Is Now the Time to Embrace Hybrid Working?
4th April 2022
COVID-19 has changed the way we live and word, leading us to discuss in detail the question: “Is now the time to embrace hybrid working?”, and possibly forever?
Work is no longer a place. It’s all about what you do — not necessarily where you do it from. The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the way we work, with lockdowns forcing many businesses to acknowledge the benefits of allowing their teams work from home.
A recent Harvard Business Review article reported that workers believe they have been more productive at home during and after the pandemic because they have been able to “focus on what really matters”.
As a result, employers have started adopting ‘work from anywhere’ policies, 4-day work weeks and transferring solely to remote working. Wakefield Research and ServiceNow revealed that 87% of employees said the new way of working was an improvement.
However, other studies have shown that 78% of people would prefer to work in an office for only 2 days or less per week.
Can employees get the best of both worlds?
In this article, we’ll explore the hybrid working model: what it is, its benefits, its negatives and some practical tips on how HR teams can implement and test it in their workplaces.
What is hybrid working?
Hybrid work is a flexible working model where employees operate under a mixture of remote and traditional office working.
In theory, hybrid working gives employees autonomy to fit work around their personal lives, rather than structuring them around hours logged in an office. Ideally, the model gives an outcome that suits everyone: sociable and structured on one hand; independent and flexible on the other.
Hybrid working isn’t a new phenomenon, but COVID-19 has fast-forwarded the implementation of it across the globe. According to data from the Office of National Statistics, only around 5% of the workforce worked mainly from home pre-pandemic.
At the moment, businesses are managing in varied ways. Some have given employees permission to continue working remotely throughout the year. Others have brought staff back into the workplace on different schedules and in staggered groups. Some management teams are leaving it entirely up to individual workers to decide where to base themselves.
There are benefits in working from home: flexibility, autonomy, less commuting time. There are also benefits of working in an office: social aspects, engaging in teamwork and company culture every day.
What about the longer term? There are two sides to every coin — what works for some of your team may not work for others.
4 benefits of working from home
As you begin to consider implementing hybrid working, it’s important to explore the positives of both working at home and working in an office. How do they impact:
- Work-life balance
- Teamwork and collaboration
- Company culture
Let’s start by looking at the benefits of remote working.
Life isn’t static. We grow older, build new relationships, have children, change locations and jobs, so the definition of work-life balance will change as time goes on.
Ultimately, it’s about balancing the time you spend working with the time you spend enjoying everything else in life; your family, your friends and your hobbies.
Working from home gives employees the freedom to choose how they allocate their working hours. By giving employees this autonomy, senior leaders can show that they trust their teams to execute the work that needs to be done without micromanagement.
When employees feel trusted, they’re less likely to get frustrated and more likely to produce top quality work.
Flexibility and inclusivity
Family and work can often pull employees in opposite directions.
Having a flexible working model helps people with families manage their time. Acknowledging that their schedules may differ — and giving them the flexibility to work around that — will validate the employees’ experience, making them feel seen and respected.
Remote working also helps facilitate an environment in which people feel more comfortable being themselves. Those who would normally take a backseat or would find it difficult to share their thoughts and opinions face-to-face, might find it easier to speak up and have a voice when they’re sitting in the comfort of their own home.
A seemingly small thing like being able to take care of appointments and run errands during the day helps employees feel a little more relaxed at work — the smaller their To Do list outside of work is, the more focus they can apply to their workload and deadlines.
Simple aspects of office life like ‘water cooler chats’, extended coffee breaks, desk chitchat, overrunning meetings and even traffic and commuting delays all cause a dip in productivity and performance in the office.
At home, employees have their own safe space to work without distractions and in harmony with their own periods of motivation.
Working from home also lets employees take breaks as and when needed. If things get too stressful, they can go for a walk. If they’re feeling overwhelmed, they can take 5 minutes to have a cup of coffee and gather their thoughts without interruption. Working with a clear mind opens up space for creativity, which makes employees feel more engaged in their work and more likely to deliver better performance.
4 benefits of working in the office
Remember, not all employees will want to work from home.
Totaljobs has even said that 46% of UK workers have experienced loneliness while working from home. Lonely workers are less engaged and less productive — and 5 times more likely to miss work due to stress.
When considering the hybrid working model, it’s always important to acknowledge the benefits of working in an office space, too.
Better distribution of workload
In an office, you can see how people are feeling and coping first-hand. If an employee is visibly stressed, you can quickly figure out how to spread the load a little.
Teamwork doesn’t just benefit the organisation, it can also boost morale and camaraderie, increase job satisfaction and help employees stretch their abilities and raise their profile.
Working in teams provides people more opportunities to release their creative ideas and increase their sense of belonging.
In-person meetings can be more focused and productive than video conferencing, a phone call or email chains. This is because we generally communicate with each other better when we have face-to-face interaction.
Meeting clients in person is good practice in many industries and demonstrates that businesses value their time and business. Getting smartly dressed each morning and driving across the country for meetings also gives many employees a sense of pride and purpose, as well as a routine.
Networking face-to-face fosters stronger relationships between teams and organisations, boosting company morale and giving value to every employee’s presence and input.
Finding the happy medium
This is how to find the best balance of in-office and from-home working — one that serves all employees, not just a few.
- Initiate a trial period.
- Be flexible — for example, is it worth letting employees choose which days they’d like to go into the office? Or how many days they’d like at home?
- Encourage regular employee feedback.
- Hold troubleshooting sessions or employee forums where they can communicate their views openly and honestly — and free of judgement.
- Identify pain points by communicating with your teams.
- Monitor success and realign goals accordingly.
3 types of hybrid working models
There are 3 typical hybrid working models. Each has its benefits for employee wellbeing, productivity, job satisfaction and work-life balance.
The remote-first model or ‘at-will’ model
This model enables employees to choose the work arrangement that works best for them on any given day. It’s particularly useful for those who want to come into the office when they need to meet someone or require a quiet place to work for the day. Several companies have set up a process of placing a request to “work at the office (WFO)” to ensure that social distancing requirements are met.
The office-occasional model
Here, employees will be expected to come into the office for a certain number of days or hours a week, while spending the rest working from home.
This model can be organised in a variety of ways. Employees can come in for a designated set number of hours or days a week. They could be given set shifts and work from a fair roster to know when their office times should be. Alternatively, they could work week by week, where they are required to be in the office for one week, then work from home the next.
The office-first model
In an office-first model, the office serves as the primary workspace. However, employees get the choice of working remotely. Companies can designate specific teams to work from the office to avoid confusion, while the rest can stay remote.
5 steps to implementing hybrid working
Whilst working from home can be great, there are challenges to navigate too. It’s always a good time to step back and think about how best to keep everything balanced.
The wellbeing of your employees should drive the changes you make. Make sure your teams are feeling comfortable with the hybrid model by implementing:
- Clear policy and procedures.
- Consider legal obligations.
- Seamless communication between C-suite, HR and wider teams.
- Training and development for implementation i.e. how to deal with feelings of isolation, how to boost productivity at home, how to improve focus, etc.
- Supply the correct technology and working equipment: from chairs and footrests to laptops and design software.
How to track success
People-centric and holistic changes in the workplace can be difficult to monitor — especially when entire teams are involved. But knowing the success of a new hybrid working model means finding more physical, measurable ways to monitor the happiness of your employees. There are several easy ways to do this.
Via leadership teams
HR and department leads can monitor the success of a hybrid working model within their own teams. Collating results and feedback that are specific to each department creates an accurate overview. Reporting results back to C-suite members means they can remove or implement structures and processes that they know will benefit the business as a whole.
Leadership teams can encourage success when hybrid working through:
- Delegation to make sure employees don’t feel overworked and isolated in their stressors at home.
- Support hybrid teams by sharing regular updates on project progress, workloads and deadlines.
- Checking in with the happiness of teams through one-to-one meetings or anonymous surveys.
86% of employees and executives cite the lack of effective collaboration and communication as the main causes for failures in workplace restructures.
Be mindful and take specific actions to better balance the dynamics on your hybrid teams. This means clearly and intentionally setting and communicating new norms for how work gets done — and making sure employees are kept up to date as things change.
Employee behaviour indicators — especially those linked to engagement
Are your messages having the desired impact?
You can measure the success of new hybrid models by logging attendance at meetings, employee events and training sessions. If employees are showing up to work events, whether those be social or professional, it shows they’re still interested with what’s going on. Engaged employees are happy employees — and happy employees are more willing to adapt to change.
Early outcome metrics
- Issue resolution: count the number of escalated challenges compared with self-directed solutions found.
- Distribution of promotions across in-office/remote employees: is there a different distribution than before? Is there proximity bias?
- Wellbeing: this one might be difficult to gauge, but results can be gleaned from engagement surveys. These should be more frequent pulse surveys, rather than typical annual engagement surveys. Start with questions like, how are you feeling about the new hybrid layout? How do you feel about leadership? Are you receiving enough meaningful performance feedback? Do you have what you need to be successful?
No matter what your vision is for your business, you’ll be better equipped to get there by choosing an HR digital platform, like Trickle, that aligns with your hybrid working goals. You want scalable services and features that help the business achieve its goals and adapt to its needs as they evolve.
Most cloud-based platforms like Trickle help you engage with employees on a more personal level with surveys, polls, private chats and team groups.
Results from these polls and surveys are held in one place and monitored in real-time, making it easy for HR and management teams to understand how employees are feeling — and how to improve.
Having workforce analytics readily available when you need them will also make future planning easier, which is especially useful when testing out different ways of hybrid working.
How to stay connected
Employees still need to feel connected, whether working at home or in the office. Put a focus on social events and encourage optional meet-ups.
It can be difficult to find a place everyone can meet in person when working under a hybrid model, so choosing activities that can be attended online as well as in-person is a nice way to show that you’ve considered your employees’ situations.
Here are a few fun ways to boost team morale:
- Fika breaks: these are a Swedish technique to help employees feel focussed and realign priorities. The 15-minute social break gives space to chat with colleagues both online and in the office. Coffee, tea and cakes are encouraged!
- Encourage group chats: these can be used no matter where your employees are working. Make sure no one is left out by sending a motivational message each morning or sharing polls and mini quizzes.
- Virtual social events: this could be a book club, pizza party, happy hour or a number of other activities. Try to make it as close to real life as possible by not over formalising the schedule and letting people chat freely.
- Online workouts: exercise helps reduce stress by boosting the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, endorphins. Doing workout sessions together can boost morale. Activities like yoga are great ways to re-centre, too.
Embrace hybrid working with Trickle
Rearranging the working model in a business can be difficult. HR platforms like Trickle can help you monitor the happiness of your team as they move through the process of hybrid working. Use their feedback to set and reach goals that are healthy for everyone.
Here are a few of our features that can help:
- Activity feed — this is your place to have open and fun group conversations. This instant messaging tool gives everyone a voice to socialise and feel less isolated when working from home.
- Fist Bump — this is a great way to give praise, to recognise someone for their efforts and encourage peer-to-peer support. All proven ways to increase job satisfaction, teamwork and boost morale.
- Shout Abouts — these spread positivity and boost engagement by sharing important company news and celebrating team wins. The announcements appear in the Activity Feed for everyone to see and high-five virtually.
- MoodSense — this lets you gauge employee feelings in real-time, helping you identify where grievances lie so that you can make edits to your working models where relevant.
- Flares — these allow employees to anonymously flag any issues they’ve experienced when working in the office and at home, from problems with schedules and productivity to highlighting collaboration and workflow issues.
- “How Was Your Day?” — this feature is a simple question that when answered daily, gives HR an idea of what life is like jumping between home and office. Asking employees how they are is the first step in making positive change that will benefit them long term.
Get a deeper understanding of how to manage shifts in your business by reading our article on how HR can help in organisational change.
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