Hybrid working is the new normal.
With more and more workers wanting flexibility from their employers, the reality is that there’s no going back to the nine to five in the way we know it.
A staggering 82% of employers plan to continue with remote working post pandemic, according to Gartner.
It’s not a new concept, but the pandemic has changed its value from a nice-to-have, to a must-have, forcing employers to rethink how their workplace will operate or risk losing staff in the great resignation.
In the UK, the number of open jobs surpassed one million for the first time ever in August 2021.
So what do you really need to know about hybrid working?
Read on to find out what opportunities hybrid working can bring, how to successfully navigate the challenges and how you can move your organisation to a tailored and successful hybrid working model in 2022.
Here’s what we cover:
What is hybrid working?
Hybrid working is a form of flexible working where workers spend some of their time working remotely (usually, but not necessarily, from home) and some time in an office, usually their base office; the work office employees would most likely go to, based on their location and team.
However, today, true flexibility is not just about where we work, but also how we work and the hours we do.
The four-day week, compressed hours, job sharing, flexible hours, even working in other offices such ones elsewhere in the country or abroad – there are so many options to really give employees the flexibility they need to do their best work.
An effective hybrid work system encourages autonomy, flexibility and high performance.
Most importantly, it’s about agile working, changing the culture of work entirely, so that work becomes something we do and not always somewhere we go.
What does hybrid working mean for employees?
For the first time ever, we gained a glimpse into employees’ private lives during lockdown.
Professional and personal boundaries were blurred and then partly disappeared as work and life became much more interwoven than ever before.
We saw a glimpse into people’s homes, kids, pets and parents walking in during conference calls, and there was a distinct shift in work culture.
Employers became more aware of the need for employees to have a good work-life balance.
And in turn, employees felt more satisfied to be their authentic selves during work hours.
Having gone through such a tumultuous period personally and professionally, workers have taken stock of their lives and are asking themselves what they really want right now.
For example, some employees have already moved to locations that were not possible when they were tied to an office catchment area.
With that restriction removed, it’s meant employees have been able to relocate.
Before rushing back to the office, employees are questioning whether their employers are looking after them.
Are they helping them progress?
Are they encouraging their work life balance?
And, ultimately, are they supporting their desired quality of life?
If the answers are no, then these employees are simply not coming back.
They are looking to join companies that truly care about employee wellbeing and allow their workforce to work in a way that suits their individual needs.
Employees want to work for an organisation that respects and trusts them to work in a way that works for them.
Of course, remote working as part of a hybrid model doesn’t suit everyone.
For some, it feels isolating and they miss the interaction in the office or feel they can’t escape the always on culture. Employees may prefer the routine and structure of getting up and ‘going to work’.
Younger employees gain more from being in the office. And for employees with chaotic homes, the office can be a more productive environment.
What we do know is that the majority of employees want a middle ground, with a staggering 83% of employees saying they would prefer to work in a hybrid way, according to a recent survey.
Hybrid working gives employees the flexibility they need to work in a way that truly works for them, whether at home or in the office.
Hybrid working: Some challenges and opportunities for HR
When it comes to hybrid working, HR and People teams have their work cut out.
There’s no template to follow. In fact, many HR and People teams are implementing hybrid working in a live test environment right now.
However, as we’re sure you’ve already found out, there are so many challenges and opportunities for HR, so we simply can’t cover them all.
But here are some key areas you’ll want to consider and factor into your hybrid work plans.
We couldn’t put it any better than author and lecturer Gemma Dale did in our HR in 2030 report: “If the current predictions of a more flexible future do materialise, then tech will play a key role as successful hybrid working is really only viable with good technology.”
It’s true. Without good technology, a true hybrid model can’t exist.
At an absolute minimum, employees need strong internet access, good IT security, and the right software to make it work, no matter where they are.
Make sure you have the technology to support your hybrid working model, so your organisation can continue to work towards its business goals.
Some companies were already starting their digital transformation journey during the pandemic.
But for HR leaders, a third saw a lack of HR technology as a barrier for bringing their organisation into the new world of work, as we found in our HR in the moment research.
What’s imperative now is that HR and People teams get the buy-in from their leadership to invest in the right HR technology, and fully leverage the technology they have today to get the best out of their investment, so they can help keep the workplace culture alive and provide HR with strong data insights.
The right technology can empower employees to feel more engaged remotely, enable tailored and personalised communication to different employee groups, and create great hybrid experiences, no matter where your employees are working.
Technology can be used to create amazing hybrid experiences, enable new ways of working that keep your workforce connected, promote health and wellbeing, and encourage diversity, equity and inclusion.
But it requires the right approach and strategy, so this will be something you’ll need to consider before creating your new hybrid work policy.
Employee health and wellbeing
It’s vital managers keep in touch with employees even if they are not physically in the office as much, and give them the right to disconnect – something you can and should help to encourage.
As the nature of work has changed, it’s important that businesses do not expect employees to work 24/7 just because the technology allows them to, and that presenteeism doesn’t manifest itself online.
Employees need a break from screen fatigue and back-to-back online meetings. They need to have a lunch break and shorter meetings where possible.
Some companies have even implemented meeting-free days, and introduced ‘walk and talk’ catch-ups where colleagues go for a walk while talking to each other on the phone, if they’re away from the office.
It’s imperative that managers, senior leaders, and HR don’t lose sight of people just because they’re working elsewhere.
There are many online wellbeing tools and apps companies can implement, as well as organising regular wellness days in the office or externally to bring people together.
Diversity, equity and inclusion
Embrace the opportunity to foster diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in a hybrid workforce and don’t lose sight of employees who may feel alienated or isolated.
Hybrid working offers us immense opportunities in this area.
Technology enables us to reach out to pockets of society who are often overlooked.
People with neurodiverse conditions or employees with disabilities who might prefer not to work in the office daily, or simply will find it a challenge having to come into the office.
Or indeed, those with children and elderly parents to look after may opt to work more flexibly. A good hybrid working model is vital in allowing them to do so.
However, a hybrid model doesn’t automatically drive DEI.
According to a 2021 Microsoft report, “in 2020, when most of the working population was remote, black and Latino/a workers in the US reported more difficulties building relationships with their direct team, feeling included, and [were] less likely to bring their authentic selves to work.”
Company leaders must acknowledge that different employees will respond in different ways to a hybrid model with some feeling that they can’t fully take advantage of flexible working because of their race and/or gender.
They must understand and address the prejudices and biases that pervade the workplace to truly embrace DEI.
Flexibility and agility
Be open to providing your employees with the autonomy to manage their work life.
More and more employees are expecting to have a personalised experience at work.
59% of respondents in a recent study reported that flexibility is more important to them than salary or other benefits, and 77% said they would prefer to work for an organisation that gives them the flexibility to work from anywhere.
Companies such as Google, Twitter, Facebook and Microsoft have opted for a more flexible hybrid approach, giving employees the freedom to work from home or in the office. And others have followed their lead.
Location technology company TomTom’s hybrid policy is based on the actual activity of work and not where it’s done.
The company provides workers with the freedom to decide when they need to come to the office to collaborate with colleagues and when they need to work alone at home.
However, at the other end of the spectrum, 80% of leadership in the financial services sector want workers to spend four to five days in the office when the pandemic is over.
On the whole, progressive HR leaders are recommending frameworks that can address employee expectations and guide managers on acceptable practices which can be tweaked and enhanced over time, rather than strict policies that may restrict employee preferences and organisational agility.
How do we move to hybrid working? Is there a tried and tested formula?
When it comes to hybrid working, as we’ve alluded to, there’s no one size fits all and companies are still experimenting with different options.
However, there are three overarching principles and considerations that HR and People teams need to bear in mind for a successful model:
- Give employees a purpose or a reason to return to the office
- Provide employees with some autonomy in deciding their own hybrid working practices, within a framework
- Give managers the right tools and training to enable them to be laser-focused on expected goals, outcomes and timeliness of work, rather than how or when the work was done.
The framework should make sure that people are treated fairly and equitably so everyone has an equal right to work remotely or flexibly, and organisations don’t find themselves in a position where some managers let their teams work remotely and others force theirs to come into the office, creating resentment and discontent among the workforce.
As HR and People leaders, you also need to be mindful of your employees’ different circumstances and expectations around hybrid working.
An employee with a family, for example, might prefer to mostly work from home so they can gain a better work-life balance.
But an employee who lives alone or in a flat share without a dedicated workspace may prefer the structure of regular trips to the office.
It’s important to provide choice, so employees can get the work-life balance they need, as well as allowing them to work wherever they work best.
5 steps to create a hybrid working model that works and is unique to your organisation
There’s simply no one-size-fits-all model when it comes to hybrid working.
Your people and your organisation are unique, and you will have your own ways of doing things that are completely different to other businesses.
However, there are some common themes and smart strategies to help you approach hybrid working the right way. Read on for our five steps to implementing hybrid working:
1. Listen to your employees
Ask your employees how they want to work in future, using feedback.
In this case, surveys could be a great way to do this.
Based on the responses, you can segment your workforce and send them customised questionnaires that are more specific to their job roles or circumstances.
Surveying your workforce regularly will help you understand how satisfied employees are with your hybrid working arrangements or capture any problems that can be fixed.
But be careful that survey fatigue doesn’t set in. You don’t have to survey all of your workforce all of the time.
You can tailor who, when and how often to send surveys to so the response rate remains high, and answers are specific to your audience.
To help with this, employees should see the outcomes of the surveys, and more critically, the plan of action and associated timelines.
So make sure this is well communicated throughout the process.
2. Delve into the data
Once you’ve asked the questions you need answers to, now’s the time to do some number crunching, so you can make informed decisions about the approach you will take.
Decide what data you will look at and how you’ll analyse it.
You should certainly take the employees’ survey responses into account, on top your historical People data you have about what has worked and what hasn’t since employees have worked from home more.
However, when you’re looking at your employee data, you can’t treat your workforce as one standardised unit.
You will have to segment your data using different factors such as level of seniority, gender, race, type of job or type of role.
You’ll find that different data applies to different people or different groups of people, but patterns will emerge to help you understand each group better.
3. Make a plan
Using your data, make a plan that considers all the opportunities and challenges we’ve discussed, and get buy in and commitment from the leadership.
Then appoint project leads from other parts of the business.
These may be people in IT for technology, and colleagues in facilities for office design – but it must be led by HR to make sure that it remains people-centric at all times.
You will also need to assess if you have the right resources and skills. Be realistic in what you want to achieve and by when.
But remember that you won’t have the perfect model straight away or even all of your digital transformation complete immediately.
You have to be realistic depending on your budget, skills and resources and communicate this to your workforce, so they understand and support you while you transform the organisation.
4. Communicate – and celebrate
Share and communicate your hybrid working plans to the business, and explain what they mean for employees and the organisation as a whole.
Part of this will be making clear how employees can access your new hybrid working policy, what it means for them and how employees have shaped the new hybrid working model.
Make sure you’re clear that any plan is a trial that will be tested, tweaked and improved.
Communicating hybrid working isn’t just about making systems work, it’s about changing your entire work culture from a static business to an agile one, so celebrate this as part of your core values.
Creating and launching your first hybrid working strategy is a huge achievement for you and your team.
So acknowledge it and make sure it’s celebrated within the organisation as a milestone in the organisation’s history.
It’s a journey that every employee will experience together, with HR collaborating and feeding back along the way in order to continually improve it.
5. Test, learn, iterate and evolve
It’s highly unlikely you will get hybrid working right the first time for everyone.
For example, should hybrid working going to be open to everyone in your organisation?
Do some people need to be in an office if it’s open?
How is fairness and transparency going to be managed?
There are so many questions your team will need to iron out. One way to do this is to keep testing, learning, iterating and evolving hybrid working.
By asking your employees how it’s working, and correlating employee feedback to data regarding productivity, output, customer satisfaction, DEI, turnover, profits and attrition, you can continually test if your plan is working or not and tweak the parts that aren’t right.
You can create dashboards to track progress that can be shared with the leadership and managers.
Review these regularly to make sure you’re on top of the data and acting swiftly to respond to any problems the data highlights.
Don’t be afraid to tweak, revise and make changes to your hybrid working model.
As every organisation reimagines the way it works, hybrid working will remain a moving beast that needs a watchful eye to keep it under control.
Implementing a successful hybrid working model for your business doesn’t have to be difficult
This is a really exciting time for organisations and, in particular, HR and People leaders.
You get the opportunity to really shift how your organisation works, and no one is better placed to lead and drive a successful hybrid working policy across the business than you.
Make a plan, work through each stage, communicate the plan, and constantly review and ask for feedback from employees throughout the process.
The most important thing to keep hold of is your company culture – your organisation’s ethos and mindset is not tied to the four walls of your office.
So keep creating amazing employee experiences no matter where or how your employees work, and yours will be the business that everyone else is flocking to join in the great resignation.
Recommended Next Read
How to help your employees tackle digital burnout and improve work-life balance
HR in 2030
Read this report to discover five trends progressive People leaders need to know to get ahead and help their organisations thrive.
Subscribe to the Sage Advice newsletter
Join more than 500,000 UK readers and get the best business admin strategies and tactics, as well as actionable advice to help your company thrive, in your inbox every month.