Hybrid working is a term that’s been gaining traction over the past few coming months as a response to the coronavirus pandemic and changes in working practices.
Working from home has been on the agenda for the past couple of years. But as businesses look to a post-pandemic world, the workplace and what that looks like now and in the future needs to be a consideration.
You may look to a dual approach – having your staff working from home and being in the workplace.
This could be either as a split between teams (some of your workforce at home, some in the workplace) or with people spending a few days at home and the rest of their working week in the official place of work.
So how can you make this new way of working work for your business?
In this article, we take a look at hybrid working, how it can benefit your business, and what you need to consider to make it work efficiently – both for you as an employer and for your workforce.
Here’s what it covers:
What is hybrid working?
Although there’s no official definition of hybrid working, it’s generally accepted that the term refers to people working both in an official workplace (such as an office) and at home or elsewhere.
Therefore, your employees might spend three days a week in the workplace, for example, and two days at home.
What is certain, though, is that this form is working has been on the increase over the past decade or so and has now been turbocharged by the pandemic and repeated lockdowns.
According to a recent report by the think tank Demos, sponsored by Legal & General, “two-thirds of the working population (65%) had their daily location forcibly altered as a result of the pandemic at some stage during 2020”.
More strikingly, nearly eight out of 10 people (79%) who have been required to work from home want to continue doing so, at least part (57%), if not all (22%) of the time.
The report goes on to say: “A very clear result from our research is that most people who have been required to work from home only want to continue doing so part of the time.”
Just about one fifth (22%) want to do so exclusively. The change is already bringing advantages for both employees and organisations.
Many workers have enjoyed being able to avoid the morning commute.
Rush-hour passengers on the London Underground, for example, were down by 90% at the start of the first lockdown, with many other commuter services reporting similar figures.
A study for BBC News and King’s College London, conducted by Ipsos MORI, reveals nearly a one in four commuters (23%) say they will do less travelling to work than they used to, with that number rising to almost a third (31%) in London.
Advantages of hybrid working
Picking children up from school, supporting family members, being able to enjoy the garden during the working day and the opportunity for more flexible working times are among the other advantages of allowing teams to work both from home and the main workplace.
Meanwhile, a growing number of organisations are discovering that, with more staff working at home or elsewhere, they don’t need as much office space as they used to, and so they’re saving on rents and utilities.
The trend seems to be here to stay and it does offer advantages.
But how do you make it work for your business?
As well as handling the potential downsides of this major change in working practices (such as less time spent having face-to-face interactions and a reduction of those watercooler moments that can spark new ideas), how can you ensure your organisation actually benefits from hybrid working?
Denise Jennings, head of HR at staff management software provider RotaCloud, recommends that business owners and managers to start by laying the groundwork.
“Before you implement hybrid working you need to look at each job role and assess whether it can be done remotely or if it needs to be workplace-based,” she says.
“You should also survey employees on their individual preferences and personal circumstances, ensuring that each team member is happy with the location of their role.
“This should be a collaborative process, not a top-down approach.”
Jennings recommends piloting working arrangements if necessary.
She says: “Follow government and health and safety guidelines, and do new risk assessments where needed.
“Also, make sure that each person’s employment contract is up to date and reflects their location. You can’t change an employee’s work location without their agreement.”
Supporting your hybrid-working staff
Staff at Glass Digital, a digital marketing agency based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, first started working at home as well as the office following the arrival of the ‘Beast from the East’, the serious cold snap of 2018.
Since then, the company has noticed a number of benefits with this hybrid-working model.
“We received lots of positive staff feedback, and while productivity and standards remained high, absenteeism rates went down,” says operations director Craig Hall.
“It’s clear just how much staff value the extra trust and flexibility afforded by a remote working policy, and that’s benefited productivity and morale as well as helping us hire the best talent.
“We have learned to be less reserved when it comes to implementing perks like these.”
He adds: “Our managerial team have also completed mental health training and committed to regular one-to-one catch ups with staff, and many teams get together for virtual lunches and the like.
“We’ve invested in a weekly staff survey to ensure we can monitor morale and nip any issues in the bud.”
Few organisations will want to set out the precise number of days that staff should be in the office or at home. This new way of working is all about flexibility.
Some staff will want primarily to work from home while others might prefer to come into the office three or four days a week.
However, you should keep an eye out for those who haven’t been seen in person for some time and perhaps encourage them to make an appearance in the workplace for their sake as much as yours.
Younger staff or those in stressful jobs might need more supervision and would therefore benefit from spending more time in the workplace rather than at home.
Balancing working from home with being in the workplace is essential and scheduling regular (formal or even informal) meetings for whole teams and departments can help here.
It’s essential to make sure that hot desking arrangements and meeting room booking systems work effectively too.
Managing your staff when hybrid working
You should to check in regularly with staff working at home as well as the office, according to Charlotte Bate, director of HR consultancy, MAD-HR.
“While many people were prepared to make do and work from their spare rooms, from the ‘office cupboard’ under the stairs for a period of time, continuing this in the longer term may not fit with them or their family and may lead to issues with performance, engagement, mental health and wellbeing,” she says.
“People’s home situations can change, a risk assessment and audit for home working may have been undertaken at the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
“However, this may be out of date or no longer fit for purpose on a long-term basis.”
She stresses the importance of considering your team as individuals.
Bate says: “Women, given that they are still largely responsible for childcare, young people, who are not only learning the job but also about the workplace, older people who are not as technologically competent and those ‘digital introverts’ are those most at risk of suffering when companies get planning and implementing hybrid working practices wrong.
“Ensure that you are not directly or indirectly discriminating against any protected groups in your working practices.”
Allowing people to work from home more often requires a greater degree of trust from managers and a new way of supervising their teams.
Sally-Ann Hall-Jones, CEO at Reality HR, says: “It’s important that your team members keep their calendars up to date, so managers understand when people are working, when they have virtual meetings and when they are away from their desks.
“A good manager will have the trust of their team, a clear brief and be equipped with the training and tools they need to effectively deal with people management issues.
“Don’t place too much value on the number of hours and minutes a day your teams spend remote working.
“To monitor performance, line managers should focus on achievement rather than working hours.”
Remember that internet security is important for home workers
Security is another issue for this new working practice.
“Ensure that all employees have been issued with a policy which includes advice on confidentiality, including how documents should be stored securely in your IT system,” says Hall-Jones.
“You may need to discuss with your IT provider whether the system is as secure for remote workers as it is when they are office-based.
“Home broadband connections are often less secure than business-grade ones, so you may wish to consider the use of a Virtual Private Network [VPN].”
Don’t forget that the usual data protection and GDPR regulations still apply, so make sure you check that your systems are compliant and that your team understand their responsibilities.
Offer support with staff health and wellbeing
As an employer, you could consider introducing corporate health assessments.
Brendan Street is the professional head of emotional wellbeing at Nuffield Health. He says: “[Health assessments] can be beneficial for those returning to the office.
“They provide employees and employers with in-depth information on the current health status of both parties and will provide useful information on how to improve the health of employees, while encouraging employees to take greater responsibility for their own health.”
Nuffield Health’s online digital platform, PATH, uses several evidence-based mathematical algorithms to determine a person’s risk factors and generates a completely tailored assessment for them.
Street says: “It’s also important those working from home have access to the right support to maintain their health and productivity.
“Businesses should identify the parameters for their remote working offering and which employees are suited for long-term remote working.”
Nuffield Health’s research, for example, suggests younger employees may not thrive as remote workers because of mental health issues.
Consider communication and team dynamics
Helen White is the CEO of lighting retailer Houseof. She says: “Creativity is the heartbeat of our business and so much of that has always come from the face-to-face chemistry of our team.
“But we also fundamentally understand that the world has changed, and we’ve been forced to find new ways to engineer solutions.
“The first thing we do is to ‘force the conversation’. It’s easy to get isolated as a remote worker and isolation is rarely the ideal stimulus for creativity and innovation.
“As a result, we make a concerted effort to replicate the open exchanges of an office and integrate conversation into everything we do.”
The company splits projects that might previously have been undertaken by individuals across teams.
White adds: “We encourage our team to use their new environments to creatively engineer solutions, and we’ve opened our problem solving to the community around us, collaborating with more organisations and individuals than ever before.”
Staff at Addition, a London-based financial services firm supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), have been working from home and the company has rented an office space in London.
“No one is obliged to work at the office but we made sure there are enough hot desk options in case anyone from our team needs a change of scenery,” says Liesa Stecher, the company’s chief growth officer.
“Addition is all about flexible working hours and output driven evaluations rather than hours sat at your desk,” she says.
“We’ve changed our approach and spend a lot of time on the recruitment process to make sure we hire people that appreciate and thrive in a more independent working environment.”
Final thoughts on hybrid working
Hybrid working offers exciting opportunities but it’s still in its infancy.
As communications technology such as Slack, Microsoft Teams and Zoom continue to evolve rapidly, it’s very likely to become the norm – for professionals and knowledge workers, anyway.
However, beyond these near certainties, organisations and their employees are still discovering how to make hybrid working work for them.
Sectors, work types, company sizes, locations, team dynamics and the individual personalities and domestic situations of your employees are all important factors to be taken into consideration.
Taking your time to develop working practices and policies, remaining in close and constant communication with your teams and ensuring you’re aware of the latest advice on the subject can ensure you make the hybrid working format work for your organisation.
Editor’s note: This article was first published in May 2021 and has been updated for relevance.
Never miss an episode
Subscribe by email and get Sound Advice delivered to your inbox every two weeks with the Sage Advice newsletter with a ton of related articles, templates and problem solving guides for small businesses so you can put our sound advice into practice.