Hybrid working” is a new buzzword that we’ve all had to learn as we adapt to a new way of working in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the past year, working from home has been the main focus for companies that can do so. But, as lockdown restrictions ease, you may consider slowly returning to the office.
Alternatively, you might be looking at a dual approach where your employees divide their time between the office and working from home.
This might be done in two ways: as a split between teams (part of your workforce at home, some at work), or as individuals spending some days at home and the rest at the office.
So, how can you make this new way of working work for your business?
In this article, we’ll look at hybrid working, how it might help your business, and what you need to think about to make it work well for you and your employees.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- What is a hybrid work model?
- Benefits of the hybrid work model and making it work for your business
- Supporting your hybrid-working staff
- Managing your employees effectively
- Remote work and security
- The health and wellbeing of your employees
- Communicating with your employees
What is a hybrid work model?
While there’s no official definition of “hybrid working”, it’s generally accepted that it refers to people working both in a formal workspace (like an office) and at home or elsewhere.
For example, as lockdown restrictions ease, your employees might work from the office three days a week and spend the other two days working from home.
This isn’t an entirely new way of working. The hybrid work model has been on the rise over the last decade and has become more widely accepted due to the coronavirus pandemic and its related lockdowns. It has also changed the way employees think about their working environment.
A new study by Decoding Global Ways of Working, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), The Network, and South African organisation CareerJunction found that 53% of South Africans would prefer a job that offers at least occasional work-from-home opportunities.
Globally, 24% of people said they would prefer to be fully remote; however, 44% of South Africans said they would like to work from home full-time.
Significantly, just 4% of South Africans said they would like to return to the office or on-site working full-time after the pandemic.
Benefits of the hybrid work model and making it work for your business
Whether it’s popping to the shops, picking up the kids from school, or just working in the sunshine outside, having a flexible schedule is one of the advantages of remote work.
Organisations are also starting to realise that, with most of their employees working from home, they no longer need as much space and can save on overheads such as water, electricity, and consumables.
Businesses that have adopted hybrid working models report that productivity remained high, absenteeism rates dropped, and morale increased throughout the organisation. What’s more, the hybrid way of working attracted the best talent.
As well as handling the potential downsides of this significant change in working practices (such as fewer face-to-face interactions and water-cooler chats that can spark new ideas), how can you ensure your organisation benefits from hybrid working?
- Assess each role within your organisation and decide whether it can be done remotely.
- Speak to your employees to gauge their individual preferences and personal circumstances, ensuring that each team member is happy with their working location.
- Finally, be sure to follow government and health and safety guidelines and conduct risk assessments whenever necessary. Double-check that each employee’s contract is current and states where they will be working from and how often.
Supporting your hybrid-working staff
Few companies will wish to specify the number of days that their employees should be at the office or home. After all, flexibility is at the heart of this new way of working. However, it is vital to show your employees that they haven’t been forgotten about and that there are support services available to them.
Send your managerial team on a mental health training course and ask that they conduct regular one-on-one sessions with their team members. You could also encourage your teams to get together for virtual lunches or to set up regular catch-up sessions with colleagues.
Some employees will prefer to work from home most of the time; others will choose to come into the office a few days each week. Try to cater to each individual’s needs as much as possible without disrupting the flow of work on a day-to-day basis. It’s essential to make sure that hot-desking arrangements and meeting room booking systems work effectively too. While you might not require your employees to work from the office, it is essential to have enough hot desk options available if someone decides they’d like a change of scenery.
Contact individuals you haven’t seen in person for a while and perhaps encourage them to return to the office for a few days.
It’s essential to strike a balance between working from home and being in the office. Holding regular meetings for entire teams and departments can be helpful in this regard.
Managing your employees effectively
Check in regularly with staff working at home as well as in the office. While many people were willing to make do and work from their spare rooms for a while, doing so, in the long run, may not be in their best interests and may result in performance, engagement, or mental health concerns.
You may have conducted a risk assessment or audit for home working at the start of the pandemic, but peoples’ home situations can change, and it may now be out of date or no longer fit for purpose.
It’s important to treat each employee as an individual and to ensure that you don’t discriminate against any protected groups in your new working practices – whether directly or indirectly.
Women, who are still primarily responsible for childcare; young people, who are learning not only about their jobs but also about the workplace; older people, who are not as technologically competent; and those who are known as “digital introverts” are most at risk if companies get hybrid working practices, planning, and implementation wrong.
Allowing employees to work from home more frequently necessitates greater managerial trust and may require a new way of monitoring their teams.
Team members must keep their calendars up to date so that managers know when they are working, attending virtual meetings, or are away from their desks. That said, don’t place too much value on the number of hours and minutes a day your teams spend working. Instead, focus on achievement to evaluate productivity.
A good manager will have their team’s trust, a clear brief, and the training and skills they need to deal with people management challenges effectively.
Internet security is more important than ever
Security is another issue for this new way of working.
Ensure that all employees have received a policy that contains information on confidentiality and instructions on how to store documents safely.
Because home broadband connections are generally less secure than business-grade connections, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) may be useful. You should also check with your IT supplier to see if the system is as secure for remote workers as office-based personnel.
Remember that the standard data protection rules, and now POPIA, still apply, so make sure your systems are up to date and your employees are aware of their responsibilities to protect the business.
Offer corporate health and wellbeing support
Health assessments can be beneficial for those returning to the office. Not only do they provide in-depth information on both employees’ and employers’ current health, but they also give relevant information on how to enhance employees’ health while encouraging staff to take greater responsibility for their wellbeing.
It’s also essential that employees working from home have the necessary support to maintain their health and productivity.
Communication is key
The world has changed, and the way many organisations operate has been forced to change too. Fostering regular communication between individuals and departments is an excellent way to ensure that morale and productivity remain high.
It’s easy to feel isolated as a remote worker, which could negatively impact creativity and innovation. Try to ‘force the conversation’ and replicate the exchanges that would typically take place in your office environment through virtual team collaboration and meetings.
You might also consider sharing projects that individuals previously undertook across teams as a way to come up with new solutions.
Ensure that your employees know and understand that they are welcome to work from the office if they feel like they need to get out of the house.
The last word
Hybrid working has a lot of potential, but it’s still in its early stages.
Communication technology like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom will likely become the norm – at least for professionals and knowledge workers.
Beyond these near certainties, though, businesses and their employees are still figuring out how to make it all work effectively.
Sectors, work types, the size of your organisation, locations, team dynamics, and your employees’ unique personalities and domestic situations are all crucial aspects to consider.
You can make the hybrid working format work for your company by taking your time to build solid working practices and procedures, staying in close contact with your teams, and staying up to date on the latest advice and trends on the subject.