The New Hybrid - 7 Tips to Make it Work

Nothing to do with a car!  This term “hybrid” is commonly brandished around to refer to combining working hours or days from home or some other remote location, as well as from an office. How this looks now or will look in the near future is quite clear for some companies, for others it is still in discussion. From talking with clients, it seems that the most common reasons for employees not wishing to return to working full time in the office are:

  • For the last 18 months, work has been from home. Therefore, why is it necessary to go back to working at the office?
  • Productivity has stayed the same or even increased when working from home.
  • In those 18 months when there was no choice, I was trusted to do my job.

However, not all employees want to stay working from home and have some other points that offer a positive side for returning to the office:

  • When working from home, the lack of clarity around working hours and always expected to “be available” due to unclear work boundaries.
  • Lack of social contact with fellow team members and impromptu get-togethers.
  • Difficulty balancing limited space at home with family members and work demands.
  • Diminished team spirit.

Arguments from employers, even though they understand the obvious benefits of paying less office rent and associated expenses, are similar in many ways, with a few additions:

  • Teamwork suffers when we are not in the same space.
  • Company culture is negatively affected when working remotely.
  • Communication is not as open as it was before.
  • Productivity is suffering when working remotely.
  • Quality offered to clients in terms of phone line, accessibility etc is variable.
  • Lack of ad hoc learning from peers and managers when working from home.

This last point is supported by a recent survey and resulting report conducted by “Poly Evolution of the Workplace” which polled 2,003 UK hybrid workers and found that

“Nearly half (46 per cent) said they were worried that working remotely could impact their career development and progression, while 54 per cent said they were concerned they would miss out on ad hoc learning and development opportunities, including learning from peers and seniors, while working from home.”

The same report also found that “Almost half (48 per cent) said remote working had made them less confident in their ability to communicate effectively, and 45 per cent felt they had “lost the art of small talk” as part of their job, thus supporting the feeling and observation that communication is less open when working remotely.

What is the Answer?

Enter the new hybrid. Finding a balance that allows both employee and employer to meet their needs in terms of performance while feeling secure, trusted and appreciated, is the key. What it looks like is going to vary from one person to the next, depending on position and areas of responsibility. Points such as can there be different approaches for different people to meet individual needs, or will this be classed as discrimination if one appears to have more favourable working practices than another? In a five-day week what should the balance of hours be between home and office?

Clearly hybrid working is not effective for all positions and in some cases not possible, for example a chef, waiter or carer, who are either in their work environment working or off work and therefore out of the “office” environment. Should these people be compensated in some way for travel costs which other team members do not have?

If trust is the main issue that organisations are facing when wanting to change employees full time working at home to either a hybrid solution or complete reversal of the current situation to 100% office-based roles, perhaps open communication is the best way to address this question to explore the needs of all concerned and find the solution that works through a win-win approach. Consider some or all of the following tips to formulating an acceptable approach to a hybrid working style for those that wish to remain working from home:

1) Empathetic Listening 

In such situations, effective listening plays a massive role.Truly hearing what the other party is saying and recognising and responding to the words as well as the underlying emotions demonstrates a willingness to listen and to hear before proposing a ready-prepared solution that might not meet the needs of your employee who has made massive changes to their life to accommodate the change in circumstances due to “force majeure.” This same force majeure on the employer’s side also needs recognising, because without rapid changes in response to the pandemic, may not have survived and still be doing business today.

2) Explore Options

Rather than arriving at a meeting with employees with a fait accompli, taking time to explore options that could and would work is far more motivating than presenting a ready-made solution. Giving the other person/s the feeling that you want to work with their needs to find a solution not only motivates, but builds openness and trust in you as well as in the solution moving forward. In order to explore options through negotiation, both parties to keep in mind what you would like to achieve as well as identifying a minimum to which you are prepared to go in terms of compromise.

3) Make A Proposal

The proposal does not have to come from the employer only, the employee can also put their proposal on the table for consideration. The outcome needs to suit the business and both parties within the business. Perhaps the employee has thought of something that the employer has not considered that is a fine working solution for both parties.

4) Agree a Way Forward

Keep the conversation focused to the goals of agreeing the way forward and achieving a hybrid working structure that meets the needs of both parties, assuming hybrid is what you want. Once all facts and details have been discussed guide the conversation appropriately to achieve an agreement which is then documented in line with HR procedures. If agreeing on a trial approach for a certain time period, document this as well as the date and time for any follow up discussion. Be sure to schedule that follow up and show commitment to having the discussion.

5) Monitor Performance

Going forward in the new regime, the direct manager to monitor performance of each employee following a format that has been agreed between parties. Be ready to help with any difficulties and challenges and show a willingness to make it work. Key to making it work is to provide training and development for managers and leaders in how to effectively manage and inspire remote teams.

6) Help Employees Plan Personal and Working Time

For team members who are struggling with the feeling or expectation that they should be available all the time need help in understanding how to plan, in order to integrate their personal and working lives. Ngozi Weller, co-founder of Aurora Wellness stressed that “Managers should give guidance to employees on blocking time in diaries for lunch and other personal time, focused time to get work done, their definite start and end times and more.”

“Employees need to protect themselves from the risk of burnout by planning for their personal wellbeing as a regular part of the work-day,” said Weller. “This could look different for each of us, but the principle of good work hygiene is the same.”

7) Train Managers to Manage Employee Wellbeing

Managing a team that is working remotely requires development of communication skills, especially listening. Relying on technology such as Zoom and Teams to host meetings is part of our daily lives in the hybrid model.However, as these platforms are limited from the point of view of picking up on non-verbal signals, there is a necessity to heighten the ability to “see” and to notice when things might be going right for some team members, and to be confident to lead and hold conversations around wellbeing. Gary Cookson, director of Epic HR said that “Managers should be able to pick up on subtle signals around communication, working hours and outputs. Training should also equip them to have appropriate conversations around wellbeing.”

“Success in a hybrid work environment requires employers to move beyond viewing remote or hybrid environments as a temporary or short-term strategy and to treat it as an opportunity.” 

- George Penn, VP at Gartner

 

References

HOWLETT, E (2021)  Half of workers concerned hybrid working could lead to discrimination, report finds [People management.co.uk

POLY (2021) Poly Evolution of the Workplace Report Highlights Need for Work Equity and Total Meeting Equality for Hybrid Workers [Poly.com]

 

WANT TO MAXIMAISE THE POWER OF HYBRID WORKING? SEE OUR WELLBEING IN THE WORKPLACE E-LEARNING COURSES!

 

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