How to transition to hybrid working is a hot topic for many businesses as staff start to return to the office. Remote working and its flexibility is something many want to continue in their post-COVID workplace. A Personnel Today survey found that pre-pandemic, 45% of workers were happy to work five days a week in the office, now its is only 5%. This shift in worker mentality needs to be considered by businesses to effectively implement a form of hybrid working that benefits from the positives of in-office working and working from home.
This article shares highlights from the third Leadership Lunch and Learn session. Guest speakers discussed their tips for businesses facing how to transition to hybrid working.
Laragh Jeanroy who has been involved in planning the pilot of the first hybrid office of RSM UK
Katie Allen leadership consultant and coach
Will Farnell of the innovative digital firm Farnell Clarke Limited
Richard DeNetto of CBI (Confederation of British Industry) who recently published a comprehensive report on hybrid working
Barnaby Clark of COEL who has led innovations in workspace planning
Rob Alder of the AAT who are looking at their steps back into their office in central London
First Intuition hosts:
You can watch the recording of the forum by clicking the button below.
Hybrid Working Overview
Katie Allen describes hybrid working as a blend of collocated office working and remote working. Below are some of the main points Katie believes businesses need to consider in order to effectively transition to hybrid working:
Hybrid working is not a one size fits all solution
Decision-makers in businesses need to consider the boundaries and responsibilities of the company, what they are trying to deliver, and how to connect with clients and customers when deciding what hybrid model works best. Businesses also need to consider staff’s needs as they will have their own boundaries.
Connect and listen to staff
It is essential to ask and listen to the wants and needs of employees when deciding on hybrid working policies. A survey by CMI found that 50% of managers had not consulted with their people about what their preferred working arrangements might be. Not everyone has been impacted by the pandemic in the same way, some may have struggled whilst working from home whilst others may have thrived. Listening to needs will help ensure your staff can be productive where they work best.
Reach out and ask for advice
Connect with your clients and customers to see what are they doing with their hybrid working policies. Check to see if your model is still going to be able to service their needs and how to ensure a smooth transition. This is an opportunity to press the restart button and decide what to do differently and how to harness positive change going forward.
Hybrid working is not a replacement for flexible working requests
The legal request for employees to change their working conditions will still remain. Hybrid working policies are separate from this and still need the same level of consideration as flexible working requests. Changes to hybrid working policy need to consider the knock-on effect to employment contracts, tax, and visas.
Whatever businesses choose to do, they should ensure they review what the impact will be on policies and procedures. With particular attention to discrimination to ensure policies are inclusive and support any way of working.
How to Create a Cultural Shift
Farnell Clarke Limited made the decision to move to a flexible working structure pre-pandemic. Within this workplace model is flexible working hours, the ability to work both remotely and in the office, as well as no cap on annual leave. Will Farnell explains how a mindset shift with the emphasis on outcome over input is what was able to drive this drastic change in the fundamental business model. As long as the client is happy and a great output is being created, staff can work where and how they like.
A business’s culture is made up of values, beliefs, and personalities that are not easy to change overnight. Will offers some tips on how to create a cultural shift in businesses towards hybrid working:
- Leaders in a business need to create a clearly defined plan with an appropriate time frame and recruitment strategy for long-term decisions
- Start with a vision and value proposition on what the changes can bring to the business. A lot of businesses still don’t focus on what they want to achieve by making these changes and what is driving them
- Recognise what you want to achieve, who you want to work with, and how to drive them
- Set a clear structure on how the company operates but give people the flexibility to make their own choices.
How to Preserve Data Security
A concern for a lot of businesses facing a transition to hybrid working is how to ensure data security. Farnell Clark Limited is able to preserve its data security by having the correct infrastructure and business culture. The business is technology-focused and uses Cloud infrastructure, two-step authentication, and no paper to ensure data is kept online. The business’s infrastructure needs to support the hybrid model that has been adopted.
Restructuring the Office Environment
Laragh Jeanroy reports how RSM has restructured its office in response to a full employee review of work before and during the pandemic. In response, they have changed their office space from traditional and structured to dynamic and flexible that incorporates technology and promotes mental health and wellbeing. The new office embraces the things employees like about home working and what they have missed from the office. This includes fixed office spaces, collaborative areas, booths for making calls, and more social spaces.
Businesses need to create an environment where people want to come back to the office, that caters to both what the business and employees need. Laragh believes that the right space and the change of office environment will make it easier for staff to adopt hybrid working. It is harder to change people’s behaviours in an environment they associate with their old way of working. Quarterly surveys will help RSM establish what is working and what isn’t so they can be flexible with their space and policies.
Barnaby Clark reiterates the importance of engaging with employees through surveys and conservation. This is the way to find out what people want and need to get them into the office. Management needs to accept people are working in different ways and the office will be fulfilling new needs. If staff are having a chat it may be because they are in the office to socialise and the majority of work will be done at home.
Richard DeNetto explains that flexibility is needed on both sides. Hybrid working may create more complications and costs at first as businesses iron out what works for them. Many firms are going down a task-based approach to hybrid working so teams are in the office for certain tasks rather than whenever they please.
The best scenario will be for employees to have an office space at home where they can be self-sufficient. As well as one in the office where they can be present for team development and learn from senior colleagues. Mirco moments, where you overhear conversations and contribute, are essential for learning and development in junior staff. However, managers need to be mindful of their workers from different backgrounds and their working conditions. Equally, workspaces need to be inclusive for all.
Rob Alder notes that before the pandemic, remote workers often felt out of the loop and removed from the organisation. Now they feel involved and in the same boat as everyone else. Rob believes that businesses are unlikely to see a lack of cohesion between individuals in the same team in a hybrid environment. It is cohesion between wider teams where more work may be needed. Rob offers some tips for wider team cohesion:
- It is the responsibility of the manager and leader to make sure cohesion is maintained through effective management
- Social events, after works drinks, and lunches can be a great way to get individuals in different teams to mix
- Social spaces in the office that encourage teams to talk when they are in
- Meetings and calls with a mix of remote workers and people in the office need to be run effectively so remote workers still feel included and engaged. This can be achieved by setting rules that any conversations are saved for when everyone is on the call
- Businesses need to consider EDI and think about the impact of home working on certain groups. People need to be treated differently based on their background and situation to ensure everyone feels heard and visible. The new working environment presents an opportunity to make sure EDI policies are embedded in an organisation’s culture
What to Retain and Change
Katie sees the transition to hybrid working as a great opportunity to reflect on what lessons we have learnt through the pandemic.
- Access: Onboarding and the sharing of information has become quicker and easier
- Advancement: There is now the opportunity for global mobility between offices. As well as the chance to work collaboratively with the best people in an organisation and shine in roles where there was previously no access to
- Authenticity: Most people have seen in their colleague’s homes and have experienced a more human side. This sort of interaction that encourages personality and relatability should be retained
Mental Health and Wellbeing
Richard DeNetto reports how mental health and staff wellbeing has never been higher on the agenda for businesses. Examples of the best practices firms have been introducing and adopting include:
- Creating additional ways to discuss mental health whilst working remotely
- Setting up policies and approaches that are embedded and long-lasting. For example mental health first aiders, virtual round tables, anonymous hotlines, and instant messaging
- Using workplace networks to help minority groups be heard. Codefining and leading employee voices
- Encouraging managers to create a mental health action plan with their employees and teams
- Implementing practices that support the mental health of staff wherever they work, for example, calls that last 25 mins or 55mins to encourage breaks
- Real and honest conversations asking how people are
- Managers talking about their own mental health to help encourage their team to be able to open up
Recruitment and Development
Will Farnell states that the biggest challenge currently facing accountants globally is recruitment and retention. It is more important than ever to listen to the needs and wants of employees to ensure they attract top talent. The option of hybrid working is likely to be a must for candidates deciding where to work.
Will believes that businesses do not invest enough in recruiting the right staff. Recruitment is a marketing function and activity to get the right people so we need to sell who we are and what we do. A compelling package, such as flexible working, that appeals to the right people will therefore help a business stand out.
Rob Alder has noticed productivity has not changed much since the pandemic. What is important to motivate teams is a flexible management approach where managers stay engaged with their teams, give clear targets, and work to overcome barriers.
However, hybrid working risks younger workers not being able to learn from managers and senior leaders that are not in the office. That type of engagement and development needs to be looked at. Role modelling from senior leaders and coaching instruction can be valuable. As well as creating a safe space to try things and fail.