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How HR can support a hybrid working reset

Hybrid working has been the big, generational change in working patterns that historians will probably look back on in the future and regard as one of the enduring legacies of the pandemic. We have all got used to mixing traditional in-office working with connecting through screens from home. But is it actually working? While dividing time between home and the office is a sound model in principle, there are clear signs that it’s not delivering all that it could.

A mixed picture

We see evidence of this in our Nash Squared Digital Leadership Report. Only a quarter of respondents in our 2023 research say that their model is working ‘extremely well’. In 57% of cases, it’s a more underwhelming verdict of ‘quite well’. For nearly one in five, it’s working quite or very poorly.

This is despite the fact that businesses have been developing and adjusting their models over time. Organisations have moved firmly away from the fully remote model of the pandemic period and are pushing up the number of days employees should be in. If we compare the 2022 and 2023 Digital Leadership Report findings, this is clearly visible. In 2022, 27% of respondents said they asked staff to be in the office two days a week and 26% asked for three days. A year later, those figures had grown to 36% and 37% respectively.

Hybrid working uncovering the disconnects

Before I get onto how HR can help drive solutions, it’s worth standing back and asking: why is hybrid working not fully delivering at the moment? In my view, the reason is that traditional five days in-office working covered over the cracks of what we might call broken operating systems. Companies may have had inefficient processes, sub-optimal task management structures and poor communication flows – but this was compensated for through those in-the-moment, often impromptu meetings and side-of-desk conversations in the workplace. It may have been an imperfect system, but one way or another things got done.

Hybrid working has made those cracks in the operating system visible. People simply aren’t physically co-located as much of the time and this creates disconnects and slows decision-making down.

HR leading a re-examination of the model

I believe the time is right for a more thoughtful and intentional approach. HR leaders and their teams can play a key role in this, helping business stakeholders think about the most important process flows in the organisation and how tasks move around to get jobs done. This is about identifying those ‘pots of value’ where the business really delivers at its best and which require face-to-face working to happen, as opposed to those things that can be done on a remote or hybrid basis. Where are the key crossovers and handoffs, and which of these depend on in-person interactions to get the best results?

It can then move to a departmental level, empowering teams to consider their key outcomes. Which stakeholders, inside and outside of their teams, do they need to interact with to achieve these? Who do they provide services/information to, and who are they reliant on receiving them from? This should become a very granular planning process, looking at key specific tasks and outputs on specific days of the week or month.

Putting all these pieces together will help determine what pattern of in-office working across team members will produce optimal results. This may vary across the organisation. Critically, this needs to be communicated, discussed and agreed with team members – resetting the perceived ‘contract’ where necessary.

It’s an intrinsically human issue too – and another key to success is that we should all, as individuals, take responsibility to ensure that we get the job done, and manage our time as effectively as possible. This may mean compromise and flexibility.

Unlocking the rewards

Ultimately, businesses are attempting something that is still new, at a time when we are still experiencing seismic macro changes – and getting new things right on an organisational level takes time. The ‘easy’ way may be to introduce a blanket mandate for four or five days in the office. But it is worth HR teams pushing to help the organisation do better than this: hybrid working brings multiple benefits, supporting flexibility and also diversity as it helps people build their own working patterns to fit varying circumstances and needs.

It is highly valued by many colleagues and has become a critical part of the employee value proposition. There is a business and productivity reward on offer from getting it right – it’s worth HR’s efforts to make it work.

 

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