By Beth Marr, Head of Employee Relations at Brave HCG
Looking back over the last year, it is undeniable that the working world looks and feels very different for many people. Perhaps most striking is how each individual experience has been so vastly different and personal. And it is this individual element that seems key to employers as they look forward and think about creating a longer-term strategy for their working worlds – one that will fit their business needs but also the personal preferences of those involved.
The most common change for employees over the last year in their working arrangements has of course been, the location of their workplace. Research indicates that the majority of people would prefer not to continue working entirely at home but neither do they want to return to their workplace for all of their working time. This has led to many employers considering “hybrid-working” arrangements on a longer-term basis, where people balance their time between the workplace and home (or another remote location). Some businesses are also considering greater flexibility in working time as well as location, moving away even further from the traditional office-based 9-5.
Employers will need to respond to these changing preferences to attract and retain the best talent, ensure high levels of employee engagement and personal wellbeing and drive business productivity. But how do employers develop hybrid-working arrangements that works for everyone? The answer is probably, that they don’t. The most successful flexible working strategies need flexibility themselves so that individual needs and preferences can be at the forefront.
However, there are strategic steps employers can take to develop principles at a company, team and individual level to help manage the future of hybrid-working successfully. Key considerations are:
- Review resourcing structure and individual role purpose and tasks – consider the key drivers of productivity for each role and how they link to other roles in the team/business. What degree of co-operation do the tasks require and how can they be managed? Look at the degree of synchronisation between roles and whether tasks need to be done at the same time and in the same place.
- Review projects and workflows across teams – consider the links across teams and how to co-ordinate if work is being done over a wider range of locations and times. Look at technological support that is available to help teams co-ordinate.
- Employee preferences and situations – building in individual needs is crucial to success. Consider how each person is engaged and performs best in their role and how their working arrangements support their personal wellbeing and work-life balance. What type and level of interaction will help them best with their individual learning and development needs and career aspirations?
- Inclusion and fairness – it is unlikely one size will fit all. Most businesses will need to develop a spectrum of different working arrangements in terms of location and time, that differ depending on team, individual role and personal needs. Involve a variety of employees in shaping the strategy for hybrid-working who represent a cross-section of different levels, role types, experiences, personal situations, preferences and opinions.
There are also many practical considerations to factor in including:
- ensure employees have safe and appropriate work-stations at home with the equipment they require (consider health and safety, physical and mental wellbeing, security, confidentiality and data protection),
- technology is utilised effectively to support different working arrangements across location and time;
- managers are trained to support hybrid-working team dynamics and individual team member wellbeing;
- focus on inclusion when establishing informal and formal methods of communication and team working (for example, all team members dial-in separately if there are any members joining remotely); and
- audit your employee-life cycle and consider how to reflect hybrid-working through attraction, recruitment, induction, learning and development, performance management and reward and recognition
- review and adapt employment contracts, policies and procedures to reflect new working arrangements
Hybrid-working seems to offer the opportunity to optimize the benefits of home/remote working but minimize the downsides – for example optimizing the amount and flexibility of time available for personal lives, while minimising the potential isolation of being away from colleagues the whole time. This is all providing careful consideration is given to the individual needs of those involved and the right balance is struck.
And in the meantime, while you’re considering your longer-term approach to ways of working, check in on how your employees are feeling now. Everyone has had a different experience and the impact on their mental wellbeing may have been positive, negative or fluctuated from one extreme to another. It is a good time to reflect with them on their personal experience of working life over the past year, find out what support they might need now during the transitional time and get their views on how hybrid-working would work best for them