Hybrid working: making it work

Laura King explores the key questions managers will need to answer to identify if hybrid working fits with company values, as well as some practicalities.

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has outlined what many have been saying for a while: a mixture of splitting work between the home and office ― known as hybrid, or blended, working ― is how most people (85%) would like to work going forward.

However, despite this clear vindication for the new mode of working, businesses appear to be much less certain about what the future holds. Data from the ONS showed that less than a quarter intended to increase the use of homeworking as a permanent change in the business model, while nearly a third were not sure. Although these figures were somewhat higher in industries that could more easily incorporate homeworking, they were still significantly lower than the 85% of people who would like a move to hybrid working.

How to ensure a good fit

A reluctance from businesses to immediately implement hybrid working is not entirely unsurprising given the practicalities that need to be considered. For a start, hybrid working does not come in one size, so it is likely that there will be a number of ways in which it could be implemented within any given organisation.

However, regardless of what hybrid working eventually looks like, the first thing to be clear on is the organisation’s “”why”” ― as well as some strategic-level practicalities. The following questions are good places to start.

  1. What are the main reasons for considering the change? The answers to this are highly varied, and could include: staff retention, cost savings, brand reputation, or hybrid working being a good fit for existing flexible working, CSR and wellbeing policies.

  2. Is it practical for the organisation? Information such as the proportion of desk-based staff and how able and safe those staff are to do their job remotely (eg whether staff have appropriate home set-ups and whether technology is being used properly) should be understood. Productivity data will also help determine if homeworking is optimal for the organisation and where it has the potential to impact on efficiency. Other practicalities such as the impact on rent or real estate also need to be considered.

  3. Is there a high degree of trust in staff? Hybrid working might be a better fit for an organisation which supports a culture where staff have high autonomy over their workload and success is measured by outputs or outcomes, rather than time spent.

  4. Does hybrid working have strong leadership support? The attitudes of senior managers will be really important ― will senior managers “walk the talk” and adopt hybrid working themselves? For example, managers might have the ultimate say on how policies are implemented within their departments, and will also provide an example to others. If senior managers are not on board, it has the potential to create significant discrepancies within the organisation.

  5. What is the company’s direction? Does hybrid working support, or hinder this?

  6. What do staff want to see? Surveys will provide valuable insight into what employees are expecting, as well as their reasons for wanting (or not wanting) a more permanent move to working away from the office. Understanding the needs of staff ― as well as the reasons why they would prefer one mode of working over another ― will help ensure that any decision made can be appropriately implemented. It might also be important to survey managers who have been managing homeworking through the pandemic. How do they see the future, and what sort of support will they need if hybrid working does become a permanent fixture?

  7. Are there any expectations across your industry, or from clients? Clients may like to be able to visit an office, or want face-to-face meetings. If this is business-critical, it will need to be factored in.

  8. How will it impact on company culture going forwards? There is a lot of discussion about how to retain company culture while working virtually. After all, we are the sum of the people we spend most time around, and if we are not spending time with co-workers, then it is likely the overall influence of office life will start to diminish. Consider what has worked well over the past 18 months, as well as what would need improving. For example, more may need to be spent on away days or technology to facilitate better collaboration within teams.

What about the practicalities?

Hybrid working will have a number of implications within the organisation and so it will be essential that any discussion brings together representatives from all the key disciplines before a decision is made. For HR teams there will undoubtedly be questions about contracts and how these accommodate any move to hybrid working, ie consultation may be required. Facilities managers will need to consider the impact on real estate and how to manage different and fluctuating demands on the office space available. IT teams will need to ensure that data is protected and that systems can function virtually.

Health and safety concerns are also important, and there will be a number of crossovers into other departmental objectives.

  • Has everyone had a homeworker risk assessment, and have senior managers supported the role-out of these? Working from home is no different to working in the office ― the organisation will still need to identify risks, eliminate them where possible and reduce any remaining risks to an acceptable level.

  • What equipment is needed for people to do their job safely, and how can you ensure the equipment is safe to use? Working with HR teams, there may need to be discussions around how to alter contracts so that you can access homes to deliver equipment/recover equipment at the end of contracts, do electrical safety tests, and conduct risk assessments. It might also be necessary to check in with team managers about how effectively they are able to communicate with staff and protect their teams against undue harm, eg from stress.

  • Does the contract impact on travel? An employee’s contract will specify if they are a homeworker, or if their main place of work is the office. If based at the office, any travel to the office is classed as a commute and the company is not responsible for the journey. However, if a member of staff is home-based, then the organisation is responsible for travel related to work ― including to the office. From a health and safety perspective, this will mean that checks will be needed with regards to insurance (an employee will need to be insured for business use on their vehicle) as well as checks on the safety of the car. Finance teams may also need to be included in the conversation if this impacts on the number of expenses claims.

Conclusion

Hybrid working has been receiving a lot of attention, with many surveys indicating that most people who worked from home during the pandemic want to maintain some of the homeworking benefits. Any move to hybrid working will need to be considered as part of the wider company strategy and there are also practical implications such as how to ensure effective communication and the wellbeing of staff.