Hybrid Working: The Return to the Workplace
by Dan Harding , Co-Founder of All Things Code
Organisations that are anticipating their employees to return to the office once restrictions are raised and fall straight back into the conventional nine to five are in for a serious shock. It just isn’t going to happen. The working world is facing a complete reset – and businesses need to get ready now.
For many, being compelled to Work from Home (WFH) during the pandemic has opened their eyes to a different way of working. Employees can manage their time to fit in with other priorities and with the right approach, productivity and wellbeing can improve. Of course WFH is not for everyone. Face to face interaction still remains extremely important.
It is clear that hybrid working is here to stay and the right hybrid working model will quickly become integral to attracting and retaining talent. From reimagining the office concept to developing flexible working guidelines and investing in the right technology, achieving a hybrid working model that works for everyone will take some planning – and Dan Harding, Chief Executive Officer, Sign In App insists that companies need to prepare now.
Recent global research confirms that more than half of all employees will work eight or more days each month from home, meaning that 98% of meetings will now have at least one employee attending remotely.
These surveys, however, do not demonstrate the nuance in the new hybrid working model. For every employee happy to miss the daily commute and enjoying the lack of distraction that can hinder productivity in the office, there will be another eager to get away from the kitchen table. Indeed, many individuals will fluctuate between those emotions on a daily basis, which is why flexibility is now absolutely crucial.
Still, many organisations have not got a hold on employees’ new beliefs and expectations. One recent poll found as many as one in five people who could be working from home were not, with hundreds protesting they were under pressure from employers to attend the office even during lockdown. That hardly bodes well for post lockdown employee satisfaction. Additionally, the WFH experience is not always positive for employees. A Harvard study that considered the emails and meetings of 3.1 million people revealed that remote staff work almost an hour – 48.5 minutes – longer each day. And in many cases this is due to fear – fear that management expects people to be available even out of work time.
These attitudes are not only totally unacceptable but completely out of tune with post-Covid rationale. This is not the way a company will foster and encourage the successful hybrid workforce of the future.
Implementing the right policies
There will be some business leaders who struggle to make this change; they will fight against the need to trust employees to do the job without frequent supervision. These managers will need to change. Yes, flexible hours can throw up a few management challenges but nothing impossible.
Apps that show when an employee is online or offline offer an easy way of keeping track of the hours worked – something that can also flag up if an individual is working too late at night or surpassing the expected working hours. This information also means managers will know when an employee is free for a call, for example, meaning they can avoid contact during downtime.
Transparent policies will need to be created by HR to support employees and managers during this transition. There will be a greater responsibility on business leaders to concentrate on staff wellbeing – although this is about taking time for frequent team meetings in addition to one to one employee catch ups, rather than micro-managing and taking a big brother approach to keeping track of their every move.
Cultivating a hybrid workforce
In essence, this is a shift in management culture as well as employee behaviour – and one that will call for trust on both sides. Policies merged with guidance will help to facilitate the move – especially when it comes to establishing and sustaining relationships. Hybrid workers are still part of the company, part of a team – and fostering culture remotely can be difficult. For new employees especially, getting to know colleagues via video calls will take longer than within a conventional office environment. From cooperation to mentoring and simply sharing experiences, even if it is just a couple of days a month, face to face contact will always be part of the mix.
Organisations will have to think hard about how they are going to entice people back into the office, once they are allowed. Whether it is fear or just a love of WFH, some people will need encouragement. This is where the office space needs to be reimagined to create a destination – an attractive space where employees are motivated to socialise as much as brainstorm and share ideas. Add in a simple app based way to book a desk or a meeting room, in line with Covid-19 guidelines, and workers will be reassured that the company is adhering to social distancing regulations.
Forget the nine to five
Organisations have a once in a generation chance to create a working culture that wholly meets the needs of both employees and employers. Forget the so-called flexible working policies of the past, where individuals were ‘permitted’ to work remotely one set day each week. This is about giving employees the option every day to work whenever they want and wherever they want.
Also, it is about realising that individuals can work differently from home. Forget the nine to five; ditch the five days a week. If an employee prefers to begin working at 7am while the house is quiet, why can’t they finish work at 3pm? Or take two hours for lunch and a walk if that’s what makes them happy? Completely successful and efficient hybrid working is about empowering and enabling employees to do their work regardless of when and where they choose to work.
The new reality
Numerous businesses are already leading the way within their industry. Over the past 12 months, organisations have made vital investments in technology, such as video conferencing, digital assistants and cloud-based applications necessary for the management of a hybrid workforce and successful remote working during the pandemic.
Adding to that investment with a proactive approach to creating a new business culture is the critical next step. A successful hybrid working model will work for businesses and their employees. It will give employees the independence to work how and where they want – and to alter the approach as they wish. WFH in the summer, in the office in the winter; flexing hours around school holidays; or simply going into the office in search of company. With the right culture and the right technology, individuals can be empowered to work wherever fits them best. And that makes them more productive, happier – and less likely to move elsewhere. Technology can further support organisations to monitor desk usage and utilise the office space more efficiently which may benefit them in the future by allowing them to downsize to save costs.
It is obvious that hybrid working is the new reality and if organisations are to support and hold on to top talent, they need to seriously consider implementing the right policies, processes and culture to ensure it is successful. As we start to return to normalcy, companies need to grasp the opportunity to implement hybrid working and welcome the future of work.
About the Author
Dan Harding co-founded Sign In App in 2014 after working at Director level in the IT industry for a number of years. With a keen passion for technology enhancements within business, he is focused on creating and producing software that improves the workplace and employee engagement, to leverage enhanced productivity, safety and continuity.