5 minute read 19 Jul 2021
Woman having a conversation via Zoom

How to make hybrid working a success in your organisation

By Amy Walters

Manager, EY Lane4, EY Professional Services Limited

Specialises in human performance with a focus on applied psychology. Translates academic thinking and research into practical solutions for business. Visiting lecturer at Bath University.

Contributors
5 minute read 19 Jul 2021
Related topics Workforce

Hybrid working involves giving people more choice over where to work, and it’s the future most organisations are choosing.

In brief
  • Organisations are looking to provide hybrid working to their employees to enable them to continue enjoying the benefits of both remote and in-office work.
  • Embedding hybrid working successfully won’t come without its challenges, and these must not be underestimated.
  • Leaders and managers will play a pivotal role in the shift to hybrid ways of working. 

Hybrid working involves giving people more choice as to where they would like to work, offering a flexible blend of remote and in-office working so that individuals, teams and organisations can be at their best.

The pandemic proved that many jobs can be done remotely, prompting people to reflect on their previous working habits and routines. This has led to a step change in employee attitudes to work as demonstrated in the findings of the EY 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey:

  • 9 out of 10 employees want flexibility in where and when they work.
  • 54% of employees are prepared to quit if they aren’t offered the flexibility they want.
  • On average, employees expect to work between 2 and 3 days a week remotely after the pandemic.

Employees will have learnt a lot about themselves and how they work best over the past year: which habits feel sustainable and which don’t, what benefits they appreciate about working remotely and what aspects of being in the office they’ve missed.

Hybrid working is about harnessing this shake up and giving people more autonomy to decide how, when and, crucially, where they work best.

Register to download the full report: Hybrid working (PDF, 3MB)

The benefits of hybrid working

The strengths and weaknesses of remote and office working have been thoroughly researched in recent years.1 Each offers considerable benefits to individuals and their organisations, but also challenges. The benefit of hybrid working is that it allows employees and employers to enjoy the ‘best of both’.

Remote working offers reduced commuting time and costs for individuals and a reduced carbon footprint for organisations. On the other hand, in-office working gives individuals faster and easier access to information as well as helping businesses to nurture social learning and idea sharing.

Done right, hybrid working offers all these benefits to individuals and organisations at once by allowing for an appropriate mix of in-person collaboration and focused remote working. However, employees need to be informed, empowered and trusted to make decisions about how best to carry out their jobs.

The challenges to making hybrid working a success

Achieving a win-win-win for individuals, managers and organisations won’t happen organically or by chance. Organisations need to be aware of some of the risks that hybrid working brings and act to avoid them:

  1. Levelling the playing field

    Humans have a deep-rooted dislike of unfair treatment and the shift to hybrid working is a potential hotbed of perceived injustice. People will want transparency and fairness in how decisions are being made,c and managers will need to treat people equitably.

  2. Maintaining a healthy hybrid team environment

    One of the biggest risks in a hybrid working model is that an ‘us-and-them’ dynamic begins to emerge between those who attend the office regularly and those who base themselves more from home. To keep people unified, biases will need to be kept in check and new norms established.

  3. Optimising people’s engagement

    Keeping people engaged is the age-old challenge because our engagement levels naturally ebb and flow over time.2 In a hybrid world, it will remain challenging for leaders to notice the subtle signs and gauge the overall team morale. Luckily, handling this challenge is nothing new, it’s just a case of dialling up the leadership basics of communication, purpose and goal setting.

  4. Championing company culture

    For many organisations who were predominantly office-based, the pandemic may have diluted company culture by removing the chance for certain rituals, routines, jokes and more. Moving to hybrid working is a challenge because it requires acceptance from leaders that the future will be culturally different to what it was. That said, it also creates an opportunity to review what aspects of a culture are important to keep and which no longer serve the organisation well.
Creating a hybrid working model

Be intentional around the signals you’re sending people — the business case for hybrid working is strong. Consequently, leaders wishing to simply return to ‘business as usual’ will have to clearly communicate what decisions around future ways of working are being taken and why.

Clarify what is expected and meant by ‘hybrid working’ — currently, hybrid working models mean different things to different people. Leaders therefore need to be clear about how they envision ‘hybrid working’ happening: can individuals work all-remote if they choose? Or are the boundaries of hybrid working within a certain parameter (for example, between 1-4 days remote)? You could consider using the following language when discussing hybrid working:

  • High-intensity remote worker (remote working 4-5 days a week)
  • Hybrid remote worker (remote working 2-3 days a week)
  • Low-intensity remote worker (remote working 1-2 days a week)

Be clear about who owns the decision around how people can work — research suggests that managers greatly value having discretion over ‘ways of working’ decisions and prefer to deal with requests for remote working on a case-by-case basis.3 But in some organisations, leaders at the top may no longer want to keep the decision at manager level. Make sure it’s agreed who owns the decision around hybrid working and co-create the criteria upon which decision making will be based.

Get aligned as a senior leadership team — hybrid working can be a contentious issue, and many senior leaders will have strongly differing beliefs. What your leaders believe, communicate and role model will determine what people do. Conversations around the drivers behind people’s beliefs therefore need to be taken into consideration. Otherwise, you could end up sending your workforce mixed messages.

Keep all changes to people’s ways of working under review — businesses need to offer people clarity on hybrid working models sooner rather than later, but these models shouldn’t be set in stone now. Keep any changes under review for 6-12 months with measures in place to gauge the impact the change is having. If new ways of working are being implemented, work out what indicators will be useful to track, how feedback will be gathered, and over what time period.

  • Show article references#Hide article references

    1. N. Donnelly & S.B. Proctor‐Thomson, “Disrupted work: home‐based teleworking (HbTW) in the aftermath of a natural disaster,” New Technology, Work and Employment, 2015.

    2. A. D. Masuda, C. Holtschlag, & J. M. Nicklin, “Why the availability of telecommuting matters: The effects of telecommuting on engagement via goal pursuit,” Career Development International, 2017.

    3. B. A. Lautsch & E. E. Kossek, “Managing a blended workforce: telecommuters and non-telecommuters,” Organizational Dynamics, 2011.

Summary

Business leaders can’t bury their heads in the sand on the issue of hybrid working. All the evidence suggests that the shift away from full-time office working will be permanent. To gain the ‘best of both’ benefits of hybrid working, leaders will need to give their people clarity about how ways of working are changing and trust them to make smart decisions.

About this article

By Amy Walters

Manager, EY Lane4, EY Professional Services Limited

Specialises in human performance with a focus on applied psychology. Translates academic thinking and research into practical solutions for business. Visiting lecturer at Bath University.

Contributors
Related topics Workforce