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How You Can Avoid the Pitfalls of Hybrid Working

Hybrid working is taking over work culture—and it is there to stay. Read this blog to learn its impact on your business and how to implement it successfully.

COVID lockdowns unexpectedly forced workers across the world to work remotely. As the initial attempt to ‘flatten the curve’ stretched into months of uncertainty, homeworking became increasingly normalized in many sectors. As pandemic measures constantly change, businesses are now considering how best to move forward. Should you require workers to return to the office full-time, or offer a more permanent remote working solution? What will the long-term consequences be for your company’s culture and performance?

A recent Office for National Statistic (ONS) survey found that 85% of homeworking adults wanted a ‘hybrid’ model, and recruitment ads were three times more likely to include references to remote working in Spring 2021 compared to 2020. With half of all businesses in some industries (58% in Information and Communication) now planning to implement hybrid working in some form, there can be little doubt that COVID has changed the way we work.

What is hybrid working?

Hybrid working is loosely defined as a model where staff work remotely for part of their employment and physically attend their workplace for the remainder. The split can be arranged in a wide range of formal and informal ways, like:

  • 2 days in the office, 3 days working from home
  • 1 week each month working in the office
  • Working flexible hours when at home (e.g. early mornings, evenings or weekends)
  • Attending the office as required on an ad hoc basis for meetings and training sessions
  • Working some 9-5 shifts in office, but evening shifts from home (e.g. in telesales or customer support)

How hybrid and remote working can affect your business

Prior to the pandemic, remote working studies identified several major benefits for both businesses and workers. One meta-analysis found that remote workers were 35-40% more productive than in-office staff, and that they made 40% fewer mistakes.

In addition to the morale and productivity gains that remote working can bring, you will also be able to recruit from a much wider group potentially finding a better candidate for a more competitive salary. Remote and hybrid working can also help to reduce your fixed costs, enabling you to move premises to a smaller location with better rates and lower energy costs.

Remote working also creates opportunities for people who would otherwise find it difficult to attend an office physically every day or work a standard 9-to-5. People with disabilities like as ME (Myalgic encephalomyelitis), OCD and potentially “long Covid”, will find achieving their potential much easier with more flexibility. Parents with school-age children can also work more effectively, without having to balance the commute, the school run, and morning and after-school childcare.

More recent ONS data found that homeworkers felt that an improved work/life balance was the greatest benefit, alongside working faster and with fewer distractions. However, the survey also identified the biggest disadvantages as being “fewer job opportunities” and remote working making it “harder to work with others”.

Chris Salmon, Director of Quittance.co.uk said, “Correctly implemented, remote working can transform the wellbeing of workers, but will also help to improve retention and recruitment. A poorly structured or confusing policy could create serious problems, and even give rise to claims for constructive dismissal, if workers feel they are discriminated against or placed under impossible pressure to work long hours, “always be online”, or if they struggle to connect with the rest of the team.

The impact on remote workers

Workers can be affected by remote work in many ways, positive and negative. Studies have shown that although homeworkers are more productive and generally happier, there exists the potential for serious downsides:

  • Difficulties communicating and collaborating effectively with colleagues.
  • Difficulties accessing management and HR resources.
  • Being overlooked for promotion and career development.
  • Stress and anxiety about productivity, distractions at home, and the difficulty of presenting a professional façade in a noisy family home.
  • Occupational health issues like back pain arising from an inadequate workspace, like a kitchen table or couch.
  • Feelings of isolation and loneliness, leading to more long-term mental health concerns.

Managing remote workers effectively

On a basic level, it can be harder for a remote worker’s manager to identify potential issues, let alone address them. This is particularly likely if the manager has no experience with remote workers; some management styles may not work as well over email and Skype.

Managers may not notice changes in a remote worker’s behavior that could suggest a problem, such as much shorter email replies, slower responses, or fewer contributions in team meetings.

Remote working creates opportunities for people who would otherwise find it difficult to attend an office physically every day, or work a standard 9-to-5.

Finding the right hybrid balance

Remote working is not for everyone. More outgoing members of staff may really struggle to adapt to the solitude of remote work, even if they were initially keen. Consider offering remote work on a trial basis, so staff does not feel like they are trapped in a work mode that’s harming their wellbeing.

Each business needs to find a balance between offering flexibility to workers and developing a practical, manageable approach to hybrid working. It may be that a simple “two days in-office, three from home” model is good enough. The suitability of any given model will depend on the job role and the management capacity of your business.

As with every other aspect of the hybrid approach, a clear policy with clearly communicated reasoning is the best way to avoid any staff from feeling ignored or mistreated.

Implementing hybrid working

Whatever approach your business takes, a remote working or hybrid working policy should be developed to explicitly set out what will be expected of employees working remotely. The policy should include clear guidance on working hours, if and when staff will be expected to attend the office, and how flexible their work time can be when working from home.

To ensure the implementation of remote working proceeds smoothly (and to avoid accusations of unfairness and other employment issues in future) your remote work policy must be as clear and as comprehensive as possible. That said, do not expect to get it right for the first time.

You should collaborate with all staff when developing remote working practices and present the policy as a working document that will evolve and improve over time. Encourage all workers to give feedback, including staff who will not be working remotely. Canvassing the whole business for their views will help to prevent those staff who cannot work remotely from feeling neglected.

Ultimately, you may decide that remote or hybrid working is not right for your business, but you should be aware of what other firms in your sector are planning. You may struggle to retain staff, even on higher salaries, if competitors are offering very flexible hours and remote working support.

Avoiding the pitfalls of hybrid working is primarily a matter of consulting with staff and evolving your policies over time. Above all, clear communication is key. Explain the reasoning behind your hybrid or remote work policies to all staff, invite feedback, and be prepared to evolve your approach. Encourage collaboration between in-office staff and remote workers, and if communication issues arise, listen to concerns from all sides and invite suggestions to build on the methods that do work.

There is unquestionably a rich seam of untapped and enthusiastic workers to be mined with the right flexible working schemes. Whether your business or existing workforce would currently benefit from hybrid working, you should keep in mind the huge potential that implementing a remote work scheme could unlock in the future as your team grows and adapts to the “new normal”.

Based in the U.K., Quittance offers award-winning legal services with empathy, professionalism, and an uncompromising focus on results.

Learn more about how SHL’s RemoteWorkQ can help you get insight on your people and plan for a successful hybrid working.

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Author

Chris Salmon

Chris Salmon is the Operations Director of UK-based legal specialists Quittance Legal Services.

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