and have tools in place to track progress. Clarify how to communicate and collaborate, making use of platforms such as Slack so that every worker can be kept in the loop.
Managers are the lynchpin
Managers are the critical link between the organisation and its employees. As such, they must be at the forefront of any change towards hybrid working. They need to be equipped with the skills and support to effect such a change. As well as developing new strategies, processes and methods of communication, they need to get to know the individuals in their teams, understand their experiences and empathise with them. One of the real positives to have come out of remote working has been the humanisation of leadership. It has become OK not to be perfect. Online meetings have introduced workers to their managers in real life, kids and cats included. Managing a team of hybrid workers may mean adjusting your leadership style – the way you present, run a meeting or build your team. Soft skills will be increasingly important.
To create and maintain a cohesive hybrid workforce, managers should consider cutting down on large meetings, using tools to encourage collaboration and brainstorming. More 1-2-1 get togethers or small meetings are likely to produce better results.
One thing that has shown up during the pandemic has been how easy it is to lose track of what others in your team are doing. We all need to find ways to brainstorm, share knowledge and document decisions and actions across teams and the organisation. The channels you use must be accessible to all, simple to understand and update, and in multiple formats. This doesn’t mean long, confusing threads of communication. It can be as simple as someone taking minutes and recording them in Slack.
Different channels for different messages
You will have to use multiple communication methods and platforms to communicate all the various messages to different parts of the organisation, both on-site and remote. This will include video calls, messaging apps, collaboration tools and good, old-fashioned face-to-face chats. A poorly-planned comms strategy can have a massive negative effect, something we often talk about is ‘How effective are your communications channels?’.
A sense of belonging
We know that a sense of belonging is important to drive employee engagement. Hybrid working can pose many challenges to creating an inclusive experience, and one that is the same for all. Remote workers can feel isolated, especially if half the team is together on-site without them. Facial expressions and body language are difficult to read on a video call, putting remote workers at a disadvantage. They often feel as if they are on the outside looking in. Some companies now insist that everyone dials in separately so that they all have an equal experience.
In order to maintain a sense of belonging, the majority of businesses will be looking to introduce a hybrid working model, not an entirely remote one. It is felt by many that some time in the office – maybe 2-3 days a week – is beneficial, providing that all-important human interface and sense of community. Organisations are introducing initiatives such as ‘Company Days’ or ‘Wellbeing Wednesdays’, where everyone comes in on one set day of the week or month, there are no meetings, and the time is used to get together and catch up.
It has long been believed that if you don’t come into the physical workplace, you will not have the same opportunities or career prospects as someone who does. Tasks are given to the people who are on-site and visible and these are the people who are promoted because they are in managers’ minds. With a hybrid working system, where some employees might be in full-time while others are working between office and home, the challenge is to consider every person individually and equally. The ability to work well remotely is a skill in itself and should be recognised
Maintaining company culture
We often assume that company culture relies on a physical location where everyone gathers, but there is more to it than that. It is also about nurture, shared values, connectedness and trust. People need to feel connected to their organisation and its values no matter where they are. So, we need to establish firm connections between on-site and remote staff. Days when everyone has to come together on site are one way of pulling teams together but we need that connection all the time. Again, this goes back to managers being present, supportive and encouraging dialogue. Nurture your employees by celebrating milestones, achievements and innovations.
Water cooler conversations
Getting together with colleagues, as we know, helps to build our sense of belonging. Informal interactions build and foster stronger relationships, and it has been shown that employees with close friends at work tend to be more engaged and productive. Also, although these gatherings are during down time and nothing to do with work, it is amazing how many ideas and innovations are sparked by coffee break conversations. With a hybrid workforce, we need to find ways of re-creating these water cooler moments.
Set up for success
Remote doesn’t have to mean working from home. It could include smaller, co-working hubs or any place where an employee feels happy working. Wherever they are, they still need to feel connected and part of your big picture. Not only do organisations need to equip their managers for success, they need to equip their staff to be able to work effectively no matter where they are. This may mean investing in equipment such as computers, desks or ergonomic chairs (we all discovered very quickly how uncomfortable it can become perched on the edge of the bed or on the corner of a kitchen table). Also, evaluate all your tech to make sure it works for all. If it doesn’t, find something that does.
Focus on outcomes, not hours worked
Our staff have proved that they are loyal, productive and trustworthy. The least they deserve is that we reward their dedication, focusing on outcomes, not hours worked. Roland Busch, CEO of Siemens, recently announced a new hybrid working model for Siemens staff, intended to build on their experiences of emergency remote working during the pandemic. It will allow and encourage people to work remotely 2-3 days per week, with the rest of their time spent on site.
“The basis for this forward-looking working model is further development of our corporate culture. These changes will also be associated with a different leadership style, one that focuses on outcomes rather than on time spent at the office. We trust our employees and empower them to shape their work themselves so that they can achieve the best possible results. With the new way of working, we’re motivating our employees while improving the company’s performance capabilities and sharpening Siemens’ profile as a flexible and attractive employer.” Roland Busch, CEO Siemens
It’s time to trust our employees
The workplace is not a crèche where everyone needs constant supervision. For a hybrid working scenario to succeed, organisations need now to trust and empower their employees. This doesn’t mean just leaving them to it. It means training managers to deal with a flexible workforce and empowering staff to do the best job they can. If you can’t trust your employees, you are hiring the wrong people. Once you have people on board who have proved they can do the job, give them the freedom and support to work wherever they feel most comfortable, whether at the office, at home, a co-working hub or a hybrid mix. They will invariably exceed your expectations and help your organisation to thrive.
Communicate your big hybrid picture
This may well be one of the biggest communications challenges organisations have had to face. At The Big Picture People, we specialise in creating bespoke games and learning maps to help organisations communicate organisational changes across every level of the business. Games create a fun, informal environment, breaking down barriers so that people at all levels can take part. Book a free, 30-minute consultation to find out how games can help bring your new hybrid model to life.
You may also enjoy our Podcast, Craig Smith talks with Kevan is a pioneer in remote, virtual and hybrid working and since March 2020 the rest of the world has been playing catch-up with his philosophies, ideas, tools, and concepts.