As the UK takes strides towards the lifting of all remaining COVID-19 restrictions, businesses are looking ahead to what the return of workers to the office could look like. Many businesses will be looking to implement a hybrid working solution that allows them to prioritise the health and safety of teams while remaining flexible and responsive to an unpredictable public health situation and ensuring business operations continue.
But what is hybrid working? According to research site ‘Ask the Public’, questions relating to Hybrid Working are perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the most frequently asked at the moment. With many wanting to know what it is, how it works and potentially what the future may look like. We caught up with our in-house expert, Darren Hogan, to get his perspective on the future and answer some of the most frequently asked questions…
What is hybrid working?
Hybrid working is where a business provides a user a near identical working experience regardless of physical location. All tooling and applications work in precisely the same way irrespective of where the user is, supporting both the individual worker whilst allowing for managerial oversight and open communication between on-site teams and those who are working remotely.
An effective hybrid model is always underpinned by a solid IT environment that integrates cloud-based solutions with legacy infrastructure to allow workers to switch seamlessly between locations by giving them the tools, technology and equipment they need to perform their roles fully, wherever they are based.
Many businesses have embraced remote working during the pandemic, and hybrid working is the natural next step as businesses look to bring workers safely back to the office. There are various hybrid models for employers to choose from, and all of them have their benefits. The right hybrid model for each company will ultimately depend on the organisation of the business and the requirements of its teams.
What IT / technology does a hybrid working model require?
Over the past 18 months, cloud-based service providers have been keen to build on the increased appetite for digital solutions and transform the landscape for millions of workers. Microsoft Teams, for example, has opened the door to integrations that give employees better oversight of their tasks, better and instant omnichannel access to their colleagues and managers, enhanced customer-handling functionality and even capabilities for tapping into a global knowledge base of specialists and experts. The tech giants are listening to users and responding quickly to deliver exactly what they want, all of which goes towards creating a working environment almost without limits.
The good thing about harnessing cloud-based solutions to support a hybrid model of working is that many of the common platforms and tools come with customisable parameters and in-built analytics for measuring performance across teams. Out-of-the-box solutions include performance tracking for everything from call-handling and customer contact resolution to document submission and productivity targets.
What are the benefits of hybrid working for companies?
In a hybrid working setup, fewer people are on-site at any given time, and this brings plenty of benefits for companies. Even with a vaccination, coronavirus continues to spread among the population and fewer people in the office makes it easier for companies to implement social distancing measures. This means healthier, more productive employees, and far fewer absences.
Another benefit to having fewer people in the office is that companies needn’t hang on to costly real estate – the hybrid model allows them to downsize city-centre office space, save costs on facilities, and even consider moving to a system of satellite offices in areas where rent is cheaper.
A hybrid model, by its very nature, is built to remove geographical barriers, and companies can benefit from increased access to global talent pools. Opening the door to remote workers around the world means companies are able to hire specialised staff and gain a competitive edge at the same time as opening up opportunities for expansion into new markets. And, of course, having a global team, based across various time-zones, enables around-the-clock productivity in a way that’s difficult and costly to achieve with traditional working models.
In terms of productivity, the global pandemic has dispelled all fears over remote working, and companies implementing a hybrid model are likely to see an increase in productivity from both individual employees and teams as a whole. Giving employees the freedom to choose how, where and when they work has untold benefits on staff wellbeing and job satisfaction, and companies offering hybrid working reap the rewards of happier, healthier, more committed teams.
Budget predictability is another benefit of the hybrid model, with cloud-based solutions like Microsoft Teams and M247’s range of products and services being provisioned on a per-usage basis as an operational expense. There’s no huge initial outlay, and companies are able to spin up or scale back on functionality almost instantaneously so they are only ever paying for what they need.
How can I implement a hybrid working model?
There are lots of things to consider when it comes to implementing an effective hybrid working model, many of which will require the input of workers themselves. By involving employees from the very beginning of the planning phase, companies can build a hybrid working model that everyone feels invested in and motivated about.
Managers from across the business will need to come together to create a strategy that includes:
- Undertaking research such as surveying employees, team leaders and line managers to find out what they need and want
- Clarifying roles, responsibilities and expectations, Both for employees who will be undertaking hybrid roles and managers who will be helping and managing the implementation
- Ensuring the IT infrastructure and tech environment are based on a hybrid-first model, and if not, consider the requirements to enable this
- Incorporates communication and collaboration tools at every level and in every place, both on-site and remote
- Formulates and streamlines processes to capitalise on the strengths of a hybrid model
- Considers how hybrid working ties in with other flexible working policies your business supports, to ensure they compliment one another
- Creates office schedules to manage workplace traffic and provide workers with flexibility
- Updates all relevant policies and procedures, including those related to IT usage, expenses, data protection and compliance
- Regularly reviews what’s working and what isn’t
- Ensures your company culture and employee wellbeing are interwoven through the strategy
How can I make hybrid working a success?
The success of hybrid working for any company will depend on the efficacy of the strategy for implementation. It will require companies to have the right infrastructure, tools, technologies and platforms in place to make cross-locational and co-locational working absolutely seamless, and it will require all users to share the same vision for success. With that in mind, here are a few do’s and don’ts to consider:
- Include managers from across the organisation in all strategy and planning meetings.
- Seek the input of individual workers to determine what they need from a hybrid model.
- Set clear priorities and objectives on a weekly or monthly basis, so on-site and remote employees know what is important and that everybody is working towards the same goals.
- Hold team meetings virtually as standard to ensure all team members, wherever they are working, are included and equal.
- Provide a consistent and reliable experience for all workers by putting your collaboration and co-working platform (such as Microsoft Teams) at the centre of day-to-day operations.
- Delegate activities and responsibilities to empower and motivate your teams.
- Encourage ongoing feedback and be responsive to making change.
- Take a one-size-fits-all approach to tools and platforms – what works for one team might actively hinder another.
- Be rigid about working practices or hours – the future remains unpredictable and the one thing everybody needs in the short-term is flexibility.
- Treat on-site and remote workers differently. Instead, encourage open and fair communication between all team members, and between them and managers.
- Look to presenteeism to measure productivity – look at the value being added by all individuals.
- Forget to make it fun by ensuring social engagement is a priority.
Is hybrid working here to stay?
Countless studies and surveys have been carried out over the past year, and they all say the same thing: employers and employees alike have little interest in returning to pre-pandemic work models. Coronavirus has brought out the best in many organisations, magnifying strong leadership practices, the flexibility and commitment of workforces and the entrenched desire of everybody to keep working. Looking ahead to what remains an unpredictable future, it’s hard to imagine any company wanting to back-pedal on the progress in digital transformation made over the past 18 months and slide back into the same old hierarchical, risk-averse, siloed ways of working.
A top-down focus on meaningful business objectives, partnered with a bottom-up sense of empowerment, has the potential to create a workplace of the future that is both hybrid and lasting. By intertwining technology, tools, platforms and human capability, businesses of all sizes and industries will be able to power growth, innovation, efficiency and resilience for the long-term.