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Making hybrid work for you

hybridworking


Authored by QBE International Chief Human Resources Officer Emma Higgins

The pandemic has proven to be a gamechanger for an alternative way of working. Employees across the globe have shown the ‘impossible’ was doable and expectations for hybrid working to stay are high. But what is the best approach and what do companies need to consider?

The when and where of hybrid working

Far from pointing to one “right” answer, this article will explore the key considerations when designing a hybrid environment and the strategic and operational issues this way of working present. Much like every move in business, the approach is not risk-free so we will also look at the steps companies can take to mitigate the potential perils of a hybrid operating model.

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Hybrid working is essentially making one or more of the characteristics that define the workplace more flexible. Two of the more important characteristics are where and when a job is done. Understanding how these factors impact the productivity of work, and the other risks and opportunities they introduce, is an important first step in defining your hybrid working approach.

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Hybrid working arrangements are often combinations of these approaches with greater or lesser degrees of flexibility depending on the job and situation. This can range from fully remote to fully onsite and any number of combinations in between. Equally, work times can range from the fixed to the fully flexible. Even before the pandemic, many companies adopted “common hours” policies that defined when people would be available to work with other colleagues but allowed flexibility outside of those times to get focused work done.

There is no “one size fits all” model and what works for one company may not work for another.  It’s a balancing act to align the needs of the job (e.g. the factors that make the job most productive) and the needs of individual employees, while ensuring any risks are managed. We explore methods for understanding the best models for your business here.

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For many the lack of “in person” collaboration has hindered the ability to innovate and while there is undeniably something inspiring about batting ideas about in the same room as one another.

Eight things that matter

1. Understanding what drives productivity in your business

While there have been broad observations of an increase in productivity of those able to work remotely, this has been in no means uniform across different types of work. Nor do many believe that the initial boost in productivity is sustainable. Careful consideration of the drivers of productivity in different roles is needed to design hybrid working arrangements that benefit both the employee and employer.

2. Being open minded about collaboration

For many the lack of “in person” collaboration has hindered the ability to innovate and while there is undeniably something inspiring about batting ideas about in the same room as one another, multiple lock downs have introduced us to any number of online collaboration tools that can replicate some of that in-person brainstorming energy. Let’s be honest too, group brainstorming doesn’t work for some personalities so having a more structured approach that combines remote -working tech with in-person meetings is probably going to yield better results. The watchword here is fairness, which I will come to a bit later.

3. Working harder to build and maintain culture

The importance of culture in the success of a business cannot be underestimated. But, with the workplace so important to defining that culture, leaders and managers will need to work much harder to build that sense of inclusion. They will need to ensure that every in-person interaction works to reinforce the desired messages as well as supporting this through several digital or remote communication forums.

4. Recruiting, developing and retaining the right people

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Hybrid working is expected to be a key tool in the war for talent as we emerge from the pandemic. Potential employees will not just be looking for flexibility in hours or location. Organisations must also be able to demonstrate that they have the processes and infrastructure in place to develop employees and support their career progression.  In a hybrid environment we can’t assume that training and development will happen passively. While limited in-person time will still address some informal mentoring and guidance needs, structured interactions will need to be scheduled to ensure that people continue to be supported even when they are not in the office.

5. Out of sight but not out of mind

Putting fairness and inclusion front and centre will be key to ensuring a successful hybrid working approach. This means making sure remote employees are treated in the same way as those that are in person. This could be in the way meetings are run, social interactions are structured, and mentoring relationships are developed. Traditionally informal interactions may need to be formalised (e.g. turning “water cooler” chats into scheduled online meetings between senior and junior staff) to ensure that remote staff are on the same playing field to contribute and progress within an organisation. It will also require a concerted effort to ensure that no unconscious bias is allowed to influence team construction or promotion decisions.

6. Supporting line managers

The role of a line manager has always been tough and hybrid working will in some respects make it more challenging, as it requires people leaders to keep more balls in the air than traditional working environments. The increased need to choreograph interactions and the many new factors to consider also make the managers role that much more critical. Ensuring managers are given the training, tools, and time to make this shift are of the utmost importance.

7. Your duty of care is not confined to the office

While health and safety requirements for remote working have been somewhat fluid through the pandemic, employers should remember that they have the same ultimate responsibilities if employees are in the office or working from home. These responsibilities are also the same regardless of whether the arrangement was requested by the employee or the employer.  We explore this in more detail in Protect employees, protect your business.

8. Anywhere, anytime has legal and tax implications

Where employees are continuing to work from a particular tax domicile, arrangements will be more straight forward, but if a true work from anywhere policy is adopted tax residency requirements will need to be carefully considered.  Employment law implications could also present several challenges if not fully thought through. The first decision point will be understanding if the arrangement is at the request of the employee, or something imposed by the employer2. If at the request of the employee, it is critical that a reasonable process is followed with clear guidance on permitted reasons for denying the request. Consistency in applying the policies is key to both avoiding pitfalls, but also maintaining the overall fairness of the approach.

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Where to start

Whether you are just starting your hybrid working strategy or reviewing how it will be implemented keep the following points front of mind:

Balance the needs of the job and the needs of the employee

Hybrid working arrangements will only ever be successful if they are able to enhance productivity and satisfaction both in and out of the virtual office. Hybrid working can do this, but roles need to be carefully assessed (and likely reassessed) to ensure this happens

Put fairness at the heart of your design process

Many of the pitfalls of hybrid working can be avoided if fairness is part of the design process. From ensuring equal input in meetings, appropriate learning and growth opportunities for new staff and avoiding unconscious bias in promotion decisions, all have an element of fairness at their heart. Fairness is also important in designing the new arrangements for different people. While home working may be a much-needed level of flexibility for some, it may be a nightmare for others.

Do your homework and continually assess

Getting hybrid working right will be about more than just the right vision. Ensuring the right technology and infrastructure, legal / contractual considerations and training and support are in place will all be critical. This homework will continue long into the implementation process as you learn what works and what doesn’t.  You may not get everything right from the outset so having a flexible mindset and a willingness to learn and evolve your approach over time will help.

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