I wrote recently here about the Great Resignation. This term was coined in the US, but now clearly applies here in the UK and in Europe. Just look around at the efforts being made by companies such as Whitbread for a good example. Higher wages, retention bonuses, and a struggle to recruit are becoming a reality outside the US.
This is not the only challenge currently facing HR leaders. As we see vaccination levels increase and Covid restrictions reduced, many companies are trying to get back to a relatively normal situation. Usually this means asking people to return to the office after 18 months working from home. As Alexandra Anders wrote here on the HR Director blog recently, this can mean a negotiation around how to manage an uncertain new era of hybrid work.
A hybrid future has been championed by many. It embraces the flexibility that many employees want by allowing them to work from home sometimes and use the office when they need to attend meetings or meet their team. It sounds like an ideal mix and it’s true that for most companies, productivity was not affected by this work-from-home experiment – for many it was improved.
I believe there are two stages to making a hybrid future viable. First, engaging with your employees to find out what they actually want. Some will have loved the ability to no longer commute to work and to have more flexibility in the home. Some will have hated home working because they either do not have the space or they feel isolated from colleagues. Find out what your people really want before making any other decisions on this, but you will need to offer options everyone.
Second, think carefully about what is really going to work. This could be undertaken at a corporate or group level or delegated to smaller teams or departments, but this “reality check” thinking is needed. If everyone has complete flexibility then that may create a disjointed home and office experience – where is the value in attending the office in-person if meetings continue to be conducted on Zoom or Teams because nobody is in the same place at the same time?
The Harvard Business Review recently published a step-by-step guide that is a useful framework for thinking through some of the practical issues that may arise from hybrid working. You need to be thinking about inclusivity, unbiased performance management and proximity bias, trust, and team building. All these questions are simpler when the workplace is 100% remote or 100% based in the office – it is the hybrid arrangement that increases complexity, especially for HR.
Digital tools will be essential to making this work, but not just the typical office automation tools we commonly use – Slack, Teams, or Zoom. We really need to explore how the working environment can be as similar as possible whether you are working inside the office or in the home. For this to work, more virtualisation tools will be essential, so teams can really work together – and socialise – no matter where they are physically located.
Migrating to a hybrid work environment is often presented as an either/or situation. Working from home is endlessly compared to working in the office by business journalists as if this debate can be reduced to a series of pros and cons. The reality is that the nature of work is changing. Employee expectations are changing. We need to be designing hybrid solutions that truly help employees to be happier at work and more productive at the same time as enabling a mindset shift away from the idea of work always being linked to a “workplace.”