Formulating new ways of working and designing a hybrid working model is the hot topic for many businesses emerging from the pandemic. Top tips to consider in your model and approach:
Tailor and embed relevant modifications to suit
One size certainly doesn’t fit all. First it’s important to consider the geographical location, particularly where there are multi-country regions. Cultural differences need to be taken into account; what may work in the UK may not work in other countries where there are different cultural and social norms, as well as COVID legislation. Where there are multiple UK sites; real estate costs, office design as well as travel infrastructure and ease of access needs to be taken into account as a minimum. For instance, having headquarters located in central London may have worked well (or by default) in the past, but may not be the best long term solution going forward from a business or people perspective.
Second is consideration of each business function in turn – what activity must be done on site and where is there flexibility or scope for options? What model is going to best enable business as usual to operate effectively as well as flourish longer term?
Thirdly, change leaders need to factor in the demographic and discrete needs of different segments of the workforce. For example, arrangements that may work well for middle aged employees with families living in the suburbs may not work for twenty something year old graduates living alone in flats and relying on work for social connection.
Allow scope for flex and experimentation
Designing a fit for purpose and sustainable hybrid model is an iterative process; and it’s a marathon rather than a sprint. This is by no means a quick fix scenario; nor is there necessarily a linear path to follow in finding a model which is effective and sustainable. Thinking more in terms of a phased implementation process and having a ‘plan-do-review and revise’ approach is much more practical and avoids being confined by rigid parameters. Some organisations may find it helpful to create and agree with staff some broad design principles which resonate with their culture. Endorsing and running pilots and factoring in a margin of trial and error is a key element of the transformation process. Moreover, having a culture conducive to and fostering a leadership style where employees feel ‘psychologically safe’ will invariably support pro-active risk taking and greater innovation in model evolution.
Engage employees in continuous dialogue
The pandemic has turned the world of work on its head. Relatively speaking, the people dimension is now much higher on the business agenda alongside mission, vision and commercial objectives. Furthermore, the unwritten ‘social contract’ between employer and employee is likely to have changed. Going through the challenges of COVID and lockdown has changed people’s expectations and their core drivers. Having more quality family time or freedom to exercise may now be perceived as more valuable than financial reward or other tangible benefits. The fundamental shift to digital agile working practices and loosening of the association of a job with a physical location and certain daily rituals, means that work has become a more fluid concept and employees are more transferable. Crucially, employee retention has become an issue in certain sectors where skills are in high demand; ultimately there is less keeping individuals bound to one organisation.
Engaging your people and really understanding what they expect and need is critical to finding a model that works longer term, and also paramount in retaining good staff. This doesn’t mean however that you can suit all the people all of the time; but hopefully the majority will be on board. The nature of engagement; how to gather feedback and how often is also important; as well as keeping the dialogue open along the journey of transformation.
Make data or evidence-based decisions
Making hybrid working plans and approaches based on the preferences of the senior leadership team (or other minority) and/or only incorporating anecdotal evidence to back those decisions are both high risk strategies. It’s wise to inform planning exercises and support decision making with concrete or tangible evidence collected internally, as well as refer to external benchmarking data or intelligence. Decisions and strategy can then be rationalised. Feeding in multiple sources of data and identifying different methods to collect feedback both qualitative (e.g. focus groups) and quantitative (e.g. surveys) will help create a holistic evidence base, and also gauge temperature more accurately than single sources. At the same time, engaging with different groups, levels and areas of the business across the workforce will ensure comprehensive representation. Regular playback of intelligence or sharing of employee feedback will help create a culture of transparency, and show employees that their voice is being heard.
Leverage positive leadership role models
Finally, leaders play a critical part in the evolution of and transition to a new way of working. Pro-active and positive role modelling of the new hybrid model and the desired behaviours that underpin this model will help send the right messages to the workforce. Equally, identifying and constructively challenging the views or behaviours of leaders who are not adopting new policy or practice, or communicating alternative messages to their teams will be paramount to successfully embedding the new model.
If these tips resonate with your organisation and you’d like to talk through your current challenges, get in touch with me for an informal chat: Liz@empoweringinsights.co.uk