Hybrid working is one of the most significant shifts in organisational practice in recent years, and the implications for organisational culture are fundamental. According to the CIPD’s recent research:
- More than three-quarters (83%) of organisations allow hybrid working through either formal or informal arrangements
- Over half (52%) require hybrid working employees to be in the workplace for a minimum number of days in the working week/month
- A fifth (20%) of organisations are seeking to put in place additional measures or investment to enable more hybrid or homeworking in the next six to 12 months
If your strategic goals and wider cultural ambitions are intentional and consistent, hybrid working can help organisations achieve what they need to.
Your default hybrid approach is not working
Many organisations have got stuck in a ‘default’ approach that isn’t fully serving the needs of the organisation, teams and individuals.
Some leaders are commanding everyone back into the office because of concerns about productivity. Others are ‘making do’ with an approach they’re not convinced is working.
Some people are loving the autonomy and flexibility of managing how and when they do their work. Others are desperately missing the camaraderie and tacit learning that comes from spending time with people in person.
In reality, what people, teams and organisations need to perform at their best varies for a whole range of reasons from job role, life-stage, socio-demographics, carer responsibilities and location.
The needs of one person can change through their working life as circumstances change, so whilst stipulating a specific number of days to be in the office throughout the year may feel like the most straight-forward approach, it is a blunt instrument when it comes to achieving the organisation’s goals.
Why has hybrid working become all about a magic number of days in the office?
Most likely because it’s a tangible, stake in the ground that can be compared with other organisations and is easily implemented.
In our experience, if your strategic goals and wider cultural ambitions are intentional and consistent, hybrid working can help organisations achieve what they need to, rather than become a necessary inconvenience that has to be tolerated.
Consider this range of examples:
1. Fully remote
Hearing loss charity RNID chose to close its office and move to ‘digital working’. Rather than come into an office on a weekly basis, the whole organisation comes together for several days, three times a year.
This has increased their ability to attract and retain talented people from a far wider geography and has also brought them closer to their service users. (Learn more about the charity’s journey in this podcast episode)
2. Fully office-based
Brighton & Hove Football Club chose to return fully to office-based working given the highly operational nature of their work and the ‘club’ spirit at the heart of their culture. Flexible hours still give sufficient autonomy for people to experience the benefits of managing when they work.
Renewable energy supplier Good Energy chose a principles-based approach to hybrid working, with teams establishing their own routines within a broad organisational framework. The number of days in the office varies depending on the team’s purpose.
How do you know if your organisation’s approach is right?
Start by looking ‘outside-in’ at your purpose and the experience you want to create for customers or service users. Are there any ‘must haves’ that require individuals or teams to operate from a particular location?
Next, agree the outcomes you want to achieve from your hybrid working approach. Consider what you want to achieve at an organisational, team and individual level. For example:
- Attracting and retaining talent
- Reducing sickness and absence rates
- Improving productivity
- Strengthening engagement
This takes the discussion away from what individual leaders might assume or prefer and letting that bias your hybrid approach.
Once the outcomes to be achieved are clear, you can investigate the degree to which your hybrid working approach is achieving these.
- Use a combination of methods to reach a maximum number of people
- ‘Triangulate’ your data to check and challenge your findings
- Pulse surveys, polls, focus groups, interviews and ‘office walks’ are practical and effective ways of gathering insight
- Ensure people have a safe and confidential place to share their honest views. Criticising an employer’s hybrid working approach can feel personally risky, especially if it has been positioned in some way as a ‘perk’ that has to be earned
- Explore all aspects of work such as software; type of work activities; differences in role, mindset and behaviours; and any ‘unwritten rules’ that are emerging about ‘how we do things around here’
Instead of stipulating a fixed number of days per week, use insight gathered to establish a small number of guiding principles
How can you take your hybrid approach from functional to high performing?
Once you have assessed the impact of your current approach, take these simple four steps to refresh it in a way that meets the needs of the organisation, teams and individuals.
Define your guiding principles
Instead of stipulating a fixed number of days per week, use the insight gathered to establish a small number of guiding principles that set mutual expectations across the organisation and are applicable for everyone. For example:
- Place of work is chosen based on maximising individual wellbeing and productivity and the organisation’s requirements of the role, not line manager preference
- Activities take place where customers will have the best possible experience
- Teams create the office conditions required for new starters/early careers to thrive as quickly as possible
Team game plan
Provide conversation frameworks to help each leader or manager work through how to apply the principles in their team.
The conversations must be open and honest, reaching consensus on working practices that will help the team achieve their outcomes and work for each individual as far as possible. For example:
- Whether the days in the office are fixed or flexible
- How time in the office will be used
- Any boundaries needed to prevent individuals burning out
- Warning signs for people losing motivation or feeling unsupported
Leading hybrid teams does not come naturally to everyone and senior leaders may be in as much need of support with this as junior managers. Skills that frequently need strengthening include:
- Managing people to outcomes rather than presenteeism
- Having difficult conversations which balance compassion with challenge
- Managing productivity and wellbeing levels across teams
- Facilitating on-line meetings effectively that promote diversity and inclusion
Team review and learn
Teams must review their game plan frequently to reflect openly on what’s working and what’s not.
Feedback should be gathered from people impacted by the team such as other teams and external stakeholders. This will help you fully understand how working practices are impacting productivity, wellbeing, profitability and customer experience.
Psychological safety is critical
Of course, your current culture and the strength of psychological safety will influence how open and honest people will be as you work through these steps. An external, objective partner can be used where helpful.