There are few employers that have not experienced changed employment working practices since March 2020 and some of those changes are now being adopted on a longer term basis. The move to a formal hybrid working model with employees no longer required to work permanently and/or full time at a set location is increasingly being seen as the normal.
Whilst it can be reassuring that many employers are turning to a model that would have taken years and not months to obtain buy in and then implement, the responsible employer is taking a step back to look at the issues that have arisen from enforced remote working practices to ensure they put in place a sustainable hybrid working model that is fit for their business.
Many employers are finding that the practical management of hybrid working changes is proving difficult. There is an increased employee expectation that their choices of how and where to work should be accepted and when requests are not met, employee relations are strained at a time when many businesses remain in a delicate state.
An emerging issue is the need to support and upskill managers to deal with various changes – whether in relation to managing requests for remote and flexible working, spotting signs of “burn out” and wellbeing issues or in respect of the fact that in many cases their teams will work remotely for much or even all of the time. The pandemic has shone a light on and emphasised the importance people management skills, which some managers already struggled with.
Managers don’t want to “police” the whereabouts of staff but they do want to make sure they are fully engaged and are willing to receive support from their managers. The tension between how much support and when support is given will be different for each employee, and the time and mental energy expended on “personalising” working arrangements can be difficult for managers who are used to working within traditional tramlines.
Good communication and effective technology are more important that ever to minimise tensions, promote clarity of approach and harness the agility that many employees have demonstrated over the last year. The physical one to one experience of being in the office cannot be replicated, but employers using internal social networking channels such as Yammer and Neo to keep employees connected with each other will find they have greater opportunities to support the psychological contract which is needed now more than ever.
The workplace is still key for culture and engagement as some things are simply better carried out in a physical face to face environment. Redesigned office spaces which have created zones for collaboration, quiet spaces and social interactions are waiting for occupation, and only then will it be possible to ascertain the success of the combined virtual and physical working models.
With the decrease in traditional office space needs, some companies have moved to smaller premises with reduced capacity for the workforce. Ensuring there are systems in place to manage the use of the physical office space will be essential. Whilst current trends are now very much on the hybrid working approach there is a real risk that a surge of people may want to be back in the office on a more permanent and regular basis in the future. Having some flexibility in office configurations and an understanding landlord will be invaluable.
There is a real need to focus on and clearly communicate the purpose and benefits of hybrid working and to continuously review the success of the model from both the employer and employee perspectives. It won’t suit everyone all the time, but it has to at least work most of the time for most of the people.