As firms get to grips with a hybrid working future, the C-suite has much to consider. From creating new company policies to reviewing IT infrastructure, the transition demands careful planning.
While vaccination programmes may mean the end is in sight for Covid-related restrictions, it’s clear that the effects of the pandemic on how people live and work will be long lasting.
After a long stretch of forced remote working, employees and employers alike have recognised its advantages for people, profits and the planet. According to a study by PwC, 83% of employers say the shift to remote working has been successful for their company, while CIPD research shows that productivity improved.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, PwC also found that fewer than one in five executives want to return to the office as it was before Covid-19. This is backed up by a study from McKinsey, which found that nine out of ten firms plan to work in a hybrid fashion, post-pandemic.
The hybrid model: here to stay
Intention is already translating into action for many firms, with businesses as diverse as Amazon, Facebook and Ford prepared to give employees more control over whether they work at the office or from remote locations.
However, embracing the hybrid model has far-reaching implications beyond where people will base themselves during the working week.
“Organisations will need to find balance,” states CIPD and Microsoft’s Work Smarter to Live Better report. “A successful hybrid model requires examining the workplace culture, and the devices and processes needed to support employees in this new era.”
In practice, making the shift a success demands strategic thinking from a network of stakeholders, including HR, legal, IT and management experts.
Reviewing real estate
It’s already evident that the hub-and-spoke approach – which combines working at home, at the corporate HQ and at a flexspace near home – has particular appeal for business leaders.
Enterprises including Standard Chartered and NTT have signed deals with IWG to provide their staff with access to its global network of flexible workspaces, empowering employees to work from well-equipped, professional environments that are convenient and close to their homes. Altogether, a record two million new users have joined IWG’s global network of flexible workspaces so far in 2021.
Opting to partner with a flexible workspace provider allows for the shrinking of a company’s real-estate footprint, with reduced costs providing a welcome boost to the bottom line. However, there is still a role for the corporate HQ in a hybrid world: as the ‘hub’, it will become a place for collaborating, connecting and building workplace culture.
At the same time as downsizing office space, forward-thinking business leaders are doing away with floors full of desks and work pods. Instead, firms are optimising their remaining property for hot-desking, creating space for activity-based work and carving out areas dedicated to discussion.
Creating a clear policy
Creating a clear hybrid working policy is also vital for any firm embracing the shift, post-pandemic. Clarity of purpose, practice and communication is important, and Acas recommends a period of consultation with employees in advance of publication.
A good hybrid working policy will cover who can work in a hybrid manner and any limitations that have been set on hybrid working (such as a minimum number of days per month at HQ). It should take into account the unique needs of a company and its workforce, making clear how hybrid working can be kept inclusive and fair.
Access to ongoing professional development and training will also need to be considered. Employees should have equal access to learning materials and experiences, regardless of where they work.
Managing a distributed workforce may mean new challenges for some people leaders. Hybrid working demands high levels of trust in employees, and requires that they’re judged not on their presence or availability but on what they deliver.
This can be a difficult shift for leaders who are used to having employees on hand, or have a tendency to micromanage. At the other end of the spectrum, too little communication can lead to knowledge gaps and become a barrier to productivity.
“Teams should be encouraged and supported to establish their own principles for communication,” according to CIPD. “This may include how often to meet physically, what technology to use for meetings and asynchronous work and how to ensure that communication is inclusive of everyone.”
CIPD also recommends defining clear mechanisms for identifying and rewarding great performance in hybrid workers, as well as tackling poor performance. While systems might already be in place, these will likely need to be adapted in the new world of work.
Looking at legalities
It’s also important for firms to review how the transition to hybrid working will affect legal and health and safety responsibilities.
The decision to alter employees’ contracts, for example, should not be taken lightly – but it’s also important to ensure that, if terms for new hires mention hybrid working, these don’t create a two-tier system of workers.
Employers have a duty of care to all workers and risk assessments of employees’ regular home workstations should be undertaken.
In addition, people leaders and HR teams should ensure they’re aware of how to support remote workers’ physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Signs of burnout, for example, can be harder to spot via IM chat than face-to-face at the office.
Assessing IT infrastructure
“Technology is only one component of a successful hybrid model, but the right solutions can be a game-changer,” say CIPD and Microsoft. “Employers will need to think beyond the immediacy of device deployment and examine technologies that set workers up for long-term success in a hybrid world.”
Asynchronous tools such as Slack, Asana and Trello allow for easy collaboration within distributed teams. Meanwhile, it may be that remote workers need new hardware or even particular office furniture in order to perform well.
Ensuring that employees are properly equipped to work remotely – and that they fully understand the platforms they’re required to use – is vital. Firms’ IT departments may find that they need to provide clearer guidelines and more one-to-one support for colleagues in a hybrid world.
IT security systems and policies will also need to be shored up for a distributed workforce in order to keep employees’ and clients’ data safe.
Providing employees with access to flexible workspaces is an efficient way to ensure they have use of business-grade, secure WiFi and well-designed workstations – all of which are standard at IWG’s 3,500 locations around the world.
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