Employees now know what increased flexibility is like in their professional and personal lives, and an increasing number aren’t prepared to go back to the way things were.
Employers too are recognising the benefits, from more motivated workforces to increased productivity and the ability to attract and retain talent that may previously have been missed or lost due to the inflexibility of work schedules.
The results of an ONS Business Insights and Conditions survey of 1,000 plus large Scottish companies published recently found more than a quarter of employees have adopted some form of hybrid working – higher than the UK average. That number leaps even higher in some industries – such as information and communication – where more than two thirds are currently hybrid working. A recent study showed that UK workers are going into the office an average of 1.5 days a week, with only 13% coming in on a Friday.
Hybrid doesn’t work for all industries, but for many it’s here to stay, and as with other lockdown legacy workplace advances, it’s now necessary to formally build it into business cultures and practices.
That can be a tricky process, however. Whilst there are undoubted benefits to hybrid working, it isn’t for everybody or for all tasks, and any system must be robustly considered and trialled to ensure it will be effective for the organisation and its people.
New workplace practices can’t be introduced because they are trendy; they have to be right for the business and that only comes through learning – for example, the four-day work week is currently being trialled nationally.
To help business leaders prepare for the long-term implementation of hybrid working, here are six top tips:
Communicate – go beyond calls and emails and think about purpose and vision. If you want people in the office on certain days, make sure they understand why and what you are trying to achieve – this will get people engaged. Prioritise wellbeing – what do people need that may have changed over the past two years? What commitments do they have that have changed? Think about how you can support their mental, physical, emotional, financial wellbeing to help them be at their best. Know your people – and if you don't, get to know them. What do they need and want? This is all about change and how you lead through it, even when it is positive. Explore how to get the best out of individuals. Realise there is no perfect answer. There will be successes and mistakes, so have a growth mindset and expect to fail – but learn from it. Keep communicating and asking how it is going for everyone. Be flexible – One size no longer fits all. We have proven we can work in a different way, and be just as or more productive. Look at the options you have, the priorities and what you can offer, with clarity of boundaries. Thought – Remember to put thought into the workspace, whether in the office or at home. Do people have what they need, do they feel safe, are they motivated to come into the office. Think about future technology, beyond Teams and Zoom, with a focus on communication and connection.
Barbara Clark is an Organisational Development Consultant and Insights Discovery Licensed Practitioner at Connect Three, a leadership consultancy that helps businesses improve cultures through people.