Is your hybrid working solution fit for the future?
In December 2022 the UK government announced that workers will have the right to request flexible working from day one of their roles, which was partly driven by changing employee attitudes towards work. Therefore, it’s more important than ever that organisations have effective hybrid working solutions.
To remain competitive, organisations must meet changing employee expectations around flexible working, but some (including 54 percent of leaders) fear increased hybrid working has negatively impacted productivity and fails to deliver tangible benefits. So, how do organisations embed sustainable ways of working which benefit business, customers, and employees?
Many organisations developed hybrid models and policies at pace in response to Covid-19, but lessons continue to be learnt. To ensure hybrid working solutions are fit for the future, organisations should assess and evolve their ways of working by creating an insight-led, people-centred design. Here are four steps to get started:
Define principles to guide change
Reassessing employee, customer, and business expectations enables organisations to define desired hybrid working outcomes. This should include what they aim to achieve and the expected behaviours to support those achievements. This creates a clear vision, ensuring everyone is working towards the same mutually beneficial goals and aligning on different needs across the organisation. For example, research suggests that a decline in health could explain the mass exodus of over 50’s from the labour market, and that opportunities for flexible working could support them to return. Adopting hybrid working principles that enable employees to take care of their health whilst working could support more over 50’s to remain in the workforce and achieve the goal of remedying talent challenges. When developing hybrid working outcomes and principles, it’s important to remember to address when and how people work, as well as where. Hybrid working embraces flexibility, trust, and autonomy, which includes employees managing their time and being trusted to shape their approach to delivery.
Assess maturity and build a plan
Everyone starts from a different baseline. Some organisations adopted flexible working before the pandemic. And some are more digitally mature than others. Progress will look different for each organisation. However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be ambitious when defining desired outcomes.
Understanding current maturity against the desired outcomes enables organisations to identify gaps and the interventions required. A change plan can be developed to bridge those gaps, considering people, process, policy, and technology. Be mindful however, that not all employees are digital natives and not everyone will be able to adopt new technology into their working lives at the same pace. The journey will likely take longer if manual processes and localised ways of working are prominent.
An engineering company that we’ve worked with traditionally required all staff to be on-site and ‘clock’ time in and out of the office, which didn’t allow the flexibility their people wanted post-pandemic. Our change sponsors and local change networks assessed maturity gaps based on employee perspectives, coupled with external benchmarking. We then worked with the organisation to design and implement change initiatives to bridge the gaps. Since then, the business has moved into the top 20 UK companies for work-life balance in 2022, with employees noting flexibility as a key contributor to this achievement.
Focus on winning hearts and minds, but don’t forget to adapt business operations
The change plan must resonate with all employees to incentivise and support people making the transition. As with all successful change, the move to make hybrid working more effective needs to be led by the organisation, from the bottom up as well as top down. Most employees support the move to more flexible working, but requirements may differ across roles and departments. The establishment of change networks, led by champions who are trusted by their teams is an effective strategy to build support. Change networks build an understanding of the employee experience and how this might differ by team, and support line managers to understand how to apply principles across different roles.
Business leaders and line managers must believe in and support the changes if they are to lead from the front. Supporting leaders to understand, role-model, and recognise desired behaviours will signal that people have permission to behave differently and enable positive changes in behaviour to be celebrated and rewarded. For example, Microsoft has been developing managers to role model flexibility and wellbeing, as well as apply a coaching approach to management.
But equally as important are the ‘harder’ change mechanisms. Many hybrid working programmes focus on infrastructure and technology, but to be successful, organisations must ensure the whole business operation, including policies and processes, is designed to promote the desired mindset and behaviours. For example, research has shown that women’s careers and wellbeing suffered disproportionately during the pandemic and continue to in 2022 as an impact of more women working from home. The performance management system of an organisation should be considered to ensure it is assessing and rewarding high performance, not presenteeism. Failing to design policies and processes that support hybrid working will create a barrier for the behaviours you want to promote.
Listen, learn, and adjust
While the initial reassessment is likely to be managed as a discrete programme of work, hybrid working cannot be managed within a change programme forever. At some point, it must become business-as-usual. Customer expectations, technology, and employee preferences will continue to evolve, and our ways of working will need to continue to evolve with them. Organisations should learn how work is taking place from business systems and processes that track employee and customer behaviour to evolve ways of working accordingly. For example, we worked with a global financial services provider who wanted to streamline and interpret data on ways of working to enable them to make more informed workplace decisions. We collated data from numerous sources placing them into a single repository. Then, we established a series of automated reports in PowerBI. The reports provided a unified view across the organisation, allowing insights about the emerging trends of office utilisation to be developed.
Continuing to evolve hybrid working based on insights will require organisations to approach the future of work with an adaptive mindset and continual improvement that considers people, process, policy, and technology in response to the ever-changing needs of the workforce and customers.
Refocusing the hybrid working strategy and continuing to evolve ways of working will achieve sustainable and adaptive hybrid working that positively impacts employee and customer experiences, now and in the future.