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Hybrid working models – Should your workplace have one and how to introduce it?

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”

Albert Einstein

What is a Hybrid Working Model?

In a radical departure from the traditional office-first 9 to 5 model, hybrid working gives employees the flexibility to get work done when they are most productive. Staff have the flexibility to work within different hours (e.g. some people are morning people, others are night owls) and locations. 

Hybrid working models are unique to the companies’ needs and have many variations. For example, as of October 2020, Washington-based software giant Microsoft allows each employee the option to work from home 50% of the time without needing any managerial approval. Requests for other arrangements can also be submitted to management.

It’s a very employee-centered approach and is becoming increasingly popular globally especially as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Implementing Hybrid Working

Change management is a collective term for all approaches to prepare, support and help individuals, teams, and organisations make organisational change. It’s one of the services we provide to our social good clients here at ROI(ή) and is a necessary step when implementing any new ways of working, such as a hybrid working model. 

These are our team’s top tips for organisations moving towards a more hybrid approach.

1. Get those affected to understand and believe in the change

Before introducing any new ways of working or organisational change, it is important that the rationale for the change is explained in a simple and honest way. The latter –  honesty – being absolutely imperative. Your team isn’t stupid. Sugarcoasting and/or PR-spinning simply won’t get you anywhere. 

For example, if the introduction of a new flex policy is primarily about cost reduction, own that. Claim it. Rationalise to your employees that cost reduction from an organisational perspective is also a bonus for those working on the ground as it will result in better financial security for the company and, in turn, its people. 

In contrast, perhaps the shift to a more integrated model of work is to support new working practices. If so, what are they? What will be expected from team members? How will their work life change and, hopefully, improve?

If not explained and discussed by and within the organisation, and justified with evidence, employees will make their own assumptions.  

Here it’s worth mentioning that the period we are entering now is characterised by a lot more employee exits from their organisations than previously – recent research by McKinsey suggests that up to 40% of a workforce may be considering their options. Initiatives such as these, if not managed properly, can help push good people out and increase staff turnover rates.   

2. Move from communications to authentic engagement with the people affected

In a corporate context, communication is usually a way for organisations to control the narrative. Generally, it’s one-sided and offers little in the way of two-way conversation. Engagement, on the other hand, is all about having constructive conversation with those affected by the change.

Initiatives introducing new working practices often invest a lot in the former (in terms of time and resource) and very little on the latter. Both communications and engagement activities are critical in preparing an organisation to go through big changes. 

To help prepare for change, the organisation can undertake ‘readiness audits’ of all affected (e.g. implications of the change to their role, kit they may need, barriers for them, opportunities…). Based on their results, learning pilots in those areas that seem to be worrying most (e.g. pre-pandemic, many organisations were worried about the impact of moving to a hybrid model on their management capabilities and information management) are a good way of addressing concerns and securing engagement and buy-in. Team champions can be invaluable as long as they are given the time, resource, authority and responsibility to help prepare a team, transition to a new working model and embed new working practices.

3. Leadership is key

Organisational leadership in functions/teams moving into new models needs to demonstrate very early on their genuine buy-in by adopting new practices first. Although this seems common sense, it is often where a lot of these initiatives fail.

For example, as our director Christos recalls: “I was involved in a project years ago taking the entire organisation to an open plan, office-free, desk sharing environment only for the leadership team to change their decision mid-way and give dedicated offices only to themselves!”

Comms can be invaluable here in leveraging ‘good’ leadership behaviours and practices demonstrating a move to the new model – thereby helping to create good social norms within the organisation.

4. A world outside an office

Beyond the basic concerns of people moving to more flexible ways of working (e.g office space at home, lack of contact with colleagues on most days, etc.), the organisation needs to understand other concerns staff may have that can be worsened by such an initiative. For example, in a previous project, an organisation moving to a flexible working model was seen as ‘weak’ by its employees on employee career prospects as measured in their staff survey. The flexible working model made things worse as the perceived distance exacerbated concerns with career progression within the organisation. 

Management should understand any existing underlying concerns and potential opportunities and explain how the move to the new model can be a catalyst in addressing these.

5. Make it fun

People often like office interaction for “serious” reasons (e.g. knowledge exchange, cognitive diversity, etc.) but also for more “fun” ones (nights out with colleagues, office gossip, a work identity separate to a home identity…). Organisations often focus on the former, ignoring the latter. As part of transition proposals, organisations should explore how the new working world they are introducing can be more fun and interactive than before (increased individual and team budgets for socials, flexible incentivisation schemes a.o) and visibly measure and report on the implications of schemes on employee wellbeing. 

 And finally!

6. Give people hope for the future

Organisations often forget to explain how changes like this one will help them achieve their overall, longer-term aspirations. If people see that the pain they are going through to adopt new working practices will make a difference in lives saved, products launched, employees retained and company viability, they are more likely to adapt and sustain. 

 And finally, finally, once the scheme goes live, make sure that the organisation provides ongoing support to employees to help them not only embed, but sustain new working practices.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christos Pishias, Director

A true leader in social good, Christos is an influential and energetic project manager. Hyper-commuting between his island home in Cyprus and business headquarters in London, Christos has always done things a little differently.