Planning for hybrid working
Following on from the global pandemic when working from home became the norm for many, we have seen the rapid growth of the hybrid work model where employees have the flexibility to work a portion of their week from home, with the remainder of the time in their office. So, what should organisations be thinking about when planning to go down the hybrid route? Here are some of the main points to bear in mind.
Technology plays a critical role in hybrid working. Employees need to be able to work seamlessly between workplace and home, and there needs to be ease of connectivity between people in the office and those working remotely.
The need to get technology infrastructure right is reinforced by two studies undertaken shortly after the pandemic:
- A Zen Internet report (The road to remote working: remember the basics) showed that 89% of remote workers wasted more than 30 minutes per day because of connectivity issues.
- A market research study undertaken by Velocity (Velocity Smart Technology Market Research Report 2021) indicated that 70% of remote workers had experienced IT problems during the pandemic, with 54% having to wait up to three hours for issues to be resolved.
Consequently, when considering hybrid working, it is important that the planned IT infrastructure addresses the following issues:
- Hybrid workers expect a seamless experience between the office and remote locations, with consistent and speedy access to applications, information and programmes from anywhere, via PC or remote devices, in order to do their work efficiently.
- Video conferencing is a core technology for hybrid workers, so it is important to ensure that sufficient bandwidth is available to enable video calls anytime and anywhere.
Increasingly the solution is to utilise a centralised, cloud-based system that ensures all employees have easy and equal access to the tools they need to communicate and carry out work effectively, regardless of their location.
The other key technology enabler for hybrid workers is, of course, collaboration software. This can come in the form of:
- Collaboration software solutions that connect teams for conversations and discussions, for example online messaging, video-conferencing, and audio-conferencing capabilities.
- Coordination-based collaboration software that assists with scheduling and typically includes task management and project management features, and time-tracking tools.
Also playing an important role in collaboration are digital dictation solutions. Enabling remote workers to dictate voice recordings at any time and from any location, send these through for transcription, share the resultant draft documents and automatically dispatch and store the final versions, ensures that dictation software is a key component of the hybrid working solutions in many organisations.
Of course, it is also important to provide adequate training and support for the various technology tools that underpin and enable hybrid working. As part of this, organisations should evaluate the way they support employees. For example, this might include extending helpdesk hours beyond 9am–5pm to account for employees working more flexible hours at home.
Hybrid working makes new demands on managers, given the requirement to manage and control both remote and office-based working at any one time. These demands include:
Developing a hybrid culture: Managers need to understand any possible risks and concerns related to a two-tier workforce, split into those in the office and those working remotely. Importantly they should be trained to support and communicate with people they don’t see on a daily basis, to trust their team to deliver, and to create and agree opportunities for collaboration.
The adoption of a "remote-first" approach can be adopted, meaning that meetings should be held online by default if some employees are joining remotely. Managers should be familiar with the skills needed to facilitate such meetings in order to provide equal access to information for both on-site and off-site workers.
Creating a hybrid working model suitable for the business: There is no one-size-fits-all formula for what a hybrid business should look like. For example, some companies allow employees to define their schedule as they wish; others might insist on everyone working from home for the same number of days each week. For some businesses, decisions about which roles can be done from home are taken by managers; in others, employees are free to make this decision.
The key is selecting whatever model is most appropriate and then setting clear guidelines for employees. For example, specifying whether they are expected to attend the office on specific days or for certain events, if they should be available for calls/video calls between certain times, or if they expected to be logged into certain systems at certain times.
Managing employee performance: Another important management challenge is controlling employee performance when they are working remotely or more flexibly. The key here is to adjust performance assessment to outcomes, contribution and value rather than simply the time spent in the office.
Hybrid working can support improved wellbeing through reducing commuting time, whilst providing employees with more autonomy around their schedules and extra time for health and wellbeing activities.
However, it can also bring specific challenges around work-life balance and managing the boundaries between work and home. Some people find that remote and flexible working is beneficial on different levels, but others can find it extremely difficult.
Consequently, careful thought should be given to providing training and support to employees on how best to manage work-life balance whilst working in a hybrid or remote style.
The implementation of the hybrid workplace model should also include a clear process for gathering and responding to employee feedback. Both on-site and remote staff should be consulted about what difficulties they are facing, where they think improvements could be achieved, and what specific day-to-day obstacles they face. And, importantly, any findings should be acted upon in a timely manner.
The importance of getting it right
From an organisational perspective it is vital that the plans for hybrid working are well thought out and employees are supportive of the move to ensure the successful adoption of this new approach, not least from employee morale, productivity and customer service viewpoints.
However, it’s also important to recognise that organisations who do not get it right run the risk of increased employee turnover, reduced employee engagement and limitations on the ability to attract talent in the future as workers have an increased expectancy that hybrid or remote working will be an integral part of how they operate.