A Hybrid Workplace – How Hard Can It Be?

As the world starts transitioning from lockdown home working to returning to the workplace, is Hybrid-working the Holy Grail we have all been looking for, or is it riddled with pitfalls for HR and Leaders? Here are our 5 steps for making it work.

As organizations begin the change into a hybrid or agile working environment, they are beginning to realize that there are more complexities to working this way than expected. Most organizations we are talking to are looking at a 3/2 or 2/3 model – i.e., 3 days in the office and 2 days at home, but it isn’t as simple as just issuing a policy and making sure the IT works. What if everyone decided that they want to work from home on Fridays and Mondays? It is all very well giving the autonomy to teams to figure out how this will work but without consistency in using office facilities, there could be chaos as everyone fights for a desk between Tuesday and Thursday!

At Emerge we are working to support many organizations to implement the new ways of working and what we are hearing from HR is that it is almost easier when everyone is either working in the office or working from home. In some ways, this has taken companies and employees by surprise, as people feel that they have already had over a year of working remotely and know how to do it – so why does it feel difficult? The answer is, of course. it is always more difficult to manage something with two modes than one and this complexity of choices, options, and preferences is starting to cause frustration and concern on both sides, particularly as some staff considers it an entitlement, whereas organizations see it as a benefit.

Whilst some companies relish the idea of relinquishing office space and saving costs on overheads, some executive teams would prefer to have the workforce permanently back in the office. The concern is that, when lockdown is over and people have other things to do in their life apart from work, productivity when working from home will drop. On the other side, workers have now had a taste of flexible working, less traveling, a better home-work life balance, maybe even starting to re-organize their lives around remote working and aren’t ready to renounce this flexibility without a tussle.

When we get deeper into examining these complexities, it is easy to understand how complicated it is to implement a solution that works for both parties. Here are just some things to consider.

What the client needs:

  • Working from home safely and effectively

  • Maintaining and building teamworking

  • Employee preferences

  • Jobs and tasks – how easy is it for them to be done remotely?

  • Ensuring company values are lived

  • Maintaining the team culture

  • Hours – is it hybrid working or flexible working?

  • What impact might it have on other departments?

  • Training and development

But even if you can find a way to ensure that all the practicalities are met, there is another massive issue, the big ‘T’ – Trust. When it was compulsory for people to stay at home and work, managers had no choice apart from to trust their workers to do their work, but in this new world, many managers have realized that they need to learn a new way of leading to get the best from their teams. Leaders can no longer manage by ‘presenteeism’, and this is where it is crucial for Leaders to perfect their delegation style, increase the focus on clients and stakeholders, enhance communication, and boost inclusivity.

Here are our top 5 key learnings for a great hybrid environment:

1. Contracting with Clients

Before agreeing on anything with the team it is critical to meet with clients for feedback (both internal and external) to truly understand their needs and contract with them. Checking what hours they will need the face-to-face presence and how you will review service is vital. Once the team understands the client’s needs, they then need to understand that the remote working agreement is a pilot that will be reviewed with the client and could be subject to change.

2. Transition Team Building

As the next phase starts to unravel, drawing a line in the sand and paying attention to teambuilding, can really help to re-engage teams. Revisiting the vision, learning more about each other, discussing the impact that lockdown has had on team members, and discussing concerns and anxieties going forward can set the foundation for the new working practices. There may be conflict that needs to be addressed i.e., what days people are in and the core hours you expect them to be available for? Are there specific times where availability is essential due to service level agreements and are there team meetings that you expect them to be available for?

3. Establish New Boundaries Clearly

Even if things have been working well during the pandemic, now is the time to have open 1:1s to discuss working from home expectations going forward. This also means upping the game on setting objectives, both monthly and weekly to ensure that outputs are clearly defined. It is also a useful exercise to jointly consider responsibilities and authority – often managers are great at delegating responsibility but don’t implicitly discuss what level of authority the person has. In a hybrid world, this is so important – they need to know what they are empowered to do if they can’t get hold of you. In order to ensure silos don’t appear, it is also useful to consider whether there are any “cracks” where responsibilities are uncertain between team members that need to be closed.

4. Amplify Communication

Many team members have reported that communication did not work in lockdown, so now is the time to really focus on this area. How will 1 to 1s happen and is the purpose of these meetings clear so both of you arrive prepared and focused? What do you want them to report to you, how and when? If reporting lines aren’t clear, it will be impossible to generate a deep trust between you. How will you report back to the team member on their performance and outputs? And what about those ‘beloved’ meetings? We have all learned how to run virtual meetings, but meetings, where half the people are in the office and half, are working remotely is much more difficult to manage. So, leaders need to give a lot of thought to what meetings are important and whether they need to be face to face.

5. Supporting team members remotely

Our final point is about the support that team members need to make homeworking as effective as it can be for them, and a good starting point is their working environment. Do they have suitable equipment or are they working all day on the sofa? Is their working space sufficient for them to be both comfortable and productive? However, beyond a health and safety assessment, it is also about self-development and how their training needs will be identified and met. It is also good for them to identify how they will maintain virtual visibility.

In summary, it’s now ‘business as unusual’ so recognize your normal leadership style might not work in a hybrid environment, set clear boundaries, build trust by thinking of people with good intent, keep the team morale high by watching for cliques and silos and delegate with conviction. And remember, this phase has to be a pilot and team members need to be clear that further change may be required.