Many employees appreciate the increased flexibility that working from home offered them during the pandemic. While it is important to gradually return to our workplaces and benefit from in-person collaboration, we will continue to work remotely part of the time for the foreseeable future.
Hybrid ways of working offer greater flexibility. Not all work needs to be done in the office at the same time. However, post COVID-19, hybrid working will require a significant culture shift and establishing new ways of working, together with associated policies and practices.
The hybrid model
Just like when we are working fully remotely, in a hybrid situation we need to focus more on people management, rather than merely accomplishing tasks. This means focusing more on supporting each other, trusting and relying on each other, clarifying working relationships and ensuring that everybody is included in meetings. It is not presence, but results what matter.
During the pandemic, we had to learn how to recreate virtually the informal communication previously happening in corridors or over lunch. With a partial return to the office, there will be more opportunities for informal in-person and social interactions. Furthermore, we need to continue to be proactive in our information sharing and provide regular constructive feedback.
Hybrid working is based on effective communication. It is critical to success, but also a potentially high-risk area. When communication is not well managed, it can result in poor information flow, knowledge gaps, barriers to effective team working and exclusion of team members who are not in the office. Effective communication needs to be seen as the responsibility of everyone in the group. Units/sectors/teams should discuss their priorities and set clear expectations together, including blocking time for focused work and agreeing when a physical presence in the office is necessary and when it is not.
Gradual return to work in an open office space
Even though we have health and safety COVID-19 protocols, we should not forget about emotional and mental wellbeing, too. Some staff may be worried or experience difficulties regarding returning to an open space work environment. This may take some time and adjustments. Therefore, we encourage managers to have a flexible approach, a sensitive and open discussion with every individual and discuss any adjustments and/or support to facilitate an effective return to the workplace.
Monitoring and evaluating employee work
When employees are working remotely or more flexibly, their performance may be harder to observe. Instead of assessing employees through physical presence and time in the office (or in virtual meetings), managers will need to adjust to assessing performance through results, meeting targets, outcomes, contribution and value. Therefore, it is important that managers have one-to-one time with team members on a regular basis to discuss performance, provide regular feedback and update work objectives, if needed.
Working in a hybrid team
A hybrid team is one where some people are working remotely and others in the office on any particular day. To maximise this arrangement, we need to rethink the way we work together. For some teams, members have already been working in a hybrid situation for several years, with staff in different locations. However, for others this is a new reality, and they need to go through a period of adjustment. In hybrid teams, we need to focus more on managing our teams, the individuals in our teams and ourselves – tasks that are easier when we are working in the same physical space. We all have a role to play in this.
Benefitting from new, flexible ways of working
When reflecting on flexible ways of working and how best to adapt to a remote/hybrid work environment, consider these five key principles:
Hybrid working is making new demands on employers and management. Although they may have developed new skills in terms of managing a remote workforce, hybrid working brings unique challenges that are different from both predominantly remote and predominantly office-based working.
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