The pandemic took us all by surprise, but we’ve had our eyes on hybrid working for some time.
In 2018, we noticed that while urbanization and commuting remain established “megatrends” across the world, there were signs in both the US and UK that office working was on the wane. To provide some guidance for our clients, we wrote a CEO’s Briefing: How to Make It Work When They Work from Home.
Of course, with the pandemic, this gradual trend became a sudden flip. And what a flip: a US survey from late 2020 reported that the jump in remote-working was from 20% to 71%.
For many companies there was a simple, mass evacuation from the office conducted with little time to plan, and even less time for a strategy. Nevertheless, during the months that followed, people and companies adapted to new ways of working and found ways to cope.
Unlike the rapid flip required by the pandemic, this time there is scope to plan and strategize.
As the pandemic eases, many companies are looking again at office working, home-working and hybrid arrangements. Unlike the rapid flip required by the pandemic, this time there is scope to plan and enact a thought-out strategy.
We propose that your approach should be based on the following steps.
Remind your senior leaders of your business objectives and how your business stands out in the market. What makes it special in terms of customers and value? This should drive planning for you and other decision-makers in your organization.
For example, if your market is highly commodified, then of course this is an opportunity to look again at outsourcing to lower costs (or to automate more roles and eliminate some costs altogether).
If your business thrives on creativity, however, we recommend that you bring your people together, because there is no substitute for the spark of brilliant people, in a room, face-to-face.
If you are competing to recruit rare talent, then perhaps home or hybrid working allows you to recruit more easily — to cast the net wider and to offer a better package than your competitors.
If you emphasize great service, then think about what your customers want, rather than what you want.
Your plans for home, office or hybrid working should be rooted in the job profiles within your company. Not all office jobs have the same profile and needs; what makes sense for a credit control assistant may not make sense for a product designer.
Consider the job in terms of:
- The frequency, complexity, and ambiguity of interactions with others,
- The need for supervision or help,
- And, of course, the employee’s access to suitable home-working arrangements and/or their need for specialist office equipment.
Your adoption of home, office or hybrid working should be based on the needs of the job rather than the department or seniority.
It’s easy to do hybrid working badly. Meetings where half the team are in the office and half are remote can easily leave the remote workers feeling excluded. Getting the best from all your people requires more deliberate communications and inclusion; even more clarity on roles, processes and controls; and investment in tech that supports hybrid working patterns.
- Hybrid working must be part of the culture of the company. People need to see how the hybrid way of working has become part of the day-to-day, and how they are still part of the company even if they’re rarely in the office. This is particularly important for engaging new starters.
- Set clear expectations of how work gets done, for instance defining when and if their physical presence is expected. Maybe it’s okay to attend company-wide meetings on video, but weekly brainstorming sessions should be in person.
- Go overboard with communication: send out information on all channels, engaging everyone at all levels, and encouraging them to take part.
- Recognize that not everyone has a great working environment at home. Senior staff may have a spare room; junior staff may be using the kitchen table.
Need help planning for hybrid work? Get in touch.
One of our colleagues remarked that the pandemic was the first time that communication with his offshore providers had actually worked well, because they were equals in video meetings rather than side-lined. This anecdote shows how easily we can get it wrong and lose so much of what people have to offer.
But when done right, hybrid working offers the opportunity to attract the best, to lower costs, and to reduce the impact on the environment. We have a unique opportunity right now to improve service to our customers and increase productivity and job satisfaction. Let’s make the most of it.
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Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.