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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many companies to adapt to entire teams working from home. In doing so, many unexpected benefits have emerged. It is now up to leaders to make hybrid working – a mix of working from home and office – work. Here, Chris Shannon, CEO of Fotech, explains how businesses can harness the benefits of hybrid working.

Remote working yielded a number of advantages. In many ways, it helped level the playing field by closing gender and socio-economic divides. And it gave greater voice to those who may have been limited by childcare. For those who have been empowered by remote working, returning to a 100% office-based model, or even a hybrid set-up, could disadvantage them again.

Transport figures indicate that plenty of people are still working from home – in mid-May, London’s tube passenger numbers were at just 35 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. This is reflected across the UK, with public transport capacity remaining low in cities like Manchester and Glasgow.

But not all employers are keen on indefinite remote working. Some employees feel that human interaction in the workplace is vital. For others, the prospect of returning to the office causes anxiety. If we approach the opportunity to embrace hybrid working with flexibility and genuine, open-minded curiosity, businesses can create models that play to everyone’s strengths, making the most of the advantages we discovered during remote working.

Greater flexibility will empower your team

Leaders of hybrid workplaces need to focus on creating resilient, sustainable teams that are equally – if not more – productive than a fully office-based team. Embracing flexibility and actively promoting a good work/life balance may seem counterintuitive, but they will reap rewards in terms of engagement, productivity and results, as well as supporting good mental wellbeing. 

Get the practicalities right for long-term success

After more than a year of remote working, most leaders already have a good idea of what is effective and what is not but moving to hybrid working still needs careful planning. Empowering people with the right tools is an important first step. People often cite missing whiteboards and Post-It notes for brainstorming, but online tools can be as effective – sessions just need practice and planning.

When you consider what environment will best support hybrid working, your organisation’s physical space is likely to need re-purposing. Leaders need to take a strategic view. The workplace may need a complete overhaul to create a hybrid working model based on the lessons from everyone‘s unique remote working experiences. Alternatively, a few modifications and a deep clean may be all that is required.

Many offices are transitioning from having multiple desks and separate offices for board-level roles to hot desks and collaboration spaces with a few one-to-one and creative areas with sofas and screens, and no separate offices for anyone, regardless of title.

Shaping attitudes that include and celebrate choice 

Creating new working models requires leaders to pay close attention to the narratives and attitudes that drive the choices people make. Will there be an unconscious bias against those who choose to work remotely in preference to those who regularly come to the office? Being aware of potential issues and underlying feelings is the first step. Then leaders can act to discourage unhelpful narratives, ensuring inclusivity and consciously stopping biases developing.

Leading can be more of an art than a science, and some productive processes may emerge unexpectedly. Remote working may improve engagement for companies with multi-site employees; for example, staff who are not based at company headquarters now feel on the same level as their head office colleagues.

Embedding transparency into all processes

Transparency is more important than ever with hybrid and remote working – leaders can’t just assume people are automatically aware of issues. The process of distilling information must be carefully handled. Do not just pass it on to internal communications or HR teams – it’s something leaders need to be conscious of and actively engage in. This builds transparency, which in turn fosters trust.

Don’t be afraid of conflict – difficult calls can lead to great breakthroughs

Leaders and managers must be mindful of the tendency to hide behind screens. We don’t need to be afraid of conflict – it’s important to learn how to deal with difficult conversations over video calls. Early in the pandemic, difficult discussions were often pushed further down the line in the hope of delaying face-to-face confrontations. But finding ways to communicate effectively, even if a conversation is challenging, is an important step to enable successful remote working.

Video call training can be helpful to ensure team members feel confident having any conversation – alongside a commitment to transparency, trust and an openness about mental wellbeing.

There are plenty of proverbs about trying something different to achieve different results. Now is the time for leaders to ask not when but how they will create the new working model that is best for their business. Don’t let fear or resistance to change impede you. Flexibility is a friend, not a foe – and leaders need to go beyond their comfort zone courageously to calibrate what works best for them and their team.

 

Key takeaways:

  • The businesses that evolve will succeed - open-minded leaders are setting the pace by embracing a mix of home- and office-based work
  • Embracing flexibility and focusing on work/life balance will increase productivity across your workforce – listen to and engage with your employees to establish the best route forward.
  • Having the right tools and software in place is an essential feature in sustaining remote working.
  • Effective communication is the key to successful hybrid working – be it in person or over a video call.
  • Build a culture of openness to support the mental health and wellbeing both in the office and working remotely.

For more great advice on hybrid working, check out UMi’s hot topic content, and take your business further.

Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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