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Help, I Have a Hybrid Hangover!

Author:

Tim Russell

Modern Workspace

•  Apr 04, 2024

Some say the best cure for a hangover is a stiff drink, others a great big fry-up breakfast. Personally, I think it’s best to avoid the hangover altogether, but where is the fun in that!? When it comes to hybrid working, we all have an opinion and a perspective, and this is what makes it so challenging. The term ‘hybrid working’ has become somewhat overused in the last few years, and maybe, like me, you just consider it ‘working’ now. 

However, not everyone has reached this decision, and this short article is focused on the steps I see that take you, your business, and your staff away from ‘hybrid work’ and closer to just ‘working’. I, like many others, have been a hybrid worker long before it became fashionable. 

The Positives of Hybrid Work

Let’s start with the perceived positives of hybrid working, and I say perceived because some of the unforeseen negatives can counteract some of these. More on those in the next section.

Flexibility: The obvious benefit is the level of flexibility that is offered by working at home. I built a car in 9 months of lockdown just in the time I saved not having to commute. Some learnt new skills or gained new certifications, and others read a library worth of books. Now we are no longer confined to our house, this flexibility is still exercised; school runs, gym, a dash to the shops, nearly all of us have slightly more control over our agenda with the proximity of many tasks we need to fulfil being near our place of residence. 

Inclusion & Equity: You may not realise this, but the pandemic was an immense success story for those who were previously discounted from a hiring process because of a physical catchment area employed by a company or a challenge in attending a physical location. Imagine that you are a wheelchair-bound individual, could you see a daily commute to central London being possible? Even with an ever-increasing amount of step-free access stations, London is not overly wheelchair-friendly, as is the case in a number of large metropolitan areas. Because of the hybrid transition, it has become more acceptable for workers to work remotely; IT strategies and solutions are now geared to supporting a remote workforce. I have spoken to customers who now can hire from Iceland to South Africa for the most relevant skills to help drive their businesses forward. They are no longer limited to the 25-to-40-mile catchment area that was commonplace. 

Environmental Impact: Even when you choose the most efficient method to travel to work, you still have an impact. Working from your home office removes a travel requirement and the associated environmental impact. You may still need to power your laptop, monitor and broadband router, but this would have been the case when working in the office. The net consumption for the device is unchanged. The travel, however, is reduced. 

Health and Wellbeing: Working from home, I can collect the post, I can walk the dog, I can make dinner at lunchtime, and I can do so many other things because I am there, present in my home. So long as I balance my commitments, I have the ability to address family time, focus on looking after my health, and not rush, which can add pressure and stress. Instead of trying to cram events and gatherings into the evenings or weekend, I can have a doctor or dentist appointment in the middle of the day; reducing the stress of finding an appointment. I’ve worked at the garage while having my vehicle serviced, and there are so many other scenarios that relieve me of the continual struggle between the things I need to do and the time I have to do them in.

The Negatives of Hybrid Work

Having looked at the positives, you may have counteracted some of these already with your own negatives. 

Let’s list some of these here: 

Social bonding: I read an article recently where a company removed a coffee machine because employees spent too long at the machine talking and not at their desks. When the company removed the coffee machine, they saw a direct increase in the number of lines of code created. The long term, however, demonstrated a reduced overall productivity with fewer completed projects. It became clear that the conversations both at, to and from the coffee machine created  bonding moments and unplanned interactions that positively impacted output. We are humans, and however much we may like productive solitude, we need other humans to achieve our best results. The social interactions that are unplanned can sometimes lead to the best results in the same way that an empty mind can lead to the best innovations. 

Loss of balance: The hybrid and home worker, in many instances, has lost the ability to separate home from work. Without the commute to give a tangible separator and the ever-increasing amount of data on both personal and work devices, switching off has become harder. 

Looking Busy: At the tail-end of the pandemic the Work Trend Index from Microsoft showed a 277% increase in meetings. It’s not just that we went online for these meetings, but our agenda was blocked out for entire days because of back-to-back meetings. Some did this to feel that they were busy, even when not in the office, others to try and create the chance encounters the coffee machine conversations would have given. This excessive meeting culture removed the ability for us to ‘do work’ as we were always in meetings; leaving us to catch up after work time, playing again into the loss of balance as mentioned above. 

Visibility: Working at home has been difficult for some, and getting back to the office is a must-do, yet they face the challenge of not having enough seats in an office as companies reduce real estate to address flexible office patterns. All of us, it is said, are on different journeys, and so too are our experiences both in and away from the office. How, then, can the safeguards and protection mechanisms we take for granted in a physical workplace extend to a remote working location? People are out of sight, and their care and well-being are based upon a report-it-yourself mentality. 

Capability and Skills Transfer: Graduate schemes, apprenticeship schemes, and split learning/working all require a level of skills transfer that is very hard to achieve successfully while working remotely. Most of you will have heard of the 70-20-10 learning model, where 70% is gained from experience in doing the job, 20% is learning that came from social interaction with others and 10% is derived from formal education and training. The 20% in this scenario relies on social interaction, mentoring and the physical presence of another. We didn’t learn to walk by just deciding there must be something better than crawling, we did it by seeing others walk. This social bonding and development are critical to success and the lack of these are one of the biggest bugbears I hear from those who have joined companies during the pandemic. I changed jobs at the start of 2020, just after the UK went into lockdown, and however hard the organisation I worked for tried, there is no replacement for social interaction in the onboarding and learning journey.

Trust, Balance, and It Strategy

With both the positives and the negatives above, we can see that Hybrid working is a challenge that many organisations are struggling with. There is, I believe, no silver bullet that will provide a solution for all, but there are things that can help you understand, plan, and operate around a hybrid model. 

  • There is no one-size-fits-all; your business is your business, so decide what fits best. 
  • Your people are your biggest asset. Hybrid working is not only about empowering them but also protecting and engaging them in a way that drives your business forward. 
  • Hybrid working models must be driven, adopted, and supported from the very top of your organisation. 
  • If you find internal resistance against out-of-sight workers, push to understand why; if it is a trust or a command-and-control legacy, then look at how culture, not technology, can help you adopt change in your organisation. 

Remote Work and Inclusion

I’m not sure if you ever had the pleasure of being the only remote person on an audio conference call; did you feel alone and just a spectator or were you worried that the volume was maybe too high on the conference phone, and you were the only talker? You must be wary that hybrid meetings are set up to cater for all attendees, and promote equity, and inclusion - whether attendees are on or off camera, remote or local. There are a multitude of solutions out there, and implementing them in a way that creates this inclusive environment is key. This extends to ad-hoc as well as planned meeting spaces. 

Hybrid Work and Organisational Culture

Hybrid work is not just a matter of technology or logistics; it also affects the culture and values of an organisation. How do you foster a sense of belonging, collaboration, and innovation among employees who may have different work arrangements and preferences? How do you ensure that everyone feels valued and respected, regardless of their location or status? How do you create a shared vision and mission that transcends physical boundaries and connects people across time zones and cultures? 

These are some of the questions that leaders and managers need to address as they transition to a hybrid work model. They need to rethink how they communicate, motivate, and reward their teams, as well as how they handle conflicts, feedback, and performance reviews. They need to establish clear expectations and guidelines for hybrid workers, as well as provide them with the necessary support and resources. They also need to promote a culture of trust, autonomy, and accountability, where employees can manage their own work and deliver results.

Summary

In this article, we have discussed some of the challenges and opportunities of hybrid work, as well as some of the best practices and solutions to enable it. We have seen that hybrid work is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but rather a flexible and adaptable strategy that can be tailored to the needs and goals of each organisation and employee. We have also seen that hybrid work requires a shift in mindset and behaviour; both at the individual and organisational levels, to make it effective and sustainable. 

As a leader or manager, you have a key role to play in making hybrid work a success for your organisation. You need to consider the role of IT, trust, and productivity measurement in your organisation, as well as how to foster inclusion and culture among your hybrid teams. You need to involve your employees in the decision-making process and solicit their feedback and input. You also need to monitor and evaluate the outcomes and impacts of hybrid work and adjust and improve your practices as needed. 

We invite you to take action and start implementing hybrid work in your organisation if you have not already done so. You can use the following steps as a guide: 

  • Assess your current situation and identify your hybrid work goals and objectives. 
  • Define your hybrid work policies and guidelines and communicate them clearly to your employees. 
  • Provide your employees with the necessary technology and tools to enable hybrid work, and ensure they have adequate training and support. 
  • Create a hybrid work culture that promotes trust, collaboration, and innovation, and that values diversity and inclusion. 
  • Measure and evaluate the results and benefits of hybrid work, and adjust and improve as needed. 

Hybrid work is not a trend or a fad; when done sustainably, it is the future of work. By embracing it, you can enhance the productivity, performance, and satisfaction of your employees, as well as the competitiveness and resilience of your organisation.  

We hope this article has provided you with some useful insights and tips to help you navigate the hybrid work journey. If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to contact us. 

We look forward to hearing from you and supporting you in your hybrid work endeavours. 

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