This past year and a half has served as an extended experiment for companies, as they tested out the best ways to effectively manage a remote workforce. Now that Covid-19 restrictions are easing in many parts of the globe, however, leaders must now undertake a brand-new experiment: how do you bring that same remote workforce back into the office – and what should that office look like?
With technology making the hybrid working model more possible, less harmful impacts on the environment and more time for ourselves; it has definitely affected the way in how we can work.
Now, the future is open, and we need to decide what it actually looks like. But one thing is for sure, and that’s the workplace we left in 2020 will not be the same as the one we return to in 2021.
What considerations are needed for hybrid working?
The thinking behind hybrid working models is not new, but today we are looking at accepting hybrid working as the norm and that greater scope of flexibility is raising some interesting and legitimate concerns, which are very much based on what we have started to experience over the course of the pandemic.
- Are there any roles that should be prioritised for return to the workplace?
- Are there any employees who need to continue to work from home in the short term, for example, because they remain vulnerable, have ongoing health conditions or are undertaking caring responsibilities?
- How can we consult with employees on plans for returning to the workplace and encourage them to raise their questions or concerns?
- When operating a hybrid model, what role does physical space and technology play?
- How can we build and maintain a culture, one that sustains trust and builds on fun and productivity?
- How do we consider the principle of inclusion when most of the workforce isn’t physically in an office, how do we ensure their voice is still heard?
- How do we manage performance effectively?
- How do we celebrate key milestones and successes?
Ensuring workplace health and safety
Health and safety needs to be at the forefront of all decisions made in relation to returning to the workplace. Many employees will feel anxious about returning to the office and business leaders will need to manage their concerns. An immediate redesign of the office will therefore be needed to ensure it is safe. Work stations will have to allow people to sit the required distance apart without people entering each other’s personal space. Common areas such as meeting rooms, receptions, kitchens and toilets will need a rethink, sanitiser gel will need to be readily available and rules on shared spaces clearly communicated.
As a result of these changes, the office space may not be available to accommodate all employees, as it once did, and some employees will decide to work from home for longer for many different reasons.
Employee physical and mental wellbeing
Coupled with a fear of exclusion, is a fear of burnout and mental health problems. For parents, working from home while trying to manage childcare duties is extremely full-on and doesn’t offer much respite. And for others, the demand that comes from back-to-back video calls all day, along with extended working hours, can also have a knock-on effect of stress, lack of sleep and a general lack of work/life balance.
The current crisis will have no doubt negatively impacted a number of people and it has the potential to manifest itself over time. So, at a time when we understandably are talking about mental health and anxiety a lot, we need to be incredibly mindful and careful and exercise our duty of care around caring for employees who are struggling or who have had a hard time.
Support and mentorship
Turning around and asking a quick question suddenly becomes a lot more difficult when working from home or in a hybrid working environment. The chance interactions and conversations that help you get to know those around the business, simply aren’t there. So, building in the right framework for training and mentorship is definitely another consideration businesses will need to factor in, to help avoid new hires feeling frustrated and isolated.
Hybrid working policies and procedures
Hybrid working is a form of flexible working. Therefore, you may consider either adapting or updating an existing flexible working policy to include hybrid working as a specific category or introducing a specific hybrid working policy. What is appropriate for each business will depend on their specific context. Whichever decision is made, as hybrid working is a relatively new concept, any new or adapted policy should be issued with supporting guidance and information to enable effective implementation.
When developing policies and procedures organisations should consider the following:
- Who (or which role types) is eligible for hybrid working.
- Explaining how to request hybrid working.
- Clarifying roles and responsibilities for hybrid workers and hoe performance will be managed.
- How hybrid working intersects with other forms of flexible working.
- Reviewing other related policies including, for example, expenses, IT usage, homeworking, and data protection.
Legal implications of hybrid working
Organisations will need to give careful consideration to the contractual implications of hybrid working. Where employees make a formal request for hybrid working through a flexible working policy (and the request is accepted) this will amount to a formal change to terms and conditions of employment. Hybrid working (and indeed other forms of flexible working) can also be undertaken on an informal basis without a contractual change. You should make sure that employees and managers understand the differences and the implications of both.
What if your organisation does not adapt to the hybrid working model?
Step back and think systematically about the different roles and teams you have in your workplace. There are models in between that you could consider;
- Connected remote (in office a couple of times a month)
- Alternate model (onsite presence but changes days up weekly)
- Mixed attendance (set days for different locations)
You need to analyse what kind of workspace you need to design this and maintain productivity levels. To what extent can you accommodate your employees; you need to think longer-term as the previous way of working has changed forever and the hybrid working model is looking to be the way forward.