August 4, 2021
Restrictions may have been lifted but there is no major rush for everyone to head back to the office. Many firms are being cautious about bringing employees back and the official government guidance is for employers to plan a gradual, safe return to places of work. Official guidelines aside, this doesn’t even start to factor in employees’ own attitudes to being back in the office. Certainly, there are plenty of people itching to be in and amongst the buzz of an office, popping out somewhere different each day for lunch and having that commute to distance work and home life.
For many, though, having adjusted to working remotely, now they want to work at home more. But these are the feelings of the general workforce right now with Covid-19 still a threat, in a few months these could easily shift again. If then, with more people vaccinated, there is a sudden influx of people wanting to be in the office, organisations need to be prepared to match those demands. Look ahead yet another few months and official guidelines may change again too.
As a result, many organisations are listening to employees, looking for middle ground to ensure where employees are works for both the business and them – and there are some that have already had to re-think and adjust approaches. Apple recently received backlash for what was perceived as a slightly inflexible approach to hybrid working, while Google on the other hand had to re-jig its working practices to add a little more structure, creating more guidelines than rules to still allow for flexibility. Then there are the likes of Twitter, still operating on a completely voluntary basis. In any case, what these all show is that organisations wishing to respond to their employees’ needs (and their own), will need to allow for a mix of office and remote work, working fully remote or fully in the office.
Such uncertainty and shifting requests are not conducive to effective planning but there are some key principles organisations can follow to stay agile and adaptable to help effectively navigate this hybrid working.
Experimentation with rules
With organisations having just adjusted to a fully remote workforce, the need now for hybrid working offers the perfect opportunity to try out new practices and processes. But that doesn’t mean these trials can be completely free-form. As ironic as it sounds, the best experimentation is in fact regimented.
Any experiment needs clear goals and boundaries in place. Otherwise, it may end up going completely off-kilter. Having guidelines can actually help organisations be more adaptable – it gives a clear indication of when an experiment is working, when it should be changed or simply given up altogether. When a lot of different processes will need to be tried out in a short space of time, no organisation can be wasting efforts on something that just isn’t right. Not to mention, as already shown, organisations will likely be seesawing from more employees being in the office, to more employees working from home – any workplace practices are going to have to adapt quickly.
Implementation with purpose
For those practices that do pass the test, there also needs to be a level of caution and consideration when implementing them. In the same way experimentation can start to freefall, the same can happen if organisations start following general industry trends without thinking if it will really work for them.
There have already been so many ups and downs and trying to make yet more change will likely not sit so well with employees. Organisations need to still stay true to who they are, understanding what are the overall goals and asking themselves, how do these transitions fit in with both employees’ and the overall company’s purpose? In any circumstance, instigating change, bringing in new rules or processes, is so much easier if people understand the ‘why’ behind it and how it is helping their needs and preferences. This needs to be clearly communicated for employees to get behind it. So, for example, if a rota system is being set up for people coming into the office because more people want to come in than anticipated, say so. But also explain how the rota is being created and the reasons behind why that particular rota has been set up.
Connection with each employee
Of course, as mentioned, there will also be employees who do not wish to come into the office at all. There are still many who are worried about getting sick and do not wish to run the risk of travelling to work. Not to mention, many others who have found that cutting out the commute has enabled them to spend more time with family, pick up hobbies or simply bought back some time. The key element to remember is that everyone’s attitudes will be different and workplaces need to listen and be understanding of that.
More importantly, for those that do stay completely remote, how can organisations ensure that they do not feel removed or disconnected from the rest of the company, missing out on important company announcements or just general camaraderie because they are not in the office? Humans crave belonging and with a new shift in circumstances and the end of the pandemic potentially in sight, employees want to start feeling connected to their colleagues again, whether they are working remotely or not. If organisations aren’t careful, if they don’t, they’ll become disengaged and potentially leave. Riding the wave of hybrid working will centre around fostering a sense of belonging for all. This can start as simple as reviewing reward and promotion schemes, ensuring that everyone, no matter of location, is treated equally and has the same opportunities open to them.
While the UK has experienced “Freedom Day”, organisations are far from free from worry. Hybrid working will bring with it a whole new set of challenges – and constantly shifting rules and demands to play by. But having structured approaches to new practices and a clear overall goal and purpose for all, organisations can stay adaptable and navigate whatever may come next. Most importantly, organisations need to remember that it is employees who should be front and centre of all of this and to keep continually demonstrating that they belong.