Hybrid working should be viewed as one positive outcome of the pandemic, an opportunity for companies to revolutionise working practices and empower employees to improve their work-life balance. There are numerous accounts of organisations of all sizes finding their feet in this new flexible working world. But how do managers know what setup will work best for business – and their staff?
The employee dissension following the implementation of a ‘rigid’ hybrid working policy at Apple demonstrates how flexibility is now so highly valued, and even expected, by the workforce. Although Apple is doing what it believes is best for the company, it’s a challenge to find a model that suits everyone – what works for one person or company may not work for another.
Dan Harding, CEO, Sign In App explains that in the new hybrid working world, organisations need to use what they have learned over the past year to implement the best working practices for their company. But he warns that those businesses that try and fake it to make it by only paying lip service to the idea of flexibility will quickly be found out, and likely struggle to attract and retain the best employees.
Looking back to look forward
During the first lockdown, organisations didn’t have much choice but to work from home. The lessons gained from this experience are invaluable to companies looking to introduce flexible working policies. What worked well during this period? How are employees feeling about returning to the office? What technology was put in place to support remote working and how can it be used to support the transition to a hybrid model?
For those that want to implement working models that inspire and encourage employees, it’s important to look back over the last 18 months and understand what has worked best and what further changes might need to be implemented. The key is flexibility. This will be an iterative process for many organisations that can be agile – to adapt and tweak their approach to ensure it works for all.
Business leaders should take this chance to ask important questions in order to gain employee feedback and assess the needs of the business. Questions such as: Has the business grown over the last year with remote working in place? Has employee wellbeing improved? Where can business activity actually take place and where are staff most productive? The answers can be critical for a business to establish the right hybrid working policies for them that suit both the business model and employees – if something doesn’t work for your organisation, be honest and don’t just try to fake it; it’s important not to just go along with following the same approaches as others.
Embracing the new way of working
Once organisations have considered their past experience to ensure hybrid working practices are suitable, companies should be committed to completely embracing this new way of working. Expectations have changed for both existing and potential employees and there will be staff members that see through rigid policies that claim to be hybrid and flexible.
Certain days in the office or workplace won’t work for everyone, especially when you consider elements such as the school run, travel considerations and parcel deliveries, or even the fact that for some tasks, workers simply feel they are more productive at home. Instead, time together in the workplace should be encouraged as a place for creativity – for brainstorming ideas and scribbling thoughts on whiteboards. Organisations can show their commitment to embracing flexible working by reimagining the office space, encouraging flexibility between days of the week for different teams and individuals alike and utilising the office space as a place to inspire and fuel the company culture, team meetings and collaboration.
Developing the management mindset
Of course, this commitment to flexibility and truly hybrid working comes from the management mindset. By putting employee well-being first and managing the change by fueling the parts that are successful and evolving the aspects that aren’t can help to support a successful working environment.
Management shouldn’t underestimate the power of letting employees make decisions based on how they want to work, for example having one set day a month for team touchdowns but allowing people to come in when it’s best for them. Businesses may end up being surprised – if employees feel like the office is a safe, comfortable and engaging environment, they may want to come in over working remotely. Natwest Group is an example of an organisation encouraging employees to work remotely and attend their office in person for two days a month – demonstrating commitment to flexible working and not turning against it or enforcing rigid policies.
However, there will be industries and organisations where this high level of flexibility is counterproductive. This is where it’s vital to not follow the crowd and deploy hybrid and flexible working for the sake of it. Similarly, businesses can’t promote themselves as a flexible workplace if they only pay lip service to the idea.
By demonstrating trust and full transparency to employees while using appropriate technology to support this visibility, the management team can do what works for their business. Companies should set clear expectations and objectives and allow time for any changes to settle, while still remaining agile to evolve the company’s approach over time, where required.
Business leaders have a responsibility to support those who want to work more remotely or more in the office, but they need to give employees the choice of what works best for them, while balancing the needs of the business. True flexibility and hybrid working may be important for the longevity of the business, not only for attracting and retaining the best talent but improving the wellbeing and productivity of employees.
When organisations put confidence in their workforce to make their own decisions, they can create empowered and valued employees. While it’s important to learn from examples, each business will have its own way of operating that suits all and figuring out what works best for your business – and committing fully to getting it right – is how companies will succeed. Employees will quickly uncover ‘fake’ hybrid working policies that are rigid and unrelenting. To attract and retain the best, companies must instead implement flexibility that will be to the benefit of all.