Whilst many organisations allowed working from home (WFH) prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was generally on an ad hoc basis (once or twice per week). According to new CIPD research, employers are reporting an increase in productivity (33%) compared to last summer (28%) following a shift to WFH.  On the flipside of this coin is an increased demand from employees for flexible working and WFH, therefore it makes sense for employers to consider this option as part of their future.

As we start to creep out of lockdown, we consider the benefits of not rushing back to the future, when the future has irrevocably changed, and how to balance business objectives with employee wellbeing and attracting talent through implementing a hybrid working model.

To hybrid or not to hybrid, that is the question!

Hybrid working is when a workplace is equitably split between WFH and office-based workers with teams comprised of employees from both camps. When a company adopts this formally, HR equally accommodates for both employee groups, embracing best practices, inclusive of all employees, and creating an engaging culture wherever employees are based.

A balanced view: pros and cons

So, why hybrid? There are many compelling reasons to adopt more flexible forms of working in the long-term, people and financed focused. 

Benefits of hybrid

Increased interest, expectations, and desires from employees: The pandemic has forced many of us to reassess our lives and our health, driving a greater desire for a better work-life balance. More people are simply less willing to live to work and go back to the daily grind, commute and all.  Therefore, those organisations who fail to embrace flexible working run the risk of increased employee turnover, reduced engagement, and limit their ability to attract talent in the future.

Opportunities to reduce the bottom line exist using a hybrid operation: An organisation can reduce their estate and facilities costs, combined with enhancing employee wellbeing and supporting diversity and inclusion. There’s saved commuting time and costs, IT upskilling and increased productivity, higher motivation and job satisfaction, thus reduced absenteeism and associated costs.

Challenges of the hybrid

Although not unsurmountable, the biggest challenge when successfully implementing a hybrid model is inclusion. Employees can feel left out of culture and events:

Traditional office culture generally includes face-to-face meetings, kitchen chats, happy hours, etc., and if an organisation fails to accommodate these aspects, remote employees become less engaged.  The leadership, and HR, need to be on point when it comes to consciously accommodating remote needs to avoid remote employees feeling like second-class citizens.  They also need to operate in a hybrid fashion themselves, not solely from the office, to ensure buy-in as well as for setting a cultural tone.

What to do now?

By now you’ll have formed a view on whether a hybrid solution is right for you and/or your organisation’s future. That aside, the current climate and restrictions will continue to have an impact on the path you take.

Regardless of any long-term strategy decisions, whilst social distancing remains to prevent COVID-19 spread, workplaces will at least require an interim approach to hybrid working. The Government predicts that employees will need to WFH wherever possible until around late June 2021, virus prevalence depending.  Organisations will need to make their own decisions about how and when employees can safely return to their offices.

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to implementing hybrid working; it will vary from organisation to organisation. Three hints and tips to consider now, to help pave the way for the future include:

1. Take advantage of tech tools – There are lots of reasons to WFH, but it can still be isolating especially if colleagues are working in the office. To tackle this, use technology for engagement:

Create group chats on Teams/Trillion (or similar) – for individual teams, departments along with interests and hobbies. Encourage employees to reach out and get to know each other through 1-to-1s.

Ingrain asynchronous communication – independent of meetings, encourage employees to list their achievements of the day and plans for the next in a Teams chat.

Exploit project management tools – encourage employees to be transparent with one another by leaving detailed notes on their projects via PM tools, enabling teammates to work independently and effortlessly.

2. Reshape the benefits package that embraces the hybrid model – Benefits such as happy hours and catered lunches maybe great for office employees but may make WFH colleagues feel excluded. Therefore, consider everyone in your culture and adapt extras:

Provide a monthly lunch budget rather than catered lunches.

Offer employees an equivalent and have a virtual shindig instead of happy hours.

Encourage team revelries rather than just company parties

3. Adjust meetings – Meetings are great for getting people together. They can also put needless pressure and stress on introverted working from homers, those on different time zones or those that simply hate them!

Judge whether you need a meeting – consider holding them for just project starts, check-ins and updates, virtually and asynchronously.

Record meetings accurately – for distribution and keeping all in the loop if they cannot join in.

Short is sweet – keep them swift and focused and encourage agendas to stay on track.

Adios meeting rooms – deter the use of meeting rooms by in-office employees and encourage them to have meetings via their PCs, so no one feels left out.

The future is hybrid

The future of employee engagement and retention has undoubtedly changed. Enabling employees to choose their working environment through a thriving hybrid working model will drive loyalty and help your people be more productive from wherever they operate best.

Sources:

CIPD Press Release (1 April 2021) – More employers reporting increased productivity benefits from homeworking compared to last summer, new CIPD research finds.

https://www.hibob.com/blog/defining-the-hybrid-wfo-office-model/

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