Over the past two years, workplaces have changed in ways previously thought unimaginable. While pandemic restrictions are nearly non-existent, there’s been a big shift in businesses adopting some variation of hybrid working – a combination of in-office and remote workdays – for the long-term. So how do leaders and HR teams navigate their way through what continues to be an ongoing experiment of hybrid working? Here are some insights based on what we’re hearing and seeing out in the market.

There’s no one sized fits all approach

The basic principle of hybrid working is the notion that the workplace is not confined to a corporate office but rather it’s the collective outputs of an organisation’s human capital and that includes people who are working from home, in co-working spaces or at an office. How that plays out in your organisation is unique to the needs of your business. Some of the more common approaches are a ‘fixed’ model, where the employer determines remote and in-office workdays, and ‘flexible’ where the decision is left to the individual employee. Under a flexible model, organisations can adopt an ‘office-first’ or ‘remote-first’ approach where there’s an expectation or preference that is clear to all employees.

What organisations are trying to reach, is the perfect balance between productivity and maintaining all of the gains that were achieved when workers had no choice but to work-from-home.

The important point to remember is that things change. There is a huge amount of complexity around the long-term adoption of hybrid work models which are for the most part untested. While it is important to formalise and communicate an organisation’s plan for hybrid working, you also need to be honest and clear that hybrid working is still experimental, and it may take some time to find the right approach that meets both the needs of employees and the company.

It all starts with trust

Trust is key when it comes to hybrid working, in fact, it’s the foundation of any employee/employer working relationship. Regardless of whether you are leading or managing a team in an office or at-home, trust is a critical aspect of working as part of a team.

While we’ve all moved on from the idea that simply because you can physically see a person in an office, they are therefore being productive, it is acknowledged that in a hybrid environment you do need to put more effort into building trusting relationships. This requires flexibility – things happen in life outside of work that need to be dealt with – and an understanding that individuals should be valued for the quality of their work and not the method or time in which they get things done (or, outcome-based performance).

If you don’t believe that your employees will do the right thing, then it doesn’t matter if they are sitting in an office or working from home, if they are not doing their job, it will be fairly obvious.

Prioritise building relationships

We probably take for granted the everyday interactions we often have in a workplace that when looked at in totality, contribute to building relationships and conducive work environments. Think in terms of workplace small talk that happens in an office, those “water cooler” moments where you’re making a connection with someone, through to cross-team collaboration to reduce organisational fragmentation or silos. If anything, the greater the flexibility and opportunity to work remotely, the more we’re starting to realise just how important human relationships are in the workplace.

Organisations are adopting all sorts of methods to maintain social connections and a sense of community, from encouraging in-person interactions where possible, through to using internal communication tools to foster cross-team communication. The challenge with a hybrid environment is that you are dealing with both office based and remote workers, with the danger that remote workers will be left behind (real or perceived). This has a lot of unintended consequences, for example proximity bias which when left unchecked, can have an impact on career advancement and development opportunities.

For people leaders, this means taking time to check in on your team, not check up on people. That short five-minute chat as you stand around making a coffee in the break room, also needs to be replicated in an online environment. One effective way to create camaraderie is to leave work off the agenda when you schedule in-person team gatherings. Particularly if you have new hires joining your team – give people space to get to know each other.

If you feel like you are nailing it because you don’t hear any complaints from your remote team, then chances are you’re wrong. A silent team generally means people are disengaged and disconnected.

Don’t overlook long-term health risks

It’s dangerous to assume everyone’s situation and experience is the same. Even in the immediate short term during lockdowns, we were seeing signs of professional isolation and loneliness creeping in, as well as online fatigue – overworking and finding it difficult to collaborate – not to mention the obvious difference between at-home workspaces and the ergonomic workstations in an office. The whole purpose of hybrid working is to help improve employee work/life balance; don’t neglect to ensure you are promoting a healthy way to work.

Are you the problem?

Could your hybrid working challenges be the result of your own bias towards working remotely or preference for in-office? Whichever way your inclination lies, chances are your views, opinions and actions are going to reflect that, regardless of what the company position is. You may be creating an environment where your team feel compelled to follow “your” example. The big learning here is to occasionally, try intentionally doing the opposite of what your preference is, to help normalise behaviour. Take a moment to check yourself.

To a certain extent, flexible working is catering to our need for autonomy in our jobs, feeling empowered and self-directed. It can be a powerful tool that contributes to constructive workplace cultures, if used correctly.

Need help?

Decipher Group are a leading human resources consultancy, we know how to help businesses develop, initiate and maintain the platforms, processes and systems to support a positive and engaging workplace. Let’s talk.

The Decipher Team

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