Hybrid working has been a hot topic for many years, but since March 2020, it has become a poignant conversation for those in HR positions.
The pandemic forced a lot of businesses to evaluate how they were operating, from the technology they were using through to how they were supporting employee wellbeing.
Remote working was a huge part of this evaluation process, and as the UK is slowly returning to normal, HR professionals are now adapting and aligning to what will work, and what won’t.
We recently hosted a roundtable event on hybrid working with a number of HR professionals across multiple industries and company sizes.
Regardless of being a boutique business with agility, it was crucial for us to understand how others are coping and supporting their teams through this transitionary period.
The event was kicked off with a poll that we ran, which was to gauge how our roundtable group was feeling about returning to the office. The response overall was mostly favouring returning to the office, with some disagreeing due to feeling anxious about social interaction, as well as Covid-19. The poll initiated an interesting discussion, and we were thrilled that everybody got value from it.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the event that we want to share with you:
We’re all in the same boat
No one really knows if what they’re doing is right or wrong. It was comforting for all of us to hear that there isn’t a rule book that we must follow to do the “right” thing when looking at hybrid working.
The reality of the pandemic is, it hasn’t discriminated or targeted a particular industry, demographic, or location. It’s unfortunately been a global struggle that we have all been in together.
So, being in the same boat should be seen as a positive, as it’s sparked interesting conversation and ideas which can be shared. A lot of decisions have been trial and error, and all we can do in a situation as unique as this, is learn from our mistakes.
You have to do what works for you
Another key takeaway from the roundtable was how varied everyone’s hybrid working model was. From 50/50 splits through to complete flexibility, it was interesting to hear why specific choices had been made.
The crux of the conversation was that each business has different needs, and ultimately, different people. Employees within an organisation will naturally dictate what hybrid model (if any) you embrace.
Finally, what you decide shouldn’t be set in stone. A couple of attendees highlighted that they have drastically changed their working practices, adapting to their current business needs, and that changes should be normalised, rather than shunned.
A great example (created by Google) was highlighted in our discussion. At Google, they have given employees the option to come into the office or work from home, however, they must all interact via the same mediums in a group setting.
So, if there’s a team of 5, with 2 in the office and 3 at home, Google would expect the team to communicate via separate rooms on a Zoom call.
Although this may sound excessive, it highlights the importance of communication and providing an equal experience for all team members.
No one should be punished for their choices
The consensus was that no one should be penalised for a choice they make, as this will create a further divide.
An interesting example that was raised was promotions, and how these need to be approached delicately, particularly for businesses who are focusing more on being in the office vs a remote working model.
It’s crucial to ensure that all employees receive visibility, whether this is putting them in front of key stakeholders or ensuring that they’re still included in the decision-making process.
Another shared insight was ensuring that vulnerable or anxious employees are given the same treatment (and adequate time) to phase themselves back into the office, especially as we are still in the process of a vaccination program in the UK.
If employees are anxious, you can’t pay lip service to mental health and how employees are feeling. Checking in on wellbeing and making reasonable adjustments should be a priority.
It can be a tough line to tread, especially for businesses who are heavily reliant on face-to-face contact and being in the office.
Hybrid working isn’t for everybody – and that’s OK
Another thing to consider is that hybrid working simply will not work for some companies.
Operating two different ways of working will naturally take more time and energy than operating with just one, especially if the pandemic was the first time you ever did this.
There is the inevitable increase in reporting, communication load, meeting frequency as well as the increased risk of information being misunderstood. The by-product is more work for HR, and potentially opportunities for efficiencies and the introduction of new HR tech ideas.
However, this shouldn’t be seen as a negative if your business falls into this category. The narrative of hybrid working is mostly positive, but what fails to be mentioned is that it only works if businesses are equipped with the right tools, people, and mindset to make it work.
Here are some of our key considerations for HR and business leaders to think about as we move forward:
- You can’t shoe horn everyone into the same model/working pattern
- Trial all of your new working arrangements, then poll and re-poll your teams to see how they are finding the return to office arrangements
- Listen to your staff groups and take on board their suggestions and ideas for improving efficiencies and blending the old and new working models
- Don’t just pay “lip service” to mental health and people’s anxieties, ensure you are checking in on wellbeing for all teams
- Ensure you are considering equality of advantage and opportunity – irrespective of how people are choosing to work, consider everyone’s access and time with senior stakeholders and a fair approach to how all are viewed on performance and pay
- Vaccinations: have a conversation as a senior management team about how you’ll manage a scenario where someone refuses to be vaccinated
- It’s going to be one big fat experiment of trial and error!