How to make a success of hybrid working

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Written by Lucinda Pullinger on 6 May 2022 in Features
Features

What do employees and employers really want as part of a hybrid working offer? Lucinda Pullinger says it’s all about choice

It is well over two years since the UK Government advised the British public to work from home when possible. With restrictions lifted, many organisations in the UK are now adopting a more hybrid working approach. But should this be a global policy? We know that there are already marked differences between UK and EMEA vs APAC, for example.

Firstly, do businesses need a hybrid working policy or is a return to the traditional office-based working from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday an option? For most businesses today, who compete for office-based talent, it could be argued that hybrid must be seriously considered and some form of it probably adopted. Whilst there is not 'one answer' or a silver bullet, today hybrid working is seen as a benefit and as such part of the package of remuneration and benefits on offer, similar to pension, private health insurance, holiday allowance or access to wellbeing services. 

With hybrid working now being something that so many look for when seeking a job, there is no doubt that businesses should seriously consider offering this wherever possible to attract, and retain, their industry’s best talent. In addition, doing so can widen the pool of talent you are drawing from as talent that is further afield will consider some days in the office but rule out a long commute every working day of the week.  So, a form of hybrid widens this talent pool beyond daily commuting distance. With many employees wanting to continue working from home and enjoy the benefits it brings; employers are having to find the balance between providing these benefits and ensuring productivity in the workplace. 

Hybrid can mean many different things in a workspace context but at its heart lies choices. Choices that suit the individual as work evolves to signify an activity, not a location

In addition to this, while many employees have enjoyed working from home, some were itching to get back into the workplace with fewer distractions, more structure to their day, greater variation, socialising and impromptu conversations and a clearer boundary between work and home life. 

In a recent survey, 26% of participants confirmed that they now plan to continue working from home either permanently or occasionally despite the lockdown ending  . This research highlights that hybrid working is very much here to stay and employers and employees must work together to find the balance that has the best results and most positive outcomes for all. For those who do come into the office, there are some considerations to navigate and decisions to make including how many days a week? Is it a percentage of time? Is it fixed days? 

The term ‘hybrid’ can mean many different things in a workspace context but at its heart lies ‘choices’. Choices that suit the individual as work evolves to signify an activity, not a location, and for employers who will be considering cost savings, employee engagement and productivity levels. To make these changes, workspace strategy needs to knit together various human, physical, digital and sustainable elements, requiring innovation in our approach to culture, technology and space itself. This rapidly emerging blended world presents a significant opportunity for organisations to prioritise their most important asset – their people, delivering memorable employee experiences in the hybrid world and driving employee engagement.

While many employees are enjoying the opportunity to continue working from home, businesses also need to consider those who don’t. When it comes to hybrid working, a tailored approach is required. Whilst there is still an obvious need for many businesses to have and to utilise a physical workspace, how it is best utilised may not be the same as it was pre-COVID causing many organisations to re-evaluate their workplace strategy. And some organisations will decide they do not need permanent workspace, instead they will hire workspace meeting rooms to gather all their people together on a regular basis – for example every month for one full day or every quarter for three days etc.

Businesses must consider the role of workspace and how this can support the wider business strategy. Office spaces should be designed in a way that helps employees achieve optimal productivity. Understanding the flow of individuals within an environment is crucial to ensure that employees can connect while managing the energy and noise within a space and employers can continue to learn and evolve the design of the workspace to ensure it is used to maximum effect. An office space should provide employees with the ability to carry out their role to the best of their ability and should be designed to support this. This is likely to need to include a mixture of collaborative workspaces where colleagues can connect and be creative but also solo working, digitally enabled meeting rooms and phone pods.

While workspaces must also have easy to use tech to bring in those working remotely, there is no doubt that on many occasions, meeting with a colleague or a client face-to-face provides a connection on a level that cannot be achieved through a screen. With independent working being something that comes with working from home, offices need to offer employees something different, a benefit they don’t have when working from home. 

When asked about homeworking, those interviewed stated work-life balance was the greatest positive, while challenges of collaboration were the greatest negative . Further evidence that organisations need to provide spaces that encourage and facilitate collaboration with the wider team.

Of course, the first step to determine what your employees really want from hybrid working is to ask them. This insight and knowledge are invaluable and will help the business determine how best to navigate hybrid working whilst meeting the team’s needs, and the needs of the business too. 

Ultimately, businesses and employees tend to want similar things. A happy and engaged workforce results in better results and higher productivity. The better the results and productivity, the more profitable for a business. Employees want to enjoy the work they do, and the environment that they do it within, and want to be doing a great job. Employers want the same and so the need to meet these requirements to benefit both parties are clear. 

But the benefits of hybrid working don’t just come in the form of a happier workforce and increased productivity. A financial benefit is also available for both employees and businesses. Employees who are no longer commuting every day will likely be saving costs.  Depending on workspace design there is also potential cost savings for businesses. Some businesses have saved significant amounts by downsizing their portfolios. Others have chosen to redirect the cost elsewhere into higher specification fit outs and kept real estate spend flat. Some have increased space to provide the variety of types of space and activity-based working that will drive financial upside. Some business have an aspiration to save costs but are finding employee led hybrid arrangements mean they need the same size of office. This cost saving, coupled with the higher profit from the more productive and happier workforce means those with P&L responsibilities have a glint in their eye.

The key for businesses to entice their workers back into the office is to understand and articulate the why behind the office space. Employees must understand the value in the commute for both themselves and the business. By doing so, those who would opt to work from home full time, can understand the benefit of returning on a hybrid basis and are more willing to do so

Whilst initially this may not be easy, the size of the prize and the impact this can positively have on a business is high. Hybrid working is here to stay and businesses that are able to offer hybrid working must now do so, or risk being left behind within their industry. As with anything new, businesses may experience teething problems in the early stages of hybrid working. But once overcome, the benefits will be worthwhile.

Lucinda Pullinger is managing director UK of The Instant Group

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