Want to make hybrid working permanent? Read this first
UK employees now want to work remotely for half the week, according to our latest report with the Centre for Economics and Business Research.
But what have new ways of working done for employers?
According to Cebr, increased remote working has boosted employee productivity and led to increased employee and customer satisfaction in the UK’s businesses.
In fact, 69% of UK organisations are planning to make hybrid working a permanent feature.
For those making the switch, however, there are a number of different challenges to think about.
In this article I’m going to explore what they are and how you can overcome them.
4 questions to ask
1. How will you keep your culture intact?
Company cultures are like employees: when you find a good one you don’t want to lose it.
And that’s the same whether you’re the business owner or a brand-new hire.
Really when we talk about culture we’re talking about people. How empowered are they? How well do they support each other? What kind of things do they say when they meet in the corridor? How does it feel when you walk into the office?
Historically these things often came from face-to-face interactions. Now business leaders need to work out how to keep that culture alive in a largely – if not mostly or even entirely – virtual setting.
The good news is it’s already working for many.
In its analysis of employee-written reviews on Glassdoor, MIT Sloan Management Review found that between April and August 2020 employees were ranking their organisations’ culture higher than at any point in the last five years.
2. How will you keep employees engaged?
We’ve talked about company culture. But let’s not forget the impact on the individual.
16% of people feel ‘disconnected’ when working from home, according to Cebr, while 15% feel ‘lonely’.
And younger workers are more likely to be concerned about remote working than their older colleagues (something to bear in mind if your workforce contains a large percentage of the former group).
It’s important to listen to the individual needs of every employee and make sure everyone is catered for and treated fairly.
A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work.
3. What technology and equipment do people need?
There’s also a significant divide in the quality of people’s home-working setup, again largely dictated by age group:
18-24-year-olds are twice as likely as their older colleagues to have a poor broadband connection at home (13% compared to 7% of those aged 35+)
16% of 18-34-year-olds lack confidence with remote working technologies, compared to only 10% of those aged 55+
If working remotely is going to be part of your company policy, it’s important to make sure employees have the necessary tools and training to do so.
46% of employees Cebr surveyed think companies should provide staff with the right IT equipment to work from home.
Of course, any extra equipment comes with a cost. And while many companies will offset that by reducing their physical office space, it’s something to bear in mind.
4. How are you going to support wellbeing?
Lastly, make sure you’re doing all the above in a way that encourages not just productivity but employee wellbeing.
People who work from home are spending longer at their desks and facing a bigger workload than before the Covid pandemic hit, according to one recent study.
But our Cebr report found that the right hybrid working approach can also give people an extra two hours a day of ‘me time’ on average.
Cebr also asked people about the impact of hybrid working on their mental and physical health.
82% said it had a positive impact on their mental health, while 79% said the same about their physical health.
For people to fully enjoy the potential wellbeing benefits of hybrid working they need to be able to break free from back-to-back calls at their desk (or kitchen table).
Try to have a gap in day where people are encouraged not to put calls in. Try limiting calls to 45 minutes instead of an hour. Or even try reducing the number of calls overall.
3 actions to take now
1. Reimagine what the office is
It’s unlikely that many businesses will want to go fully remote in the wake of Covid-19, especially if they’ve fostered the kind of culture I mentioned earlier.
But a hybrid approach can give you the best of both worlds.
Hybrid working is not just about allowing people to split their time between the office and their home. It’s about rethinking what the office is for and how you can make the most of that physical space.
A recent Financial Times article explored how many companies are redesigning their offices to facilitate collaboration and offer something better than working from home – something we also explored in our recent panel discussion about the new hybrid workplace.
This makes sense, of course. When you travel all the way to the office just to sit on video calls at your desk all day, you tend to wonder what the point is (bonus points if the office WiFi is worse than what you have at home).
The point is you’ve got to make the office appealing. Somewhere people can go to get something remote working doesn’t provide: collaboration, socialisation, atmosphere and (dare I say it): fun.
2. Invest in the right technology and infrastructure
But encouraging people to use the office is only one part of the battle. Once you have a mix of people working in the office or remotely at any one time, the technology challenges really begin.
In the early days of lockdown when everyone was working in the same way, the challenge was purely about getting people set up for remote communication. But essentially everyone was in the same boat.
Trying to make a meeting run smoothly when you have six people in the same room and six people dialling in from their homes, however, is a very different scenario.
Without the right technology, it simply does not work.
That’s why so many medium businesses have been investing in new hybrid working technologies in the past 18 months or so.
All these new cloud-based tools require a lot of extra bandwidth, however, so it’s important to make sure your underlying infrastructure can cope.
Not only does your network need to be powerful enough to power these tools – it also needs to be flexible enough to allow for an unpredictable future (as those who weren’t set up for the cloud learned the hard way in March 2020).
3. Put proper hybrid working policies in place
Office planning, technology and infrastructure will get you so far. But you need to back them up with strong workplace policies.
It’s about empowering staff to use collaborative tools in the right way rather than leaving them to figure it out on their own. Giving them proper guidance and training to make sure they’re managing their time effectively, for example.
And it’s also about making sure everyone feels included and part of one team.
Everyone has their own reasons for choosing to work remotely or not. If there are a group of people in a meeting and one person dialling in from home, you need a process in place to make sure that person doesn’t feel like an outsider.
And that goes for general day-to-day work as well – if people are working remotely, do they feel like they’re ‘missing out’ on stuff that’s happening in the office? It’s a tricky but important challenge that you need to nip in the bud before it becomes a problem.
Lastly, don’t forget to promote and champion new ways of doing things.
If employees don’t recognise the benefits of new technology, they may feel disconnected from it.
Put people at the centre of your hybrid working strategy. Show them empathy, understanding and flexibility. And they’ll take care of the rest.
Ready to seize your new everyday?
For many organisations like yours, lockdown was a matter of survival.
Now, as the UK begins to heal, it’s not about surviving anymore.
It’s about thriving.
That means adopting the tools you need to empower your people in the world beyond Covid-19. And making sure you have the connectivity to support them.