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The next great disruption: Tooling up for hybrid working

hybrid working
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Piscine26)

2020 was the year of remote work, with employees in the UK proving tasks could be completed no matter where they were physically located. High productivity levels were maintained outside of the traditional office and a newfound trust was established between employer and employee.

Now, faced with a situation where 71% of UK employees want flexible work options to stay as restrictions ease, meanwhile 62% seek in-person collaboration, it is increasingly clear that a hybrid approach will become the new normal for the majority. As UK business leaders embark on managing the return to offices, the hybrid working future is set to enter into its infancy.

The role of leadership in shaping hybrid work

Industry leaders now have an opportunity to reshape work around individual roles, preferences and even personal lives, but just how ready are organizations to support truly inclusive hybrid work? Recent research shows us that as many as 62% of UK business leaders are currently planning to re-design office space to accommodate hybrid working, actioning developments which will include more digitally equipped meeting spaces for example.

Maintaining general wellbeing and a strong work-life balance is becoming vital for business leaders as organisations compete with each other to recruit the best talent. Enabling effective collaboration and productivity, securely, across both physical and remote workplaces will be no mean feat however, and the right technology tools could spell the difference between success and failure in the hybrid workplace of the future.

On an equal footing

With the introduction of exclusively virtual meetings, the move towards remote work boosted feelings of inclusion for workers juggling unique circumstances; different demands with childcare, elderly relatives, those living with frontline workers and those shielding. The move to a hybrid model now threatens break this mould as some return in person meanwhile others remain online.

Grounds for experimentation

As is inevitable with any new technology or framework, unlocking the true potential of the hybrid working experiences is going to rely on experimentation and iteration.

With this in mind, business leaders must first begin by designing for those who aren’t in the room. Whether employees are joining meetings at home, in person, or on the go, inclusivity is going to be vital to ensuring productivity. Continuing to host full staff or team meetings online, even for those in the office, provides this security as major team news and employee updates are shared via the same medium for everyone.

Using meeting moderators also provides checks and balances for inclusivity, ensuring discussions and subsequent decisions are contributed to by every member of the team.

As workplaces open back up, co-workers are crying out for collaboration with 67% of employees wanting more in-person work or collaboration post pandemic, but this is still not everyone. We know that nearly one in five (17%) employees would not choose to go back to the office to work even when all restrictions have been lifted. This means that over and above returning to the office, business leaders will be looking to find new ways to help people connect and engage regardless of location and time zone.

Maintaining employee wellbeing

At the heart of any HR strategy, employee wellbeing is now a central topic as companies begin to tool up for hybrid. Staff are increasingly concerned about work/life balance and back-to-back meetings have been shown to increase stress, making it harder to stay focused and engaged.

With remote work eliminating the physical boundaries between work and life, an increase in after-hours conversations and sense of being ‘always on’ has crept in. Helping workforces mindfully disconnect and utilise organisation-wide policies to mute after hours notifications provides one solution to help manage this digital overload. 

In an environment where we are no longer bound to traditional notions of office space and hours, business leaders must ensure their operating models likewise embrace the extreme flexibility adopted by hybrid work – in order to ensure successful transition.

CIPD guidance

In our research into the new hybrid working habits and expectations of the UK workforce, the CIPD has provided further guidance for organisations and people professionals when it comes to managing the blend of office and remote work. These four areas should be kept in mind when tooling up for hybrid:

Support hybrid workers through good people management: design work processes that suit all locations, concentrating particularly on knowledge-sharing, co-ordination of work and team relationships to encourage performance and innovation. Encourage line managers to hold regular catch-ups with employees to discuss any work and personal concerns they might have; make any reasonable adjustments that are needed at home or in the physical workspace; set clear objectives and manage by outputs rather than inputs.

Ensure fairness of opportunity: ensure ongoing access to development and career conversations for all employees. Make sure there is a fair allocation of work and opportunities, and record training and development sessions so that employees are able to catch-up at a time that suits them.

Put health and wellbeing front and centre: ensure that employees are not over-working and remind them about the importance of maintaining their physical and mental wellbeing and taking regular breaks, fresh air and exercise. Make it clear to all employees any health and wellbeing support you have available. Crucially, ensure line managers understand the importance of showing empathy and providing support and flexibility in their approach to people management, regardless of whether their staff are in the office or working remotely. These behaviours are central to building trust in the employment relationship and for managing and preventing stress and helping staff balance work and personal/domestic responsibilities.

Offer a range of broader flexible working options: go beyond remote working and look at introducing wider flexible working options like job shares, compressed hours, flexible start, and finish times. Support flexibility from the start by recruiting flexibly and making the right to request Flexible Working a day-one right.

Every organization will need a plan that encompasses policy, physical space and technology to succeed. Investment in these areas is needed to bridge the physical and digital worlds. Leaders must consider how to equip all workers with the tools they need to contribute – wherever they are and meeting room and team culture will need to evolve to ensure all voices are heard. New hybrid work innovations including Microsoft Teams Rooms, Fluid and Microsoft Viva are helping do just that, alongside purpose-built devices for colleagues to meet and co-create on, like Surface Hub, all of which are tooling organizations up for hybrid work. The workplace of the future will be a blend of remote work and physical offices. In the hybrid workplace, it is critical everyone feels engaged and connected, and stays secure, no matter where they work.

Nick Hedderman is Director, Modern Work and Security Business Group at Microsoft