Hybrid working is not a tick box exercise
Business owners across the UK have accepted that the working world has changed. But any company simply ticking the ‘hybrid working’ policy box is in for a shock. Post COVID-19, the work environment is going to be far more complex than many managers have yet acknowledged for one very simple reason: employees’ expectations are worlds apart.
Remainers vs. Returners
The world is opening up – though in a different, socially distanced way. But have companies really got any idea of the challenges ahead? This is not a simple situation, where flexi-time is a given and the traditional ‘office’ can be reinvented as a hot-desking flexible ‘touchdown’ space. That may work for a handful of individuals – but employees are increasingly split with different needs.
Companies need to recognise the growing number of ‘returners’, individuals desperate to leave the kitchen table behind and interact with colleagues, preferably every day. At the other end of the scale, there are a large number of ‘remainers’ who would happily never endure a physical meeting ever again, and are perfectly content at home. These two tribes may be at the extremes so how will companies plan to manage different expectations of working life – and also ensure individuals work together effectively for the business?
All for one
While the past year has proved the value of remote working models, it has also reinforced the importance of face to face contact to help build a company culture. Being together in a shared physical space will remain a vital part of a successful business, but perhaps less frequently than in the past.
The challenge for business owners and managers will be to actively manage employees to achieve some synchronicity in the way different tribes come together. Companies will need to create frameworks that help employees find the right rhythm – to be in the same space, at the same time, at the right frequency. This is not about setting rules and dictating how, when and where employees interact. Managers will need to work with employees and highlight the importance of face to face interactions – not only for them but for their colleagues and the wider business.
Maintaining strong relationships
An essential part of this process will be the way the physical space is framed to the hybrid workforce. The emphasis must be on coming together to build relationships and share knowledge, not the place where individuals have to catch up on HR tasks or get a laptop refreshed.
This is about showing employees how to get the best from a hybrid working model – as individuals, teams and the wider business by highlighting the importance of shared experiences and ideas further building relationships.
No one wants to go back to the time consuming and exhausting face to face meetings that used to dominate client interactions. And, if companies successfully embrace a hybrid working model that achieves a great balance between remote and face to face interaction, that shouldn’t happen: regular updates will continue via video call, with an annual or biannual face to face meeting dedicated to essential relationship building.
Listen to your workforce
Offices are opening their doors soon – and business leaders need to start planning. That means not assuming a one size fits all hybrid model will suit all employees or laying down a set of rules that completely undermine the concept of flexible working. They need to work with employees to both understand their perception of hybrid working – and explain the upside of face to face interactions with colleagues. They need to highlight to clients and suppliers the value of hybrid working – before companies stumble by default back into unhealthy, unproductive working models.
Essentially, business owners and managers need to accept that employee management just got a whole lot tougher – and active management is going to be essential to create a productive, well balanced and committed workforce wherever and however they choose to work.