The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way work will work in the future. And when we return to the office post-pandemic, we should expect the workplace to look little different to the way it did before the lockdown hit.
Gone, likely, are the bustling meetings with employees crammed into every available chair, the watercooler conversations and the firm handshakes. Instead, desks will be spaced far apart to allow for social distancing and employees will come to the office on alternating days.
The changes to the physical space we work in are only half of the equation. After many employees have spent the months in lockdown working remotely, their expectations and priorities around their work-life balance have evolved. While some may be glad to return to the office, many will choose to spend more time working remotely — and some may not return to the office at all.
This new working context is hybrid working — and many organisations are starting to explore it as their new default way of working.
What is hybrid working?
At its most basic level, the hybrid working model involves a combination of remote, semi-remote and office-based employees.
While it may sound like flexible working in disguise, there’s a clear distinction. The hybrid working model gives all employees the autonomy to decide how, when, and crucially, where they work best — allowing them to balance life and work according to their needs.
“The rise of the hybrid working model is down to the fact that in the post-pandemic world, many people want to be back in the office, but not all the time,” explains Rick Kershaw, Peakon’s Chief People Officer. “As we’ve seen in lockdown, people have seen the benefits of working from home. We’ve been able to spend less time commuting, more time focusing on our work, and we’ve had more autonomy over our working hours.
“The hybrid working model could be an effective solution to this changing context,” he continues. “Many organisations already have an established flexible working culture — but now they may want to explore moving beyond that to a more hybrid scenario that enables this enhanced flexibility.”
As remote working has opened up new possibilities for work-life balance, Rick predicts that our connection to the office as a space will change — yet he remains cautious at the prospect of a fully-remote working culture.
The rise of the hybrid working model is down to the fact that in the post-pandemic world, many people want to be back in the office, but not all the time.Rick Kershaw, CPO, Peakon
“It’s clear that many employees still see the need for having the office as a ‘hub’ that keeps us connected through work, but a lot of the need to be in the office is centred around presenteeism — the ability for people to see that you’re busy,” he notes. “A hybrid workplace could eliminate those stereotypes, and instead focus more on output, delivery and value.”
Hybrid working may be an effective solution for organisations as we transition into the next phase of work. However, work should work for people — and that means every member of your organisation, from your CEO to your managers and freelancers.
Finding a solution for the future of work will be unique to each organisation, and will depend on striking the right balance between providing a place where your employees can thrive and driving business success.
Communication and trust are key to supporting a hybrid culture
With many organisations considering a move to hybrid working for the future, Rick notes that clear communication and mutual trust will be critical to organisations making this leap successfully.
“It’s about staying connected first,” he advises. “Employees need to feel that they’re part of something and connected to their organisation. The most important part of this transition will be how organisations maintain this connection with their employees, no matter the format that we’re working in as teams and individuals.”
“For this kind of model to work, people also need to feel trusted to make work work for them free from judgement,” Rick adds. “People need to understand what they’re working towards, and there need to be very clear objectives and processes. Both of these come from fostering a culture built on transparent, two-way communication.”
Managers will be a key part of implementing this approach successfully. As the crucial link between the organisation and the employee, they will be crucial to driving autonomy, motivation and trust within their own teams — and they will need the guidance and support to do this from their company.
For the hybrid work model to work, people also need to feel trusted to make work work for them free from judgement.Rick Kershaw, CPO, Peakon
Moreover, Rick notes that equity — or providing each employee with the conditions they need to thrive in this context — is an important part of the process. Employees that choose to work remotely may feel left out or have a different experience to their peers in the office, and this is something organisations will need to consider before adopting the hybrid working model.
“Flexibility isn’t felt by everybody in the same way,” Rick points out. “This is why it’s important for organisations considering the hybrid model to have a framework in place within which employees have the freedom to make the decisions that work for them. Depending on the role, this might mean going to the office for a quarterly meeting, or meeting expectations around deliverables.”
Things to consider when implementing a hybrid work model
Foster a culture of trust
Successful implementation of the hybrid model will hinge on fostering a culture of mutual trust between organisations and their employees. This works both ways; employees will not only need to put their trust in the organisation to keep them safe and protected, but equally, they will expect to be trusted and supported in return to manage their workload in the way that’s best for them.
Focus on communication
As teams may move to partially or even fully remote contexts, organisations will need to step up their communication efforts to make sure they are reaching each individual employee. Organisations may need to invest more in technology to ensure that teams are able to collaborate effectively and stay connected wherever they’re working from.
However, says Rick, the relationship that managers build with their teams will become even more important, and managers will need to trust their employees to work autonomously.
“Employees have to be comfortable with the relationship they have with their manager and understand the outputs and priorities for their team,” he notes. “When that becomes unclear, that’s where employee anxiety starts to come in.”
All employees work differently, and organisations considering the hybrid working model will need to give their employees the freedom to decide how, when and where they can work most productively and thrive as individuals.
“Some employees may be sharing space with partners or balancing childcare,” Rick points out. “Others may be more productive working remotely. As we step into the future of work, it’s about giving your employees the freedom to balance those things and make work work for them.”