As a result of the pandemic, hybrid working seems now set to have become an established part of the working environment.
This means companies allowing employees to work from home, while also maintaining an office presence. New ways of working have profound implications for the culture and working patterns for the whole organization.
Whilst for many, working from home has liberated them from the stress of the daily commute, others have found the experience isolating and stress-inducing.
Most workers in a recent BBC YouGov poll said that they would prefer to work from home either full-time or at least for some of the time, for example.
Balancing the advantages and disadvantages of hybrid working
The past eighteen months have accelerated the trend to work from home.
Already according to government statistics, in 2020 the proportion of workers who did at least some work from home increased to 37%, up from 27% the previous year.
With the pandemic, the majority of office-based workers experienced some form of hybrid working.
Now, most companies are offering some flexibility in ways of working. There are exceptions such as the tech giant Apple and the investment bank Goldman Sachs who actively want everyone back in the office.
From an employee perspective, working from home has freed people from daily travelling and empowered them to focus on the task in hand, balancing their day with other household necessities, such as putting the washing on or childcare.
For younger employees or people new to their role, working from home has meant that they have less visibility and can feel disconnected from their team.
Middle managers too have reported that this new way of managing and supervising their team has been a difficult cultural shift.
The world of work in the future
It is acknowledged that to function well at work, people need the opportunity to knowledge-share and collaborate.
In the future, it is predicted that offices will become places for collaboration and creativity with people meeting as needed face to face rather than working full time in one location.
The pattern of work may be different for each person and each role.
We know of one team for example where a team member who is single and flat-sharing, prefers to come into an office environment each day, while others work from home two or three times a week and one person who has a very distant commute, only coming into the office once a fortnight.
Other work constraints can be limiting: for example, data centers and technology requirements might limit the amount of remote working that is possible.
The management challenge of hybrid working
It soon becomes apparent that new physical arrangements are only the beginning of a wide-ranging impact. Questions quickly emerge, such as, for example:
- How do you best keep all employees in new working patterns engaged and motivated? How to keep everyone connected and working together in collaboration?
- How do you keep a consistent corporate identity and consistent values and standards when everyone may be physically apart?
- At a personal level, how do you best maintain individual emotional stability and reduce barriers of isolation?
- How do managers carry out performance management and are new methods required for learning and development?
- How to bring new employees on board as part of the team?
- How do you ensure that remote workers are valued and recognized equally, compared with primarily office-based workers?
- How do you modify arrangements to suit different circumstances and still create a fair and consistent environment?
The answers should be considered and debated, weighing up the implications of such actions and then reassessing how what has been set up works in practice.
As with any change initiative, top-level backing is essential-and that means setting aside time to work through as much as is understood about the effect on the business and individuals.
HR and learning and development (L&D) can do much to provide facilitation and structure to aid such a process.
As a result of this, focused, enhanced learning needs may come to the fore, for example:
- Managing time and personal organization
- Employee wellbeing including dealing with pressure and stress
- New communication approaches
- Team building
- Managing remotely and delegation
The implications for HR and L&D
To add value and benefit the business, HR and L&D professionals need to flex to this new way of working.
Although face-to-face training still has its place (for example for leadership development and team building), the trend towards online is accelerating.
In practice, online learning needs to be in shorter sessions than face to face ones (it is difficult for participants to spend all day for example on-line).
This means that the L&D professional needs to prepare their programs in a different manner than for face-to-face delivery, thinking about how to involve participants via break out rooms, polls, white-boards and other activities.
Another trend is the further adoption and extension of L&D platforms such as learning management systems and mentoring and coaching software which allows HR/L&D to keep ahead in a virtual world.
From a personal perspective
As an HR professional, you too will be impacted by hybrid working.
You may have already changed your working patterns and have less face-to-face contact with your colleagues and customers.
This will be good learning which will help you understand what it means for your colleagues throughout the organization.
Here are some tips to keep your profile visible in the business and your knowledge fresh:
- Consider carefully which days you will be in the office to coincide with others.
- Take the opportunity when you are in the office to connect with your team members and to meet as many key customers as possible.
- Diarize online catch-ups and check-ins with your customer base so that you are up to speed on what is happening in the business.
- Take time out at least once a week to speak to all members of your team outside a team meeting. Consider setting up a knowledge sharing hub with monthly updates and organized action learning sets across the business.
- Speak to your manager about how you are finding hybrid working. Map out your own career development path and discuss this with your manager.
Organizations who are implementing hybrid working
Big name organizations from a variety of fields have taken up hybrid working. All are still in an early stage of development and each has devised different models to suit their working environments.
Microsoft‘s announced its intention to implement a hybrid work model in October 2020, the company covers its employees’ home office expenses-surprisingly some organizations have not done this.
Employees who want to work from home more than half the time have to gain their manager’s approval.
At the office at Microsoft’s headquarters remote employees will have dedicated hot-desking spots available to them when they work on-site.
Ford Motor Company
At the beginning of the year, the manufacturer set out a hybrid work model for its 30,000 employees already working from home because of the pandemic.
Ford employees can choose to continue working remotely with manager approval. It acknowledges that the nature of its business makes it impossible to offer remote working option to all, especially those who work in direct manufacturing.
In March 2021 Google announced that it was shifting toward a hybrid working environment. This was based on employee feedback which prompted Google to continue offering flexible work patterns following enforced pandemic working from home. Google is now developing more lasting specific hybrid work models.
Google made several changes to its office productivity suite to accommodate remote working.
As of December 2020, nearly a full year into the pandemic, only two percent of the thousands of people employed by the global information technology firm worked full-time from the office.
Allen & Overy
This law firm has made a sharp break with the past: the firm’s leadership has stated that “Presenteeism is in the past. Individuals will be given more flexibility to decide how to split their time between working from home and the office.”
Allen & Overy has increased the use of technology and decreased its office space.
For many organizations, hybrid working is the new future of work and this change has significance for us all.
Whilst it sounds on the surface as a win-win all round for employees and employers, there are many aspects which need to be considered and worked through for it be successful.
HR and L&D need to take the initiative into helping the organization to work out a way to tackle the wide-ranging implications and make the most of the undoubted benefits.