Thoughts of hybrid working should now turn to productivity and trust

The impact of hybrid working models on productivity and employee wellbeing, especially in light of last year's unprecedented spike in sick days, is an important issueBusinesses now face the huge challenge of managing office returns and addressing the underlying generational divides and mistrust that have surfaced as a result of the pandemic years. With the Office for National Statistics (ONS) having released new data on UK productivity levels that show productivity remains sluggish, the impact of hybrid working models on productivity and employee well-being, especially in light of last year’s unprecedented spike in sick days, is an important issue.

 The transition to a hybrid working model and return to work dialogue has revealed a stark contrast in work preferences, with younger employees often craving the mentorship and networking opportunities that physical office spaces provide, alongside deciding what their work-life balance looks like. Meanwhile, their senior counterparts appreciate the work-life balance afforded by remote work and the ease that brings to their personal and family life – they remain productive, and the office brings little benefit to them.

As organisations navigate these complex issues, the focus shifts towards fostering a work environment that not only boosts productivity but also embraces the diversity of work preferences across different age groups. We have already seen some organisations begin to track attendance through swipe cards, while others embrace a fully remote setup. But what else can be done?

To address this divide, businesses can adopt several practical strategies:

Implement Flexible Yet Structured Hybrid Policies: Develop clear guidelines that offer flexibility while ensuring accountability. This could involve mandatory in-office days that are aligned with team meetings or client needs, coupled with the freedom to work remotely on other days. Such policies should be regularly reviewed to adapt to changing circumstances and employee feedback. What is important here is that any leader demonstrates and commits to this value. They need to show up, be present and lead from the front.

Create Virtual and In-Person Training Opportunities: Invest in robust learning and development platforms that cater to both virtual and in-person formats. This will ensure that all employees have access to the same high-quality training and development opportunities. Virtual mentorship programs and online training modules can complement traditional in-office learning experiences, and can create a learning and development journey that connects the two worlds – think rewards for module completion that have a social element to them, like office bowling or a pizza party.

Foster an Inclusive Company Culture: Cultivate a company culture that values presence and contribution over location and make sure your virtual environments allow this. Encourage more than typical team-building activities that bridge the gap between remote and in-office employees, and recognise the achievements and contributions of all employees at every level.

Leverage Technology for Transparency and Inclusion: Utilise technology to track productivity and engagement that will provide insight into work patterns. Clear and real accountability is important in the multi-connected world, as well as ensuring people can be successful.

Offer Tailored Career Advancement Opportunities: Address the concerns of younger employees seeking growth and mentorship by creating clear paths for career progression that do not only depend on physical presence and have clear milestones and targets. Acknowledge the contributions of senior employees who may prefer remote working, ensuring that performance, rather than location, is the key determinant of career progression.

Lead by Example: The role that leaders play in bridging the generational divide cannot be overstated. By adopting a flexible approach to their own work preferences, leaders can demonstrate the viability of hybrid working models and be early adopters of technology and change. Their physical presence in the office during key events and their availability to remote employees are crucial factors in fostering a sense of unity and purpose, but consistency is key.

Address Work-Life Balance Proactively: The increase in sick days highlights the potential downside of blurred boundaries between work and personal life in a hybrid model. Businesses should encourage practices that allow employees to truly disconnect outside of work hours, such as setting clear expectations around email and communication during off-hours and promoting wellness initiatives.

These strategies offer a proactive approach to managing the generational divides that have emerged in the hybrid work era. By embracing flexibility, enhancing training opportunities, leveraging technology, and leading by example, businesses can create a more inclusive, productive, and resilient workforce. Cultivating this environment is particularly pertinent in the face of the downward trending ONS data. The journey towards integrating office-based and remote work cultures is complex, but with the right strategies, businesses can navigate these challenges successfully and emerge stronger in their future growth plans.

Main image: Sedus