When it comes to hybrid, we are all learning as we go. There are few precedents of ‘true’ hybrid to follow, although there are plenty of experiences of 100% remote and folk who worked the occasional Friday from home in the old days (by which I mean before March 2020). As the good practice emerges, what potential problem areas should we be mindful of?
Problem: People don’t know what they need to know, when they need to know it. Those in the office have more access to information than people working remotely. Knowledge isn’t being shared.
Solution: Hold all meetings online so that everyone can attend and contribute equally. Include asynchronous tools in the communication mix – create online spaces or groups for collaboration and discussion. Make it clear that communication is a shared responsibility for everyone. Set team communication principles (how we share our location and presence, what channel we will use for what, when and how we will meet).
Problem: Wellbeing declines during periods of working from home. Employees work longer hours, don’t take breaks, get Zoom fatigue or spend too much time on screen.
Solution: Provide training on maintaining effective work life balance, boundaries and healthy digital habits. Send regular messages to employees about maintaining wellbeing when working from home. Train managers on wellbeing too – and encourage them to be good role models. Challenge that everything has to be a meeting – this is another reason to embrace asynchronous tech tools.
Technology (you are on mute!)
Problem: Some people are still finding it difficult to use the technology needed for hybrid working. The right technology isn’t available – or there is tech overwhelm. Too much Zoom, too many notifications and multiple channels.
Solution: Don’t assume that everyone knows what they are doing now they have been working from home for a year or so. Some people will have learned the minimum to get by, assuming they will go back to the office and face to face interactions. Go back and do the training (or repeat it). The specific platform isn’t what matters, that will just change anyway as stuff moves on. It’s about helping people to use what there is. Encourage teams to pick specific tech for specific tasks (e.g. Zoom for meetings or Slack for discussions) – and don’t let them proliferate.
Isolation or Exclusion
Problem: Some employees, especially those who are working more of their time from home, are finding themselves excluded from conversations or meetings, or simply lonely.
Solution: See all the suggestions on communication and collaboration. Ensure everyone has a voice, and don’t hold mixed meetings (partially face to face and partially remote) – they don’t work. Don’t call face to face meetings at the last minute (some will find them harder to comply with) and train managers on ensuring that hybrid working is inclusive. Challenge bias and negative language about hybrid work and hybrid working.
Reduced collaboration / relationships
Problem: There are no water cooler conversations taking place. Relationships will suffer, connections are weakening.
Solution: Move beyond watercoolers (did you ever invent a new product there, or just make awkward small talk while waiting for the other person to move?). Create time for people to get together regularly and make the most of that time. When people are in the office don’t just have them working in offices sending emails but set time aside for deliberate, intentional time together. Support new starters with buddies and mentors. Where appropriate, build in some informal social stuff too.
Problem: Managers who want people to come back to the office pronto. They believe people who want flex aren’t as committed to their jobs and send messages to ignore company policies about requesting hybrid working (or just turn them all down).
Solution: Start with a statement from the CEO / Senior Team – share your strategy for future flex and hybrid. Make sure that any new approaches are clearly communicated across the organisation. Set out a policy or guiding principles for hybrid working, including a definition and eligibility criteria. Include oversight in your operational plans and monitor requests (and their outcomes). Train managers in the new approaches – and make their responsibilities clear. If you feel brave – declare roles (all or those that can) as suitable for hybrid, removing the request issue entirely.
Concern about the worst case scenario
Problem: Hybrid might not work. It may have to be removed, or contractual changes reversed. It will cause operational issues that cannot be overcome. Employees will be disappointed.
Solution: Treat hybrid as a trial, experiment or pilot. Don’t change terms and conditions of employment and encourage employees not to make request for formal/permanent changes – yet. Monitor successes and challenges – adapt and change your approach as necessary. Issue any policies, principles and guidance as interim documents and be clear with your people this is shared learning experience.
Problem: When people are working from home they will not do any work and watch Homes Under the Hammer instead.
Solution: Tell them not to watch Homes Under the Hammer. Introduce monitoring software that demonstrates you don’t trust your people. (Note: don’t actually do that. There is no evidence that people skive when working from home, in fact evidence suggests that productivity increases). Challenge this language when it arises, in every form.
There will be more problems to come from hybrid working (or our plans for it) – ones that we haven’t thought of yet or will only become apparent when these new ways of working we are planning for truly begin. Be prepared to experiment and learn as you go. Encourage feedback, share learning and address new challenges as they arise. This is the key to successful hybrid working.