Hybrid working: how does HR have to change to support hybrid workforces?

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Future of Work Hybrid working Leadership and management

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The switch to hybrid working is changing how we collaborate, organise teams, and connect with colleagues. Gary Cookson joined CIPHR to share tips to help HR teams make a positive impact

There seem to be no end to the pieces of research that show how beneficial remote and hybrid working can be to all involved, but the reality is that organisations’ working practices, culture and its workspaces all need to change for hybrid working arrangements to be truly effective. In May 2022, Gary Cookson, director of EPIC HR and author of HR for Hybrid Working, joined a CIPHR webinar to share tips on how HR and people professionals can successfully help organisations make the switch to effective hybrid working.

The term hybrid working is perhaps misleading because it suggests it’s simply a combination of remote and office-based work, said Cookson. It’s not as simple as that: it’s something much more conscious, much more deliberate, and needs a very different approach – we’ve got to change what work is, as well as where and when it takes place. In this article, we’re going to explore what HR professionals and line managers need to think about to help make that change.

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The new normal?

The Covid-19 pandemic brought with it some significant long-term changes to the way we live and work and, in turn, changes to the way that people professionals need to act. The hybrid working model has become the reality for many UK workers. According to Buffer’s 2021 State of Remote Work Report, the top advantages of this way of working, in order, are:

  1. The ability to have a flexible working schedule
  2. The ability to work from anywhere
  3. Not having to commute
  4. The ability to spend time with family

However, the same study also noted some common disadvantages which, in order, are:

  1. Not being able to unplug
  2. Difficulty collaborating with people
  3. Loneliness
  4. Distractions at home

The advantages and disadvantages are two sides of the same coin: it’s all very well being able to spend time with your family, but being at home may cause you to be distracted at work; it’s great being able to work in the comfort of your own home, but it could lead to loneliness; and the ability to work anywhere and at any time seems great, but it could make it difficult to unplug and collaborate effectively with people.

One of the main lessons that we can learn from the pandemic is that the switch to remote working is not as simple as just taking what you did in the office and doing it over a video call. Hybrid working needs to follow the same principles. It’s not quite trying to merge the remote and face to face worlds, despite what the label might suggest. It’s something different, more conscious, more deliberate, so that it changes what remote work is and what face to face work is into something that is greater than the sum of its parts, something better than either are individually.

What we mean by hybrid working

According to a survey conducted by Understanding Society, 88% of UK workers want to be back in the physical workplace for some of their time. However, according to HR Review, a third of UK workers would actually take a pay cut if it means they can work from home. It seems like people need some level of face-to-face interaction – they just don’t want that all the time. But in some cases, people actually crave it.

If you want to adopt hybrid working at your organisation, you’ve got to be clear what you mean by that. Does this mean employees work from anywhere, any time? Or will you offer them a set number of days a week at home? Is it something that applies to everybody in your organisation, or just to some? HR and people professional should be well placed to help organisations and leaders answer those questions.

In the future, organisations will more commonly have a mix of people working fully remotely, fully on site, and in hybrid arrangements. What can people professionals do to help? There must be noticeable difference in the experience of working remotely and working on site, argued Cookson in the webinar. He suggested:

  • Avoiding duplicating the physical workplace remotely
  • Giving proper attention to the setup of remote workspaces
  • Investing in communication skills
  • Creating and nurturing internal communities
  • Providing more choice to employees over how they work
  • Focusing on inclusivity

A new leadership

The role of a leader is different in a remote or hybrid team, and employees shouldn’t be managed solely on the amount of time they work per week. The focus of leaders who are managing remote or hybrid teams needs to be on results and specific outputs, argued Cookson. This type of mindset shift will lead to leaders beginning to use the workforce’s skills and time in different ways. Leaders also need to focus on reward and recognition; they need to become great at noticing what’s happening in the team, but also what’s not. So, the leader of a remote and hybrid team should be on relationship building more than anything else, and making sure that the team understands how they relate to each other.

A good leader will need to work out how to use technology to craft these opportunities. They’ll need to coach people on how to relate better to their teammates who they rarely see, and keep in mind that some people will need different levels of social interaction than others. That means that organisations (helped by their HR teams) might need to make efforts to agree ways of working, including how flexible different working arrangements might be, what the expectations are between the leader and the team, and making sure everybody’s got the right setup to be able to do what they need to do.

Helping hybrid teams

When moving an organisation workforce to remote or hybrid work, you need to work on defining how the leader of a team is going to deal with different situations, what the information flow is going to be like between the different team members, and how the team is going to be administered based on who’s working where on any given day, argued Cookson This will include how your workforce is going to communicate with each other, the roles of meeting etiquette, and expectations around behavior. For teams to  operate effectively remotely, they need structure and parameters that individuals agree to work within.

Team leaders have a key role to play in helping teams work effectively, but eventually you want teams to be self-sufficient and self-governing.  HR and people professionals can prompt and facilitate these types of discussions. People need social connections, too. If there’s no longer going to be those ‘water cooler’ moments we used have in the office, HR teams and line managers should be encouraging ways for employees – within and across teams – can connect socially. These types of small changes can go a long way to combat loneliness and isolation, and aid collaborative working.

Changing the physical workspace

Cookson argued that organisations need to change their physical workplaces so these spaces can adapt to individuals’ and teams’ needs on any given day. Employers should also take care not to make the physical workspace and home workspaces the same, he said.

Work isn’t just definable by where or when it takes, but rather by the type of work being done itself. Employers should provide different types of physical workplaces such as ‘touchdown spaces’, where individuals can complete quick tasks between meetings, or areas for quiet, interruption-free thinking akin to libraries. Host-desking facilities, that could be bookable in advance for individuals, or whole teams, will also be important.

Use your people data to understand your employees

A great HR system can hold a tremendous capacity of people data about your employees, and too many HR professionals overlook the value of this data in helping organisations understand their people and their needs, said Cookson. Use this data to segment your employee base, and map the employee journey in the same way that you might do for your customers, he suggested. HR software like CIPHR HR that integrates with other applications – such as employee sentiment platforms – will help to give you that holistic visibility of employee performance and engagement, so you can shape their experiences at work more effectively.

Don’t forget about learning management systems (LMS), which hold crucial insights about individuals’ learning and skills, which you can combine with other data so you can start to predict what learning people need, now and the future, to help them continue to perform effectively.

Want to do more with your people data to create a more effective working environment for your people? Request a demo with CIPHR today to see how we can help you unlock the power of your people data.