Hybrid working - what does it mean for employers and employees?


By Matthew Langin

Hybrid working looks to be the model by which most of us will work (or continue to work) in the brave new world of work we enter into. According to the HR Director, 73% of UK workers favour this approach which is a mixture of office-based, and remote working. A CIPD study showed that 37% of employers expect the proportion of staff working from home on a regular basis to increase (compared to 18% pre-pandemic).

The same study also found that 63% of employers planned to ‘boost hybrid working’. This presents a unique challenge to employers, many of whom will be balancing the needs of a disparate workforce for the first time.

Large scale, hybrid working is something that requires careful planning, new HR policies, communication plans, effective technology and a shift to a culture that encourages positive wellbeing and embraces the wider needs of the individual.

Ray Dallio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, argues that this shift in culture needs to be top-down, but also data-lead. His organisation has created a tool called Pulse, which he sayslets you look at each individual, how they’re interacting, their mood, and their work/life balance, and you get feedback on that”.

There is also a case for a rethink on office spaces, to encourage a more collaborative, agile way of working rather than forcing people to return back to their desks as before. Fujitsu are an example of one company that has made these changes, “We were able to refurbish our London office during the pandemic,” Andrew Davies says, head of workforce and workspace services strategy and growth “We changed the desks-to-people ratio: there are not that many desks now, because we don’t expect people to use them. We expect people to use breakout areas to sit and talk to each other, to use rooms to share ideas and collaborate.”

Technology has proved to be a huge enabler during the past year or so, and this looks set to continue into the future too. A study by EMSI found that some of the skills in greatest demand amongst employers in 2021 are tech skills like fluency in Microsoft Teams and Access, as well as programming. Some organisations are even embracing Augmented Reality to bridge the gap between the office and home, as organisations begin to shape their own version of ‘normality’.

Managers will play a key role in ensuring hybrid working is a success. An article by Timewise sets out the importance of effective leadership, modelling the right behaviours to encourage the necessary culture shift. This shift is potentially huge and is less about the hours put in at a desk, and more about recognising the value that each person is able to contribute.

The Wall Street Journal believes that there’s a massive rethink required for managers, and this is echoed in the book ‘Remote Inc., How to Thrive at Work, Wherever You Are,’ which argues that managers need to create a greater alignment to purpose than ever before ‘You need to motivate and inspire their best effort by explaining how it matters to the larger mission.’ It goes on to say, ‘You need to ensure your team gets its work done, but you also need to put some extra thought and TLC into managing the issues that crop up for remote workers, like personal isolation and trouble communicating with colleagues.’

IDC believes that key to this success, is a more people-centric approach is now essential, who say: ‘The future of work is about the rise of humanism as the new driver of value’.

There are other pitfalls for organisations to be aware of, too. Qlearsite discuss the potential dangers of hybrid working, particularly amongst groups who are unlikely to return to the office because of their responsibilities outside of work. Others, like DiversityQ, argue that hybrid working will create ‘in and out groups’ in the office – and it is those who are in (the office) that are more visible, and therefore more likely to network, and find favour amongst decision-makers.

It is certainly clear, that the pandemic has proved to be a catalyst for the flexible working conversation that was already on the agenda for most organisations, and there is plenty of planning and strategising to be done to ensure that this evolution is a successful one.