Belfast Telegraph

Making Hybrid Work

Neil Hughes
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The events of the last two and a half years have had a monumental impact on all our lives, but as we return to some normality, one of the legacies of the pandemic has been the enduring impact on how we work.

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Working almost entirely from home allowed employees the flexibility to better manage their work/life balance, and of course, reduced commutes helped improve wellbeing. Notwithstanding that, it seems that staff still welcome the opportunity for face-to-face interaction with their colleagues and customers. As we transition back into the workplace this autumn, our people are now looking for the best of both worlds!

According to survey evidence (backed by our own research with clients), up to 70% of employees would prefer a hybrid working arrangement, and a significant number (up to a quarter) would prefer a permanent work from home arrangement.  Only a small number of employees it seems would prefer permanent office working. 

So how to react to this?  Many organisations have sought to introduce hybrid-working policies in an attempt to balance the demands of the organisation with the growing desire of their people to work flexibly. 

Organisations such as the Labour Relations Agency and the NI Civil Service have created guides, policies, and toolkits to help employers address this challenge.   These are helpful in determining the ‘what’ of hybrid working, in terms of working arrangements and policies, but in our experience it is the ‘how’ that is most challenging.

At its heart, this is a challenge of leadership. 

How to ensure that your team are productive, creative, collaborating, and high performing when you are struggling to get them all together in one place? 

How to balance the needs of those who want to be in the office full time, with those who would prefer never to set foot over the door again (and how to keep all of them engaged and performing)?

How to balance questions of fairness for those people where the demands of the job clash with their own preferred way of working?

There are no easy answers to these challenges, and many organisations are still finding their way through this.

In this context, we have found that those leaders willing to take a ‘growth mindset’ approach to designing and redesigning their hybrid working arrangements are realising higher levels of engagement and productivity.

We suggest that leaders should regularly talk to their team members about what’s working and what is not, and evolve accordingly. Creating ‘action learning sets’ amongst the leadership cohort to share successes and failures will also help. 

Leaders must also acknowledge that this environment is new and different, and they must understand that their own flexibility will influence how their team responds. Reassuring people that their working arrangement will not limit their career, and helping them to adapt and to continue to perform in this new environment will be crucial.

When members of a hybrid workforce see their leaders adapt, and embrace the future with an agile and collaborative mindset, they will almost certainly respond in kind.