Hybrid working is the new term on everyone’s lips. Just as ‘agile’ replaced ‘flexible’ with the promise of better and more balanced working practices, so ‘hybrid’ is now being seen as the saviour of the 21st century workplace. If only it were that simple!
The pandemic forced a radical rethink in what was viable when it came to flexible working. In the space of less than 12 months employers who’d been doggedly asserting that working from home was impossible suddenly found that when push came to shove it was not only possible but had certain benefits.
As the focus shifts to a safe return to the office there’s a growing enthusiasm for hybrid working arrangements that combine an office base with remote options. If you’re an employer hybrid working is almost inevitable as we progress through 2021. And if you want to get it right here are eight things to consider.
- Hybrid is a policy and your employees need a policy statement. I’ve heard many people talk about hybrid as a ‘way of working’; which is true. But the decision about who can work remotely and for what proportion of time must be a policy one. In practice it will differ from workplace to workplace dependant on what is considered appropriate and suitable. A policy statement will clarify this for your staff.
- Decisions about where and when the work is carried out should depend on the nature of the tasks involved and not the manager’s whims or prejudices. Pre pandemic it was common practice for employers to leave the decision about whether a job could be worked flexibly or remotely down to the line manager. This invariably led to inconsistencies and resentment when people felt they had been unfairly treated. Coming out of lockdown employers must ensure they have a consistent and systematic process for evaluating jobs; and the manager training to back this up (see also 8 below).
- A successful hybrid working policy will build on lessons learnt in 2020. As indicated earlier, there is no one way to do hybrid. The most effective arrangements will be the ones that suit the organisation. And the best way to identify that suitability is to assess what went well in in 2020 and where the challenges lay.
- Hybrid working will require a rethink of how jobs are structured. All jobs are made up of tasks which change and develop (and sometimes become redundant) over time. Some of those tasks lend themselves to remote working, others can only be carried out in a specific location. Initially this combination of tasks will define the ‘hybrid’ nature of a specific job. But with a creative approach it will be possible for jobs to be restructured; and tasks to be automated or reassigned to change the mix of location requirements. Job redesign will be critical for those employers ready to embrace the benefits of offering remote working options.
- Performance management processes will also need a rethink. It’s 25 years since Charles Handy wrote The Empty Raincoat which was in part an homage to workplace cultures that rewarded office based long hours working. Remote working requires a shift away from focussing on where work is done and how long it takes to focussing on outputs. And performance management becomes more about coaching employees to achieve those outputs.
- Other HR policies such as development, promotion, recruitment and even sickness absence will also be affected. In many workplaces those who are in the office tend to get the plum assignments leading to faster development and more promotion opportunities. Time for a rethink. Introducing hybrid working is also a good time to reconsider recruitment practices; specifically manager training in how to restructure jobs for flexibility (see also 8 below). And don’t forget sickness absence policies which must make it clear that even remote workers should rest when they are sick.
- Employee wellbeing remains the responsibility of the employer. Research back in 2017 showed only half of employers offered any formal guidance on how to manage work-life balance and how and when to disconnect from the technology than makes working 24/7 a possibility. It’s no wonder #AlwaysOn working had been increasing and continued to rise during lockdowns; with the consequent negative impacts on employee physical and mental wellbeing. Now is the time to review and upgrade your support for work-life balance.
- Training is essential. Managers are likely to need training in how to manage outputs rather than hours worked; and in how to restructure jobs to better fit the hybrid context. And staff will need training in how to manage their work-life balance as hybrid working continues to blur the boundaries.
Anna Meller, Work Re-Balance Expert at Sustainable Working Ltd