Hybrid. When it’s a necessity not a choice.

Everyone is talking about hybrid working. 

It’s the subject of most of my working conversations these days – as well as my blogs.  Many organisations are thinking about their long term strategies for flexible and hybrid working, and starting the process of making plans.

Here’s the thing.  Whatever your long term strategy, you are probably going to get hybrid whether you want it or not, at least for a while. 

The government has set outside its roadmap for the end of lockdown.  Although the dates are fluid, there’s an indicative date of 21st June where the ‘work from home if you can’ recommendation will end.  I don’t think any of us expect that on that day we are all going to troop back to the office en masse, packing back onto trains and buses and tubes – but it may be the beginning of a slow, phased return, at least for some.

We are going to go hybrid by necessity rather than design.  This is both potentially good and potentially bad.

Let’s start with the good.  We can use this period to learn about what works and what does not.  There are few precedents about hybrid working – the ‘how to’ is yet to emerge.  We can adapt and experiment. It will also to some extent, force the issue with reluctant line managers who are personally opposed to flex because of their own prejudices or preferences. 

Now the problems.  This won’t be ‘true’ hybrid. Some people may not be able to come back to the workplace at all if they still don’t have childcare or remain vulnerable.  We don’t yet know the full implications of Long Covid; continued working from home may be an adjustment that some people experiencing ongoing health issues need.  We may well end up with a situation where some people are still fully at home and others mostly in the office.  There are real inclusion risks in this.  If there are going to be communication issues, this is when they will first show up. Managers are going to potentially be faced with the need to adapt to whole new ways of working a year after being faced with the need to adapt to whole new ways of working.

When it comes to this particular form of (hopefully interim) hybrid, we are likely to get what we expect.  Those who think hybrid isn’t a good idea and will cause all sorts of problems and issues, will probably find this to be the case.  This will handily provide the evidence they need to ask everyone to return to the default working model post pandemic.  Those who think hybrid is the future and is going to be awesome will likely have their beliefs confirmed too – possibly because they will put in the effort to make it a success. 

We know how to do fully remote, even though it was mostly learned in an emergency.  We certainly know how to office because we did it for long enough.  But hybrid is another huge shift.  We can’t just prepare for the long term stuff (although that is also essential), we need to think about getting it right in the immediate term too. Otherwise any short term problems may undermine future plans and intentions.

Manager briefings, support for communication, working out who will be in the office and when, ensuring homeworkers aren’t excluded from the conversation, training and tech.  The time to start planning, for both immediate and long term hybrid, is now.

And just in time… here comes a new guide to hybrid from the CIPD with some ideas. 

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