Hybrid working has always existed, and has been supercharged by the pandemic with the aggressive shift to remote working which was forced upon many organisations due to the pandemic. As a result, many employees and organisations are now experiencing the hybrid working environment for the first time.
What is hybrid working?
There isn’t yet an exact definition for the term ‘hybrid working’ but at its core, hybrid working is a working arrangement where an employee spends some of their working time at home (or any other remote location they can work from) and some of their time in the office. Simply put, hybrid working is another way of describing flexible working arrangements.
A wide range of research, including a YouGov survey and CIPD research, has indicated that the majority of workers want the option to alternate between remote and office-based working once the pandemic restrictions have lifted. 75% of workers want to retain flexibility over their working schedule, according to a poll from the World Economic Forum, which presents both new opportunities and challenges for employers to establish new ways of working to accommodate their teams.
The benefits of hybrid working
Hybrid working is about doing the right work in the right place in the right way, and when employees have access to the resources they need to do the job and more control over their work schedules, many find they can work more productively at home when they have a greater ability to focus with fewer distractions.
The flexibility that comes with the hybrid work model offers employees a better work-life balance, enabling them to choose their most productive hours for work while freeing up time to take care of things that pop up in their personal lives, such as that last minute dentist appointment, dropping the kids off to school or simply being at home to sign for a delivery. Having that balance leads to a more motivated, engaged and satisfied workforce, which, in turn, reduces absence rates and leads to increased company productivity.
There are also many other positives from an employer’s perspective, including reduced exposure to ill staff by allowing them to work from home, offering peace of mind to employees worried about their health and safety when returning to the office; reduced costs to the business with less space required, cutting down on real estate, utility bills and other associated costs; and the wider talent pool to recruit from, with video conferencing enabling employees to check in in real-time from anywhere in the world.
The challenges of hybrid working for employers
Hybrid working has been widely proven to be a success, but for many employers it’s not a simple or straightforward switch. Introducing a new hybrid working model into a business requires a significant culture shift and establishing new ways of working, along with all the associated policies and processes that go with it. For some employers, it may not be a one-size-fits-all solution – instead, different hybrid models may be required for different parts of the organisation, depending on the needs of specific roles.
Regardless of what model is used, there are legal implications to consider. All employees need to be accounted for to ensure the arrangements are inclusive and fair to everyone. This includes those with health issues or in a carer role to someone else with health issues, and employees who need to work in a defined space every day, be it at home or in the office, for reasons including productivity or mental health.
Additional support may be needed by those who are asked to work remotely but don’t have the necessary tools to do so effectively, such as fast broadband or a dedicated space for work. Or by managers who are now faced with managing and supporting dispersed hybrid teams. So, it’s important to check in with your employees to find out what they need in order to do their best work.
Internal communications also need to be accounted for when considering your hybrid working model. Working from home may improve productivity but can also stifle collaboration and creativity when employees are restricted to sharing a screen instead of a desk where conversation can flow freely and inspire new ideas. Employers will need to factor in how they facilitate formal and informal communication and collaboration to continue getting the best ideas from their workforce.
Prioritising the employee experience for a hybrid workforce
While there are certainly some complexities that need to considered and addressed with hybrid working, when properly implemented and supported the pros can far outweigh the cons, and can greatly enhance your employee experience. In turn, this can lead to better employee engagement, retention, productivity and, ultimately, a healthier bottom line for your business.
It isn’t enough to just tell your employees they can alternate between working from home and working in the office. Your hybrid model needs to be embedded as part of your company culture and account for all the different stages of the employee lifecycle for employees at every level. Here are some things to consider to make hybrid working a success for you and your team.
Optimise everyone's workspace
Whether employees choose to work in the office or remotely, make sure everyone is given the financial, technological and managerial support they need to work well, as well as the flexibility to work in the office or at home as and when they need to. Having office schedules in place can make managing workplace traffic easier, for example, allowing employees or teams to work in the office on set days.
Planning a socially-distanced office environment and layout can also be an ideal opportunity to rethink the office’s purpose and consider ways in which the space could be better used. For example, using it for team-building activities, collaboration and company meetings instead of simply for producing work.
Upskill your managers in supporting their hybrid teams
Hybrid working is likely to be new terrain even for the most competent and experienced managers and HR teams. Invest in hybrid working training for employees in senior and team lead roles so that they can continue to support and communicate with remote employees and provide them with opportunities to collaborate.
Think about your other employees’ training needs too. The more people feel like they have a sense of ownership over their own career path, the more engaged and therefore more productive they’re likely to be. So, make sure they have easy access to opportunities that enable them to develop their skills and grow in their roles.
Encourage collaboration and team building
For teams that are dispersed and working in different locations, it’s important not only to schedule regular meetings for team updates but also to facilitate opportunities to collaborate, share creative ideas and make time for team building.
Hybrid teams are naturally more disjointed than teams working together in the same office space, so building in regular social and human connection opportunities builds cohesion within the team and encourages higher levels of employee engagement.
Level up your internal comms
Successful hybrid working relies heavily on effective, well-managed communication to reduce the risk of poor information flow and disorganisation within each team, as well as team members who work remotely feeling excluded or isolated from the rest of the team. It isn’t just restricted to individual teams and departments – internal communication should involve everyone across the business and be guided by the leaders at the top.
A useful tool for effective internal communication is an employee engagement app, like Thrive.App. A simple and yet secure way of connecting dispersed and hybrid teams, employee apps go beyond basic comms and keeping everyone in the loop: they are also a great way to increase employee engagement and gather continuous feedback in real time, showing employers at any given moment in time how satisfied and happy their workforce is, and what actions need to be taken to improve their employee experience.
The future of work is hybrid working
The hybrid model used to be seen as a different way of working and closer to a company perk than a necessity. But with more employees demanding flexibility to work where they feel the most productive (and safe), employers will need to consider making hybrid working a permanent feature of their organisation’s culture if they want to retain their talent.
It will undoubtedly take time, commitment and financial investment, but with hybrid working expected to be the future of work, it’s worth investing in to get it right.