Over the last few decades, we have seen dramatic changes in how our working time is structured. From the traditional 9 to 5 schedules, how we work and even where we work evolved to suit employees’ needs.
Terms such as flexi-time and ad-hoc working have become commonly used. More and more workers are looking to find the perfect work-life balance, and employers seek ways to help them achieve that.
A more recent term that is coming to prominence quickly is the idea of hybrid working. This especially gained traction through 2020 as many companies were forced to adopt alternative practices with offices and other workplaces closed for long periods due to the COVID Pandemic. Many people now see hybrid working and hybrid teams as the future of work for a large percentage of the workforce.
An overwhelming majority (77% of UK workers) see hybrid working as the way forward.
What is Hybrid Working?
Hybrid working is a structure composed of two types of working practices. Or in this case, two working locations: home and office. However, the home may be replaced by another non-office based location in many circumstances.
With several enforced lockdown periods over 2020 due to the global Coronavirus pandemic, business leaders had to find an alternative way of remaining in operation. The surprising thing is that this new way of working has proven most successful.
That is not to say it has been an easy process to implement. Technology has had to play a major role in hybrid working and companies – and employees – have had to adapt to this new concept. But, by and large, it has worked for most, and now many people question whether there is a need to return to the traditional way of working.
In fact, in a recent survey by Xerox, many employers said they are now looking at investing in new or updated technology so that hybrid working – in some form – will become a permanent policy. This digital transformation will be a major milestone in how humans work in today’s society. This new working environment will need new ways of thinking.
How to Build a Hybrid Workforce
It’s become apparent that many employers may choose to integrate some level of hybrid working into their long term plans. It is also certain that many employees have enjoyed this new way of doing things, having found that it gives them a more positive work-life balance.
If we are going to look at hybrid working as something permanent, how do we best achieve it while maintaining work rate and efficiency? How do we go about building a hybrid workforce for the future?
Top-down: start with your management
Before you consider how to structure hybrid working for your employees, you should first look at how your management will fit within this new model. Where will they be based? It’s probably a good idea that they spend at least a good percentage of their time office-based where possible.
Of course, the degree to which you can include remote management of your hybrid teams will depend very much on the nature of your business. This also applies to the employees. While a manufacturing business may have some office and administration staff working remotely, it is impossible to do the same for the actual production line staff.
How are your company and your workforce structured? How many employees do you have in total? If you are going to move to hybrid working, you need to differentiate between those who can work remotely and those who can only work in situ.
Analyse and categorise your employees and teams who will work remotely and those who won’t. As well as the practical angles, there is also the question of security and compliance. If staff are handling or accessing sensitive data, it may not be practical for them to work remotely without major investment.
Once you have identified those workers who can fit into a hybrid model, you can then look at the practicalities and needs of implementing a new structure.
How much technology will figure in your hybrid work model depends on your business’s nature. Will you need to look at purchasing new technology to allow remote working? Will that be hardware or software-based? How do you ensure data security for staff working from home?
Most of the technology you may need is readily available. It is mostly software-based. You will need good video conferencing or calling software as one of your main priorities. With less office-based meetings, you need a way for the team members to meet virtually when needed.
As well as team meetings, that also extends to one-to-one calls. Any software you use should have the ability to share or transfer files and other media securely. Your communication software must allow for contact between employees and customers, channel partners, suppliers and more.
You may also have to invest in hardware for any employees working remotely. They may not want to use personal computers or laptops for work-based activities, and you may want a standalone device that can travel with them from home to office to any other location.
Your IT department will play a major role in this part of setting up a hybrid workforce. They will need some level of access to remote devices to manage installations and have some oversight in case of problems. Any software being used must be common to all members of your workforce.
Tasks and productivity.
It’s important to remember that homeworking may not have that same ‘work environment’ feel. There may be less structure to a remote worker’s day, which could potentially affect their productivity levels.
If you are managing a remote team, ensure that there is a good level of task allocation. This can include specific tasks, groups of tasks, or a certain volume of work. Deadlines can be crucial to maintaining productivity for all staff working from home.
With task allocation, you also have to be certain that new work and tasks are distributed evenly. If a manager is office-based, it could easily be the case that they allocate a new task or piece of work to someone who is also office-based on that day (or permanently). It would appear easier to cross the office and discuss, than to video call the staff. Avoid this at all costs.
Work, rest and play
One of the great attractions of remote working is that it allows you to put a different time structure in place, while still fulfilling your job requirements and working a certain number of hours.
But it is also important that you have a coherent structure that your staff, at least partly, adheres to. It may be the case that you need them online and available during certain periods of the day, and certainly at times when any video conference meetings are scheduled.
If possible, include physical team-building meetings to ensure that a sense of team is continually fostered. If physical meetups are not possible for whatever reason, then look at ways of conducting virtual team building that are fun and foster a good team spirit.
Work-life balance has been a buzz phrase for so long that it seemed like a utopian ideal. With hybrid working now a genuine concept that is gradually being integrated into how many organisations operate, that phrase has now been given a new lease of life.
Technology will play a major part in how hybrid working moves forward, but the policies and systems that organisations put in place will be of almost equal importance. Employer-employee relationships will evolve into a new format, perhaps the most drastic change in such relationships since unions established workers’ rights.
The world of work is changing. While most people accept that the digital age began in the 1980s, 2021 and the post-COVID years may be viewed in the future as the global great leap forward.