Before the pandemic, communication, digitization and globalization had already started to erode past ways of working. The gig economy was one of the fastest growing sectors pre-Covid, and all generations – particularly younger employees (opens in new tab) – were focusing on connection and meaning at work, rather than the number of hours spent at a desk.
As lockdown restrictions begin to ease, employees are showing an appetite for a future that involves hybrid working. While working from home (opens in new tab) can promote work-life balance and free up time, many miss the sense of connection offered by in-person collaboration (opens in new tab).
Jonathan Kini is Managing Director, Direct Consumer and B2B, at TalkTalk (opens in new tab).
Successfully implementing a hybrid working strategy means business leaders need confidence in this new way of working. A strategic approach is key, along with remaining flexible and open to feedback from colleagues.
When thinking about hybrid working, it's important to note that there are many general principles which will apply to a broad range of industries. However, specific details may need to be adjusted depending on sector and job role.
Use technology to your advantage
The business landscape of the future is uncertain, so it’s important to remain agile and use technology to build versatile ways of working. Market pressures, competition and customer (opens in new tab) demand can all impact business strategy, particularly as lockdown lifts and the ‘new normal’ begins. Your organization’s IT management (opens in new tab) strategy can have a significant impact on the success or failure of a hybrid working strategy. Secure, reliable and fast connectivity, alongside scalable cloud solutions that can be used both within and outside the office, enable businesses to adapt their operations and working strategy as and when external factors change.
This foundation is crucial in order to facilitate collaboration. Any changes need to be communicated quickly and effectively to employees, often in a range of locations, and technology is a key enabler for this. The right solutions can also help to enable flexible working. In the future, there is likely to be an appetite for office use as part of discussions and team project work that’s carried out in short sprints, rather than the traditional 9-5. With office capacity dramatically reduced, this is not only the practical option for future space requirements, but also the most productive. However, the right technology needs to be in place to allow communication and collaboration when employees are in different spaces.
Listen to and regularly check in with your teams
There are some psychological hurdles to overcome for both employees and employers to allow hybrid working to become an accepted normal. It’s crucial that the people within your organization feel listened to and understood, as business decisions related to ways of working could – and perhaps should – involve challenge.
This is where face-to-face planning sessions can have a real impact, as leaders can better gauge the discussion and recalibrate their approach. At this stage of designing a hybrid working strategy, it’s important for leaders to read the mood of the room and quickly determine how, and whether, changes should be implemented.
These forums for feedback should be maintained during and after the implementation of a hybrid working strategy, and decision-makers should lead by example. It’s important for employees to understand the benefit of an office space – physical interaction can make a real difference in situations in which employees would like useful feedback or support, for example, after a challenging meeting.
Mixing physical and virtual contact safely is particularly important when it comes to one-to-one meetings with a leader and team member. Employees will gain confidence from how confident you are with the current strategy and plan, they want to see and hear about how you feel about their contribution. Importantly, they also want to see and hear the fears, uncertainties and questions you have about the current situation, and work with you to resolve or support on these. Mixing this human connection time with the usual virtual one-to-ones can boost wellbeing and a sense of meaning.
Reimagining the office as a space for collaboration
Often, in-person communication allows leaders to quickly adapt and learn what individuals and teams truly need. While a good depth of interaction and disclosure can be picked up and communicated across the medium of video if people are willing to engage and listen, this doesn’t always build a comprehensive enough picture.
In many cases, the environment for people in the virtual world can make it hard to be productive. While working from home and reducing time spent on commuting can create better work-life balance, having a routine and workplace away from distractions can help with mental wellbeing and productivity (opens in new tab) by creating a separate place and zone to focus on work.
To support this, the office needs to evolve to provide an escape from the virtual space, providing the opportunity to connect with others and revitalize. Getting this environment right should provide an invigorating change and an opportunity for employees to create a different routine.
While in-office and remote working both come with their own benefits, true collaboration often requires a mix of physical and virtual interaction, enabled by technology, in a safe setting.
The last year has shown that successful hybrid working isn’t just about the balance of remote and in-office working, but a balance of effective technology and productive face-to-face interaction. In most cases, both are needed to ensure success. However, to ensure that hybrid working strategies are successful, it’s crucial to keep your employees front-of-mind, and ensure that their concerns and feedback are listened to along the way.
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