5 Solutions to the Challenges of Hybrid Work

The future of work has changed and working from home (WFH) and hybrid work a combination of home, office, and mobile working have become the norm for many companies, regardless of the industry. Research suggests that working remotely or a combination thereof, hybrid work, creates both a challenge and opportunity. Whatever your hybrid working arrangement, every affected employee wants to know that you’re up to the challenge of supporting them in their job.

Act fast, Act now!

Good corporate governance is as much about looking after your employees as it is to manage your accounts. The most successful business leaders realise that their success is due to their employees, and in this age of skills shortages there’s also an absolute need to attract the best talent.

5 Solutions to the Challenges of Hybrid Work

Shared problems for employers and employees

For employees there is a mix of trepidation and excitement to working remotely. They anticipate an improved work/life balance and more flexibility, but there’s also the very real fear of missing out on the interpersonal engagements which foster a sense of belonging. If they work remotely, is their job secure? Not being in the office risks an employee being overlooked for one’s good work and, potentially, being perceived as less valuable than the full-time office worker.

Employers worry about their hybrid/WFH workers being distracted or demotivated, and the lack of management oversight. It’s a serious challenge, and although office sizes may be reduced and there are many other economies to be realised there are employment risks too: remote workers generally suffer from not having a dedicated workspace, a proper desk, chair, and adequate internet. There is also the demand to provide additional equipment, examples of which include computer monitors, printers, telephone handsets and more. as well as increased cybersecurity threats.

The five hybrid working models

Before the covid pandemic, flexible working was already gaining acceptance. London was referred to as the flex capital of the world, and with the explosive growth of WeWork, we saw the future. But what is hybrid working, how should it be managed, and what are the permutations?

  1. Office-first
  2. Remote-first
  3. A 3-2 work week
  4. Office occasional
  5. Designated WFH days
5 Solutions to the Challenges of Hybrid Work

Office-first

An office-first approach establishes the office as the primary workplace, with only limited scope for employees to work elsewhere. It’s a fair assumption that most more established businesses prefer the control this approach affords, whereas a company driven by a younger entrepreneur is less likely to be so inflexible. It is certainly a challenge for every company to adapt to how people want to work.

Full-time remote

A remote-first hybrid strategy positions itself that most (if not all) employees will work from home and communicate through online video and chat. While this is the rarest of all hybrid work models, its extremely common in the software development field. The big challenge here is to foster a sense of belonging.

3-2

The 3-2 hybrid WFH model reflects the proportion of home and office days to be worked each week. With either three days in the office, or three days at home, this overcomes many of the difficulties and is extremely popular with employees as most people crave real-life interaction and engagement with their colleagues.

Office occasional

Depending on the culture of your company, office occasional boosts collaboration and teamwork. With this hybrid work approach, face-to-face meetings may be called whenever required, either with an individual or on departmental or company-wide level. Before dismissing this approach, consider that it’s the approach chosen by the Bank of England!

Designated WFH days

By designating one day of every week when employees will work from home unless it’s an operational imperative that they’re in the office, both the employer and their employees gain advantages with few of the risks. Fridays are by far the most popular choice, and the most successful proponents advocate that no meetings should be scheduled for this WFH day.

The five challenges

Invariably, working with teams of employees who are spread geographically, and who communicate and engage through virtual/online platforms such as MS Teams, Zoom and similar, introduces the five challenges of communication, coordination, connection, creativity, and culture. Collectively, experienced management leaders have labelled these The Five C’s.

Communication – think about things differently

Relatively few people had used video conferencing prior to the pandemic, when Zoom and MS-Teams, Cisco GoToMeeting etc. were thrust upon them. Even today, there are many IT savvy employees who struggle with the endless switching from one system to another: no sooner has a meeting on the work platform ended, a client has scheduled a call via another system with an entirely different user interface.

5 Solutions to the Challenges of Hybrid Work

The major challenge is how to help each employee to stay connected. With very poor broadband access, and even worse mobile telephone coverage, many employees are truly disadvantaged. Consider how your company might be able to support these staff by offering to upgrade their broadband connections, and investigate the advantages of a VoIP telephone system.

We communicate in other ways too. For all except the Office First employee, how will they print the documents they need to send to clients, or transcribe (such as when booking invoices into your accounting system)?

Coordination

With remote workers, the real danger is out of sight, out of mind. Perhaps your marketing team are working remote first, and the sales team are office first? How will the two align their activities and give each other the feedback so important to success?

Be wary of chasms opening between individuals or departments. The solution is to create additional meetings to highlight the work both teams are performing and to foster a more harmonious interaction.

Within an office environment, there are endless opportunities to ask a quick question of a colleague or manager, and these too are lacking from when WFH. What might have taken a mere moment now requires an email or telephone call. A digital chat solution might be just the ticket so formalities may be skipped and productivity and rapport strengthened.

Connection

Problems with technology and logistics aren’t the only things that make it hard for workers to connect. There’s also the bigger problem of social connections, and how they can be damaged or even lost when you work from home.

Mentoring relationships are important for getting ahead in the workplace, and the need is more acute for women, minorities, and younger staff. Everyone benefits from personal connections as they keep us socially stable and help us to stay happy.

In any WFH / hybrid working scenario, be wary of creating an environment in which certain people no longer feel connected to their work goals because they lack the social component life that makes the work meaningful. Such employees may be less happy and more likely to look for work elsewhere.

Creativity

Hybrid working can stifle creativity, even when video calls are accepted. In the company workplace, our lives happen in three dimensions, and body language certainly makes a difference. However, these attributes are largely missing when video calling. Those employees in creative roles are most likely to encounter difficulties, as are salespeople who need the positive reinforcement of others to handle objections.

Management styles need to be honed to encourage a free exchange, else the video call becomes a one-way communication, inevitably ruined as soon as a manager is distracted by inbound emails.

Culture is your brand

As current employees depart and new ones arrive, the problem of socialising and integrating these newcomers into the company’s culture becomes more important, whether they’re interns, entry-level recruits, or seasoned executives.

5 Solutions to the Challenges of Hybrid Work

Furthermore, corporate culture is important for indicating the organisation’s uniqueness to potential new recruits, particularly in fields where talent is scarce, such as technology, consulting, or finance. How can a company’s particular “feel” be preserved if workers never or rarely come to work or spend time together  and how can organisations differentiate themselves from others in the competition for talent?

The WFH Challenges Checklist

Good managers have learned by example, and bad managers are no different. Across every department and at every level, the challenges of WFH demand a proactive and engaged management approach before the issues manifest themselves in mistakes or resignations.

The four steps in our hybrid work checklist will help you to mitigate these potential harms and thereby strengthen you organisation:

Evaluate

How is your approach to hybrid work succeeding? Are your employees happy, productive, and giving your positive signals that all is well? You evaluation should all pertinent factors and, against every category defined, you should give yourself a rating on a 1 – 10 scale.

Whether you have dozens or hundreds of employees, the theme is the same. However, you might also invite employees to offer their own viewpoint.

Analyse

In which areas did you score the poorest? Do you have enough information? For example, if office technology was the stand-out issue, do you need to dive deeper?

As the famous Peter Drucker said, You can’t fix what you can’t measure, so the ore questions you ask, and the more granular you make the detail, the more you will understand where to target your efforts and other resources.

Plan

Armed with the facts as to why one topic has ranked worse than any other, you can zero-in on the specifics. For example, if under Communication, you discover that it’s the frustration of trying to work with a home printer that is causing people to be demotivated, then you can create plan to provide suitable printers.

Implement

Set a timeline for executing changes and a communication plan for them. Will they be introduced over weeks or months? And in what order? Who should be consulted and informed at each stage, and how? Establish critical criteria for monitoring change efficacy, such as surveying junior employees about their mentors and networks to improve connection.

Finally, specify a deadline for analysing the effectiveness of your modifications. I’d recommend this being at three months to implement, and thereafter reviews every six months.

Documenting your results with ESG

Good corporate governance is as much about looking after your employees as it is to manage your accounts. The most successful business leaders realise that their success is due to their employees, and in this age of skills shortages there’s also an absolute need to attract the best talent.

5 Solutions to the Challenges of Hybrid Work

For several years, the corporate world has been increasing its emphasis on Environment, Social, and Governance, (ESG) considerations. However, since the Covid-19 pandemic began, it has rapidly accelerated in response to the demands of a growing, purpose-driven, and conscientious skills pool of university graduates.

Numerous surveys reveal that young people are increasingly looking for evidence that prospective employers include ESG factors as much as profit  into their operational strategy.

Use your approach to WFH to your best advantage and document the positive steps you’ve taken to measure and improve. This belongs at the very heart of your ESG report which is your statement of your organisation’s ethics and how it is a good corporate citizen.

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