The Road to Hybrid Working

Blog by Sharon Senior, Director at North West Employers, 12 May 2021

A year ago, if I’d have asked you what comes to mind when you hear the word “hybrid”, I’m guessing the answer would have been “a car”. It’s now the phrase being widely used to describe what the future of work might look like; a combination of homeworking and working from an office or other location.

Hybrid working, new ways of working, agile working – whatever you want to call it, one thing that is for sure, is that the way we work is changing. 

As lockdown restrictions ease, most organisations are now working through how to maintain some of the flexibility that remote working has highlighted.

Whilst many employees will have experienced working exclusively remotely during lockdown, fewer will have experienced a mixed model of both remote and office-based working.  So, what does this mean in practice? I wanted to share what I’m hearing across the North West and some of my own thoughts as a leader.

What I’m Hearing

A recent BBC poll of 50 of the UK’s largest employers, collectively employing 1.1 million people, found that 43 firms planned to use a mixture of home and remote working going forward, with employees encouraged to work from home two to three days a week.  This is echoed in the conversations I’ve been having with HR colleagues across the region with the majority of councils looking at options for a two to three day a week split where possible. One more radical approach is a pilot to try out homeworking by default, with employees only going into the workplace for 1 day a week when they need to collaborate.

Many organisations are carrying out staff surveys to better understand the preferences of their workforce and it’s expected that the results might be somewhat different to views this time 12 months ago. I know from my own organisation that some people who were really reluctant to work from home initially, have now found out that they quite like it and wouldn’t necessarily want to be back in the office 5 days a week.

There’s also talk of having bands or categories of workers, depending on whether roles have to be done at a fixed site, are mobile or can be done from anywhere.

What’s Your Destination?

All of this is throwing up lots of questions that organisations need to work through if we’re to successfully evolve from the temporary response into more of a longer-term mixed model. I’m not for one minute suggesting that I have all the answers and I think that’s a really important point. As senior leaders, we need to make sure that we’re clear on what our vision for the future of work is, but how this works in practice needs support and buy-in from managers and employees alike.

If we’re to be really flexible in the way that we work, a lot depends on the culture of the organisation. There needs to be trust. Trust that I’ll get the job done when it needs to be done. Trust that my colleagues will do what they say they’ll do. Trust in each other that we’re all striving to do the best we can for the organisation and each other.

I’ve read a lot about presenteeism and how managers of remote teams worry about how they can manage performance when they can’t see their team. I struggle with this to be honest and that might be from years of having worked in jobs where I have been out on the road a lot and so haven’t always been in the same place as my team from day to day. But even in those jobs where we have worked in close proximity, I don’t spend my time monitoring what everyone is doing – it goes back to my point above; it’s about trust and managing by outcomes. Of course, there’ll always be exceptions but that’s when you need to step in and manage by exception.

The Road Ahead

The changes pose a number of immediate questions relating to people policies. Organisations are working hard to review and refresh their approaches to agile working and flexible working to develop a framework that is future proof. There’s practical consideration needed on things like workspaces, equipment and health and safety.   

Light at the End of the Tunnel

We’ve learned a lot about what’s needed to support new ways of working over the last year or so and it’s important that we hold onto this as we look to the future. We’ve made massive leaps in terms of using digital technology to keep us connected so how do we build on this and ensure we have the skills and confidence to use technology to collaborate when there are some team members working from home and others in the office together?

We understand even more the importance of social contact and our mental wellbeing so we need to give thought as to how we enable this as part of our future plans.

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