Hybrid Working is becoming the new normal
Scan the job sites and you will see a new perk joining the list of employee benefits – ‘remote work available’. A year ago, broaching the subject of home or flexi working took a deep breath and some courage for fear of being considered something of a lightweight not committed to the cause.
If there is one benefit that has come out of the Covid 19 crisis, it’s that employers have realised that forcing their teams to endure long commutes just to share the air conditioning with their colleagues is not the key to productivity. Technology, adaptability, loyalty, and determination have been the winning combination that has allowed teams to continue to collaborate and succeed during these challenging past 12 months.
But now that lockdown is slowly being lifted, what will working life start to look like? Will we be expected to go back to a 9 to 5 culture, or will the adaptability and resilience that the UK workforce has shown during the Covid battle translate to something that more fairly balances quality of life with working life?
The reality going forward is that work is no longer going to return to life as we knew it. A new flexible, hybrid form of working is inevitable, with employers blending on and off-site approaches for the benefit of both business goals and employees physical and mental health.
Employers that fail to realise that the work/life balance has shifted and try to go back to the pre-Covid status quo will find it hard to motivate and ultimately retain their teams.
So how can you face the management challenges that come from hybrid working and set in place a new working model that manages to seamlessly blend home and office without affecting results?
Shift your thinking
Traditionally, productivity has been measured by the hours you work. Those first in, last out employees were considered to be more focused and more productive, but often the opposite was true. Flexible working needs employers to measure success on outcomes, not just hours. Communicating this to employees allows them the freedom to work when and how they want. This flexible attitude should make employees more accountable and ultimately improve their performance and productivity.
For hybrid working to succeed, managers must trust their teams and employees must believe that trust to be genuine. Having employees within sight of managers as some form of control mechanism is an outdated concept. Flexible working and the trust you place in your workforce should empower them. Because staff cannot make a physical impression, often they do more in other ways to improve their worth. Data is showing that output amongst home workers has increased during the past year rather than decreased. Trust and accountability are crucial to productivity in the post-Covid era.
Invest in Technology
With the onset of lockdown, it was a scramble to find any tool for the job rather than the one that was right for your circumstances and your teams. Take the time to seek out the best communication and collaboration tools for your business, train everyone and use them as effectively as possible.
Avoid the temptation to micro-manage
Aside from the time and effort managers spend micro-managing their team, when it comes to their employee’s productivity, the micro-managing may have a detrimental effect. Trusting individuals and giving them autonomy to plan their working day will often result in them taking ownership and doing better.
Work is no longer where you go, it is what you do
Managers need to research and understand what work is most effective done from home and which tasks need a more face-to-face collaborative and spontaneous approach. Only by doing this can they plan and implement a strategy that will allow for both.
Support your managers
Team managers are going to have to adapt and shift their ways of working as we move towards more widespread hybrid working, perhaps more so than any others. Make sure they are trained for success. People in these key coordinating roles need to be armed with the skills to remotely manage. Listening skills will become increasingly important when daily face-to-face engagement is no longer a reality. In a world of hybrid working, managers will have to become more personal. There will no longer be a one-size fits all approach when it comes to monitoring, disciplining and rewarding team members.
Camera on or Camera off?
Humans thrive on interaction, so ensuring the work lines of communication stay open will become essential both for productivity and employee well-being. Use video rather than email as often as possible. Not only does visual communication boost morale and team building, it also avoid misinterpretations.
Set in place a new hybrid office etiquette
Clear boundaries between work and home will have to be implemented to avoid work fatigue and burnout. Employees must adhere to a remote working code where any form of communication outside normal office hours should be discouraged.
When team members are no longer working to the same standard 9 – 5 hours, it is tempting to try to extend your own timetable to others. The result is team resentment, frustration, and ultimately a dysfunctional work/life balance.
What will the new physical office look like?
There is no doubt that the office will start to be seen as more of a perk than a workplace. Escaping the four walls of home will become an event and the headquarters a location to reconnect, to immerse oneself in the company culture and re-establish your work identity and self-worth. The office environment will need to foster a sense of community, something that will be diminished through home working.
Segregated office spaces for team members, no matter their rank or seniority, are likely to be abandoned, replaced by spaces designed for collaboration. Video technology will need to be integrated in all areas of an office, not confined to just one conference room as is the current norm.
The actual location of the office is also likely to change. Big-city headquarters may be abandoned, with a shift to taking the office to the team rather than the team to the office, and suburban satellites gaining favour.
Seize the opportunity
As we slowly move out of lockdown, this is an opportunity for business owners to dispense with the expected working norms of the past. Reinventing old habits, systems and physical spaces will create a better work/life balance for employees, improve collaboration and productivity, increase staff morale and ultimately reduce costs. Now is the time!