As offices reopen and people make their way from their dining room tables back to their despised commuter routes, I’ve been seeing so much discussion of Hybrid working. Nothing wrong with a new buzz word to keep us all excited! Although in fact hybrid working isn’t a new concept and has been around for many years now in some companies – I managed a hybrid team over 10 years ago. However it has grown hugely in popularity following Covid- 19 lockdown and the agile working practices organisations have had to consider and implement. For those not au fait with the terminology – Hybrid working is a flexible working model which allows employees to work from a variety of different locations e.g home, office, coffee shop, rented workspace, or anywhere that enables delivery. In a recent McKinsey survey 90% of companies said they would now be considering some form of flexible working arrangement for their people. I think it’s great news – I have always found it to work really well and provide people with the work life balance that we know makes such a difference to engagement. And of course higher engagement equals happier more productive people and more profit or value at an organisational level. What’s not to love?
Despite the fact that many employees are keen to maintain a flexible hybrid approach and may have been working in this way for some time, permanently moving to a hybrid model is still a change that needs to be managed well, as all change does. Leaders should invest time in talking with their people about how they feel – not everyone will be pleased and it’s good to know what might be bothering some so that support can be given or adjustments can be made. Bear in mind that some people may not have great spaces to work from at home and others might be looking forward to the social opportunities that being in the office brings. Watch out for disproportionately affecting part time workers by naming certain days as regular office meeting days.
Getting into the mindset of remote first is going to be helpful – rather than resuming planning and working as you previously did. Think about what the office is for, why will people want to or need to come in to work, what will they do when there, how will technology work to enable people to contribute, whether in the office or not? Holding meetings may prove tricky with some of the team in a room together in the office and others sitting individually at home. Anyone who has tried to do this will know that those of you at home struggle to hear and fully connect with those in the room. Instead, it might work more effectively to have everyone dialling into a video meeting from a lap top – even if in the office together (experience tells me this works best.) It will be important to avoid disparate work groups banding together so you end up with “the office crew”, the “only in on Wednesdays gang”, the two who have the ear of the manager as they are in the office more than others etc. This will negatively impact power dynamics and team performance culture. Setting up regular meetings for all and establishing shared online space for storing documents that all can access works well to aid collaboration and ensures everyone has equal access to information regardless of location. Digital solutions will be your friend in a hybrid model.
As the leader of a team you will want to make your expectations clear, I’ve come across so many people who aren’t sure what their manager deems to be an acceptable way of working – they’ll say “I’m not sure if I can take long lunch break and go the shops if I plan to work into the evening”, or “I think I’m meant to stay in front of my screen all day”. These things need to be discussed. Role model the behaviours you want to see established in the team, be transparent with diaries so team members know what each other are doing. This builds trust – and trust is the critical component of hybrid or remote working. The focus needs to be on outputs, deliverables, value added – not on how long someone stared at their screen or sat in online meetings. Set clear objectives, and agree ways of working, then step back with confidence that they will deliver and be ready to catch up regularly to offer support and check progress.
There will always be those leaders who want to micromanage and unable to trust people to be productive if out of sight. In fact, more often than not people tend to do more hours when working at home and many studies cite increased productivity. Do keep an eye out for work creep – and for those who seem to be working more hours than you’d expect. It’s easier to lose sight of resource issues when people aren’t sitting in front of you so take time to check in with workload and working hours. Helping people to maintain their wellbeing is important. If you can get the right balance between strong positive communication, collaborative working tools and demonstrating trust – you should find that you can establish a very effective hybrid team. Good luck !