Flexible working is of course nothing new.
Yet 2021 has certainly been the year of hybrid, with huge numbers of organisations now planning to offer a hybrid working model to the many, many employees requesting it.
A 2021 report by McKinsey revealed that over half of employees want their organisation to offer a hybrid working model post-pandemic, while nine out of 10 executives plan to embrace hybrid working.
However, the research also found that 68% of companies have not yet implemented or communicated a plan for how hybrid work will look going forward, which could be leaving employees feeling anxious.
So now is the time for reflection, preparation, communication and action. Whereas remote working in 2020 was a mad rush for technology and policy, we’ve now had a bit more time to plan for the return to the office, so what lessons have HR leaders learned so far about how to make hybrid work… work?
Make your employees feel safe about returning to the office
Hybrid workers will obviously be spending part of their working week in the office, however some may still be anxious about returning and will want to ensure it is safe to do so. It’s therefore crucial that employers consider how to encourage employees back to the workplace, allay any fears and ensure their wellbeing.
“One of the most important steps that employers can take is to ensure clear communication of the measures they have put in place to make employees feel safe,” advises Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at Peninsula.
“Many employers are finding that employees who’ve expressed a reluctance to return to the office still want certain measures in place, for example one-way systems, social distancing and mask wearing in communal areas. Having clear policies in place will help employers communicate these changes to employees and help allay any fears they have.”
Upskill your managers
Most leaders will need to take a different approach to managing their hybrid workers, especially if very few people worked remotely before the pandemic, so line manager training will be key to ensuring employees are supported, productive and happy, both at home and in the office.
“Many managers are not used to managing a blended team of home and office-based workers, and there are particular skills that are needed for this,” remarks Kate Palmer. “Therefore, it’s going to be vital for employers to train managers in this and we can expect to see a significant increase in this area.”
Support your workers to make the best use of office time
With hybrid employees spending less time in the office, it’s important to ensure the time they do spend there is maximised. According to a recent LinkedIn survey, 70% of workers want to return to the office so they can collaborate with their colleagues, with many of them keen to use the workplace as an environment to do focused work.
So, consider how the office will be used to its full potential, which could mean more time spent on collaborative workshops, team building activities and socialising.
Chris Preston, founder of The Culture Builders, advises employers to rethink the space and perhaps consider having less desks and more areas to interact. “Don't drag people in to just do what they did from home,” he remarks. “Think about the office as a 'temple' and give people reasons to come - cross-team meetings, design sessions, wellbeing interventions. Also, help people re-balance the online and physical elements; team meetings will be much messier, so give tools, guidance and training.”
Use HR technology to make hybrid a success
Investing in the right HR technology is crucial to successfully support a hybrid workforce as it will enable employers to create a seamless experience between home and office working and ensure effective collaboration and engagement. It can also help to reinforce a sense of appreciation and fulfilment for workers within an organisation, ensuring that they have a positive employee experience with a healthy work-life balance.
Kate Palmer says HR technology has played a huge part in the success of hybrid working. “Moving to cloud-based tech and other management systems has given HR a much better overview of what is happening in the organisation and allowed for remote management of talent and performance management,” she says.
“HR technology also helps with employee engagement aimed at keeping employees enthusiastic and interested in their jobs, as well as benefits and payroll administration, ensuring fairness and equality across the board by having a global view of what is being awarded to employees. It’s hard to imagine businesses being able to survive the last year and a half were it not for the advances in HR technology, let alone to thrive as so many have.”
Empower your hybrid workers and ensure inclusivity
Hybrid working could present the opportunity to empower employees to take ownership of their own needs, preferences and opportunities at work, says Chris Preston.
He believes that one of the biggest innovations to come out of the hybrid working model is the approach to poly-working. “This is a concept that’s far more about individual circumstances and needs, than the flex of a couple of days at home,” he says. “HR leaders need to focus on developing approaches that fit and encourage ownership by teams; and they have a golden opportunity to use the pivot to a more poly-working world to create new levels of empowerment and ownership.”
Tracey Hudson, executive director of the HR Dept, adds that it’s also critical to focus on inclusivity. “HR should ensure that those who work remotely aren’t excluded or perceived as excluded because that will ultimately create an ‘us and them’ divide, and it’s easy for a working environment to become toxic, so HR must ensure that doesn’t happen.”