COVID-19 and virtual working have made companies rethink the work environment. Few companies are prepared to take the big leap into a purely virtual world. The reality is that people want a “hybrid” model – a few days from home and the rest in the office. To make the most of the opportunity and benefits of hybrid working coming out of this pandemic, companies must recognise that change is required and that planning ahead is crucial.
So how can companies prepare for and deliver successfully within a hybrid-model?
The Benefits of Hybrid Working
“Ideally, hybrid work is the best of both worlds: structure and sociability, and independence and flexibility” 2
In the UK the Office for National Statistics reported 50% of people in employment in April 2020 did some work from home3. Adecco’s recent study of 8,000 office-based workers across eight countries found a preference to spend half of their working week remotely4. If done right, hybrid is a better option for companies unable to be fully virtual but still desire the benefits from flexible working. These benefits include better access to talent from wider geographies, reduced overheads, better environmental performance through reduced travel and improved productivity and innovation by removing group-thinking.
To reap these flexible benefits, companies have to plan ahead and be prepared to change. If unwilling or unprepared it can fracture culture into the recognised office-group and the forgotten home-group. The home group5 are not technically penalised, in many cases benefiting from not paying daily travel costs into the office, but are not proactively integrated into the company culture. This includes missing out on open sharing of information, opportunities and after-work social invites.
A real example of this was in 2013 when Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Meyer ended their virtual working test on the grounds of failing collaboration and communication. Meyer wished to establish “one Yahoo” again6. This example effectively demonstrated the cultural difficulties faced when scaling hybrid working.
We must also acknowledge that a large majority of companies will not suit fully virtual or partial hybrid working. This can be because of the sector, market or structure of the organisation. If productivity, revenue and wellbeing is negatively impacted from the pandemic, companies must not be afraid to call out for a full return to the office, if that is best for colleagues and the company.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR A HYBRID MODEL
Different Types of Hybrid Models
There are many variations to the hybrid model. They sit on a sliding scale between on-site and full remote working. The more traditional setup see’s partial remote and office-based working from one central HQ, through to predominant virtual working with satellite offices or rented local hubs. Choosing an option depends on a company’s strategy, culture and employee priorities for transformation. Is the main aim to reduce cost, to increase flexibility or to reinforce or shift your culture and talent7? When choosing a model, the rule of thumb is the more a company wants to be virtual, the more need there is for local hubs.
Once chosen, do not be in a rush to implement the approach across the whole company8. Just because it works for an HR department in one country does not mean it works for the same department in another. Test hybrid models with a pilot followed by an agreed methodology one department and geography at a time to learn and maximise success. Conducting an impact assessment before any pilot or change can be a helpful means of detailing preparation. This is particularly important in a world where lockdowns are inconsistently imposed and lifted in different regions, potentially impacting data gathering and analysis.
Choosing a Hybrid Model
Any test or change to the hybrid model will need effective and targeted communication across the organisation to be successful. Also develop a means to understand what success looks like by gathering data and tracking progress against previous performance. To ensure performance can be measured effectively across your changing operating models, choose relevant quantative and qualitative data easily benchmarked to external best practice9. This could include operating costs, productivity, quality of delivery, employee engagement and wellbeing.
Use this as an opportunity to build in “feedback loops” with staff when developing and implementing these changes. A large motivation for choosing hybrid-working is for a newly flexible relationship between an organisation and it’s people. Ensure employee views are continually tested to understand what is and is not working for them. This will ultimately improve the likelihood of success when rolling out hybrid-working models in different departments and geographies.
HOW TO DELIVER SUCCESS IN HYBRID
To get the most from your hybrid model you need to remove barriers and equip colleagues with detailed delivery skills for hybrid working. A series of steps can be completed to maximise success.
5 steps to deliver success in a hybrid organisation
Virtual leadership is different to traditional office leadership. Good and frequent communication, vision and empathy need projection from a distance. More planning, coordination and time is demanded from leaders to ensure their messages and presence is felt. The effectiveness of physical leadership in the office is not lost to hybrid working organisations. Leaders have the full spectrum of choice. Most importantly, the benefits and use of each engagement method should be understood.
Another perspective recently released in the Journal of Business and Psychology shows recognition of competent leadership is different between in-person and virtual or hybrid companies10. As you move further along the scale of virtual working, leadership shifts from saying to doing with more importance placed on goal-focused, developmental and dependable leaders on top of the traditional charisma and confidence. This change can be linked to the difficulties of projecting personality virtually, resulting in colleagues turning to other means to recognise capability, in how they help and drive results in trusted teams.
Managers are the key human enablers for their teams and vital for enhancing company culture. To achieve this they require training, tools and processes to promote an equal workplace and recognising fractious behaviour which could lead to the “them and us” mentality between home and office workers.
The second important role for managers is the measurement of output and how this translates to success for the company. The full benefits of hybrid working cannot be realised unless success is measured by output not time online. Flexibility, diversity, equality of promotion and trust gained by working from home can easily be eroded by managers not recognising output over time11.
David D’Souza, the CIPD’s membership director, highlighted the importance of administrative staff in delivering a successful hybrid model8. Alongside their wide-reaching enabling roles, they manage the office setup to facilitate the priorities of hybrid-working colleagues and often co-ordinate the vital company-wide social events which drive culture. Often the first staff to be cut during a downturn, companies must recognise the importance of these roles in successful hybrid models. There is an opportunity for companies moving to hybrid models to upskill these staff with means to enhance hybrid working practices in your organisation.
Infrastructure & Technology
Offices are being redesigned to suit specific tasks which require human interaction. The Future of Office survey by the global real estate provider CBRE showed organisations increasing recognition of the office as a place for collaboration, innovation and social interaction12. Hybrid workers will choose to do project initiations, brainstorming, board meetings, conferences and inductions in the office. At home they will choose solo-tasks, such as report writing. Rows of shared desks should be swapped for spaces to facilitate these human interactions and, in many cases, enhance culture along the way.
Bridging the gap between office and home, companies must also invest in technologies that improve virtual interactions. This means building on providing employees with hardware such as laptops and remote screens for home working, to supplying IT infrastructure and cloud technologies that can seamlessly move with the employee. Online platforms to enhance remote collaboration (eg. Jira, Mural, Trello) should be a priority, as well as video technology which improves meeting dynamics between the office and home1. Where reliance on advanced technology is fundamental to business delivery, companies should recruit or access IT specialists to help troubleshoot and seek to deliver training to their staff to maximise the gains from their investments.
Ways of Working
The final enabler for long-term success is in the detail. A mis-managed meeting between the office and home-workers can be the difference between success and failure. This won’t go away, with Clickshare’s study on hybrid meetings showing around one in three meetings in the future will be a mixture of remote and office workers1. Underpinned by strong values and behaviours to foster the right culture to serve a hybrid organisation, employees must therefore be trained to deliver effectively within a workplace split between the office and the home. Below is a small list of example actions which when used make a substantial difference to the success of hybrid ways of working:
- Define clear roles and responsibilities within teams.
- Plan ahead: Decide which tasks are best suited to remote working or in the office. Send out agendas in advance
- To improve diverse thought and innovation, ask people to submit their ideas ahead of a meeting, being mindful that too many meetings can erode productivity. Ensure meetings are strongly chaired, actively asking virtual participants to input.
- Be mindful of time differences if you have colleagues working in other locations.
- Create spaces where informal conversations can take place and people can safely talk and learn7.
When combined, these small activities can improve successful delivery and a united culture within a hybrid organisation. For a more in-depth look at how organisations can enhance their remote and employee virtual experience see another recent Moorhouse perspective here.
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly changed how many people think about work. Flexibility between the office and remote working has been prioritised. Fully virtual or in-office is far easier for a company to deliver. The hybrid model is far harder to achieve. Companies need to plan ahead or run the risk of damaging culture and delivery during the shift. Companies should choose a hybrid model which matches their strategy, culture and employee priorities. Before roll-out, communicate, impact assess and test it in different departments and geographies. Using quantitive data to baseline and track performance is necessary to validate this choice. Before moving into the hybrid model organisations can deliver a series of steps to maximise their chances of hybrid success. This covers all areas of the organisation, from leadership and management through to infrastructure and ways of working.
 https://www.cio.com/article/3086690/measure-your-employees-results-not-their-time.html, https://soundcloud.com/cipd/business-survival-coronavirus
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