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Covid-19 has put the HR function under considerable additional pressure over the past 18 months as the way we work has been reimagined.  And having handled working from home successfully, it is now time to turn our attention to a return to the office for at least part of the week.  But with some preferring to remain at home, while others choose a hybrid, or office-based work environment, organisations need to ensure that, regardless of approach, all employees remain engaged, and that productivity remains unaffected.

While still embedding remote working practices as a more permanent feature of office life, businesses across the country are moving beyond the survival mind-set of the past year and instead looking towards the future and planning how best to drive productivity and profitability while maintaining agility.  A key factor we need to consider is how hybrid working is set to shift away from being an emergency expedience and playing a larger overall part in the makeup of modern businesses, and how employees can continue to be productive going from office to home and vice versa.

A survey by the Institute of Directors found that 60% of businesses surveyed said that they were preparing for a permanent switch to hybrid working. The recent announcement by Microsoft which lays out their long term hybrid working plans for employees also suggests that this is a trend which will only accelerate as bigger names in respective fields begin to make the switch.

In order to maximise their success moving forward, business leaders will need to be proactive in embracing the permanent move to hybrid working and be aware of some of the complexities of managing a workforce split between office and home. But what does a hybrid workforce mean for businesses and how can HR help drive organisational productivity amongst its people, wherever they are working from?

  1. Communication is key- With the modern workforce looking to become more disparate than ever, it is crucial that organisations have the frameworks in place to support the demand for hybrid working. Appraisals, feedback sessions and even everyday team meetings take on an added layer of complexity when accounting for a hybrid workforce. Organisations also need to be mindful of the asynchronous nature of hybrid working and ensure that meeting scheduling is left flexible to account for varied work schedules. The adoption of new platforms such as HR management systems will be an asset for organisations looking to bridge the gap between their employees and provide a way to stay in touch with your people easily and effectively, wherever they are working from.
  1. Set objectives and expectations-A wider concern around a permanent shift to hybrid working is ensuring that all employees are properly aligned with an organisation’s business goals. Hybrid working will naturally introduce an element of compromise wherein the working day will become less rigid in order to account for outside or domestic influences. Businesses that set out clear objectives and expectations for their teams will find that the transition to hybrid working doesn’t mean unduly compromising performance and productivity. A clear understanding of the metrics you need to succeed will free you to motivate and manage your people effectively, without the need for panicked, reactive course correction which can lead to undue stress and levels of burnout among your people.
  1. Make your people comfortable-With many people looking to make remote working a more permanent fixture of their working lives, it is important that their businesses are taking a proactive approach in finding out their requirements and ensuring that they have the equipment necessary to make their working from home arrangements as comfortable as possible. Ensuring remote workers have access to additional monitors, ergonomic office chairs or standing desks can go a long way towards bridging the gap between the office and home working experience.
  1. Encourage a feedback model- One of the biggest pitfalls for companies when adopting hybrid working will be trying to enact sweeping reforms without the consultation of their people. There will be no one size fits all solution to the hybrid workforce and businesses must ensure they are proactive in engaging with their people in order to identify what work set up will suit each individual. Hybrid working should also be treated as an ongoing evolving process, meaning that employees should feel comfortable switching from a more office based or remote role depending on their circumstances. HR teams will play a crucial role in bridging the gap between employee and employer and ensuring that each individual has access to the tools they need in order to thrive. More than ever, employees should be encouraged to be frank and open in their feedback in order to inform their employer’s development of the hybrid working model.
  1. Ensure fairness- The permanent shift to hybrid working presents a number of interesting problems for organisations, particularly when it comes to ensuring a high level of employee engagement. With hybrid workforces looking to become embedded as a part of the fabric of the modern working culture, businesses will need to make sure that they are striving for balance between their teams and ensuring that any company policies are even handed and applied fairly between home and office-based staff. Employee benefits and reward schemes must also be evenly weighted in order to benefit each staff member and the communication of policy will be of upmost importance particularly as companies begin to recruit and on-board hybrid workers.

It is evident that the shift to hybrid working is providing a number of unique challenges for organisations moving forward. Beyond the logistical concerns of ensuring that all employees are set up for comfortable home working and also safe and compliant whilst working in an office, there lies the greater issue of employee engagement and how to ensure that your people are fully aligned with your business goals when split between office and home.

It is clear that, in order to succeed, businesses will need to take a proactive approach and engage with their employees in order to make sure that the hybrid working model is mutually beneficial. The adoption of new platforms and technologies will also help bridge the gap between remote and office-based workers and offer a sense of continuity between teams.

Embracing hybrid working as an evolution of the workforce will be key in allowing businesses to make the most out of the new set up. Lean into the flexibility afforded by the model and allow your people to create a schedule that works around their requirements. Rugged HR systems and processes can give you the oversight you need to have the confidence to allow your people to get on with their work without the need for panicked intervention or course correction.

By ensuring that your people are fully aware of and clearly aligned with your business goals and also demonstrating the proper degree of trust in them to manage their own schedule, you will find your people feel confident, happier and more engaged. With the right support and procedures in place employees can remain productive and engaged no matter where they work.

    Alex is Chief People Officer at Advanced, one of the UK's largest software and services companies. Alex is responsible for leading the company’s talent and development initiatives from recruitment to retention. She has been the champion of innovative new people-focused approaches, including attraction strategies which actively avoid unconscious bias and famously throwing CVs out of the window.

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