Our director, John Knight, discusses why companies should consider continuing to support hybrid working:
Around six or seven years ago I supported a rural local authority to undertake a complete transformation of the way they delivered their services. One of the suggested recommendations I made was that they could move to become a ‘virtual’ council, selling off the sought-after land that the tired headquarters building occupied and taking the services to the people, operating from some of their disparate towns and villages. I said that they should be thinking of ‘work’ as a thing they did, not a place they went to. I was almost laughed out of the building! However, post-Covid-19 the world of work is looking very different.
Hybrid working is here to stay
Hybrid working has become part of the new model of working for businesses and organisations, with many of us now spending time ‘at work’ both in the office and working from home (WFH). Some organisations have adopted this approach for many years, while others are still feeling their way to allow their employees to carry out the same tasks, with the same efficiency, from their own home. It was a steep and rapid learning curve for many organisation,s which started with a bang at the first lockdown, and they were forced to adapt quickly to a new way of working that felt unfamiliar and unnatural. So, two years on, what did we learn and is the hybrid model the best way forward and the most effective way of working?
Efficiency and trust
There are many positives regarding WFH – for many people this means a reduced commute, minimising environmental impacts, the (in theory) improved work-life balance, and the greater flexibility regarding the allocation of time. These are all things that are good for employees’ wellbeing. They are also good for the environment and for the efficiency of businesses and organisations in general. Managers have had to ensure that their staff have access to the technology that will allow them to access platforms such as Teams and Zoom, to take part in virtual meetings, as part of the remote working proviso. Where necessary, home workers have had to upgrade their internet provision to ensure they can work without disruption.
Some sectors – especially social care and other health environments – cannot totally embrace the WFH ethos in the same way. Whilst the organisational aspects of the health and care sectors can be coordinated remotely from any location, the face-to-face aspects of the job clearly have to be carried out very much ‘in the field’. There is no doubt that for office-based management and staff, WFH has proved to be the enabler to many organisations’ sustainability.
A key aspect of WFH is the issue of trust. An argument against WFH, that would have been heard more widely before lockdown, is that it allows employees too much freedom and this is where the trust element arises. Employers must be able to allow their staff time for breaks, but how much time home workers spend ‘in the office’, can be very difficult to quantify and monitor. Many managers needed to change more than their staff, adopting an outcomes focus and practising ‘self-management’ for their teams.
One way forward?
There are also questions around whether this is the best way forward in the long-term. Does the hybrid working model suit all employees and organisations – and is the lack of need to be ‘present’ in person going to impact further afield. Employees aren’t all the same. Some will have their wellbeing affected adversely by the lack of social interaction, for example, and this may result in an impact on their efficiency and even attendance if not kept carefully in check. The mental health impacts that things like WFH have had on employees has resulted in many different outcomes – some have adapted to it well and embraced the opportunity, but as well as needing the physical space and conditions to work for home, it is important that if others have felt marginalised and isolated, that they are not left behind. Good management will go a long way to ensuring that they are not. As always, if employee wellbeing is raised it should be addressed at the earliest opportunity. The hybrid model does partially redress these aspects, by still allowing employees to attend the office periodically. This may involve weekly team meetings, briefings, updates or catch-ups, or to perform tasks that they cannot carry out at home – these could include someone who doesn’t have access to a printer, for example. It also allows for those ‘water cooler’ conversations, the casual and chance, but often critical exchanges.
The broader impact of widespread WFH is on businesses near and en route to the office, the footfall to outlets like cafés and sandwich shops, which might be losing out on customers as a result. There’s also less office space required, when only a proportion of staff are coming in on certain days, so this is already resulting in a great deal of lower occupancy than pre-Covid.
While C.Co has always utilised an element of WFH – our ‘briefcase’ and laptop have always been our office – many of our clients in the public sector are finding this new way of working to be a process they need to take time to learn from. In the past, we would have spent a lot of time physically at our clients’ offices rather than online meetings – now it’s a mixture, or a real hybrid. It’s important to embrace this change and ensure that both employer and employee get the most out of this new way forward. The aptitude of organisations to adapt to new ways of working may turn out to be key to their long-term sustainability.