Effective hybrid working rests on three pillars: Strategy, Technology, and Employee Experience. Cindy Meijboom, Head of People, Operations and Marketing at Eighty20, explores the considerations businesses will need to take into account to get the most out of hybrid working.
Hybrid working is almost a given in a post-pandemic workplace. What works and what doesn’t varies from company to company. Based on my experience and research, these are the three pillars that are most important when designing a successful hybrid approach.
Pillar 1: Strategy
A hybrid working strategy is likely to be quite radically different from your pre-pandemic workplace management strategy. Inclusion, flexibility and wellness must all take centre stage, using technology as an enabler and employee experience as a guiding principle.
Inclusion, though it has been a key issue in the workplace for some time, now needs to take geography into account as well. The semigration trend may mean that some of your employees no longer live anywhere near your offices, for example. Others are likely spending a few days every week working from home. Including remote workers effectively must form part of your strategy, regardless of where your employees are working on any given day. Not doing so risks alienating regular remote workers or losing valuable creative input from someone who wasn’t physically present in the office on a particular day.
The second critical part of developing your strategy is a fundamental shift in thinking around performance management and flexibility. Hybrid simply cannot deliver if performance management continues to emphasise time spent on or at work, instead of focusing on outputs delivered. So, performance management – and by extension flexibility – must be addressed in your hybrid working strategy. Flexibility must ensure employees can work when they are most productive without worrying that colleagues or managers will be monitoring when they are AFK (away from keyboard). Performance management must shift its focus towards deliverables.
The strategy must also account for the flip side of flexibility, which is that employees may struggle to disconnect from work if they’re always near their laptops. Your strategy will have to include some ground rules around when it’s ok to contact colleagues and when it’s not, expectations around responsiveness and even required offline-time to ensure your employees don’t neglect their own wellness, and colleagues respect each other’s boundaries.
The third matter is that of sick leave and its part in employee wellness. On one hand, hybrid working raises the possibility of abusing sick leave. An employee who doesn’t feel like coming into the office on an in-office day could use illness as a reason to work from home instead. They’re still working, so they don’t take the leave, but they’re also not meeting their commitment to their colleagues or the company. On the other hand, employees who are genuinely ill could end up working from home instead of taking sick leave, and not resting and recovering. Your hybrid strategy needs to address the issue of sick leave – when doctor’s notes are required even for work-from-home days, and how employees and managers should balance wellness and recovery in a hybrid world.
Pillar 2: Technology
Technology is the critical enabler that makes hybrid working possible. Getting this right means finding the balance between your responsibility as an employer, and your employees’ responsibility to manage their home-office. Technology makes inclusion, collaboration, employee experience and work delivery possible, so as an employer it makes sense to provide employees with all the software and digital tools they need to participate effectively.
Your approach to technology, and your policies relating to the provision of digital tools, will need to consider what your organisation can provide and what it can’t (or shouldn’t). At Eighty20, for example, we’ve invested in generators for the office, so that we can stay productive during load shedding. For this reason, our employees are expected to come to the office if they’re being load-shed on work-from-home days and do not have personal backup power at home. So, our policy is not to provide UPSs or back-up power solutions for home offices.
For those employees who work consistently from home due to geography, we are investigating collaboration tools to ensure everyone can engage effectively and reduce the “bad” hybrid meetings (when 2 people are dialling in and the majority are in the office). We’ve also implemented a communication policy around how we manage this to ensure all meetings are productive and inclusive (though it’s still a work-in-progress to get it 100% right!)
Realistically, technology must be addressed in line with your employees’ geographical constraints and any other factors that may be relevant to your business. SMEs in particular, which aren’t usually policy lead, will have to put policies in place to ensure everyone understands and accepts the company’s technology commitments.
Pillar 3: Employee Engagement
A good hybrid workplace, enabled by the right technology, should ultimately ensure that your employees are engaged regardless of how much time they spend in the office. If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that flexibility and being accountable for one’s work outputs without having to answer for every bathroom break has been good for improved employee engagement. But isolation, exclusion and an inability to connect and share with colleagues will cause employees to disengage and may even lead to mental health issues.
This means that employee engagement must be the golden thread that ties your hybrid working strategy together. If the policy, tool or new practice you want to implement isn’t geared towards engaging employees in the office and at home, you may want to rethink it.
Getting your hybrid workplace to deliver better engagement, and therefore better results, may well require a good hard look at your company’s culture. It will require a more deliberate and directed effort to change, and to maintain.
Exciting times ahead as we all work out how to improve ways of work, balance and productivity.