Updated: Mar 23
Getting hybrid working right is still a relatively new challenge for organisations. And, let’s be honest, it is not easy. The pandemic forced them to adopt new ways of working. They had to make it work, and ultimately, they did. But, more than a year into the so-called “return-to-the-office”, some organisations are still struggling to make hybrid working successful.
Given the complexity of the problem at hand, leaders of these organisations are finding it complex and may be tempted to go back to old ways, rather than focusing on how the work can and should be done. At the same time, employees are expressing very clear expectations on flexible working models , and on having more control over how, where and when they work. They are also prepared to leave if they don’t find an environment that makes this possible.
As a result, there is a growing disconnect between what leaders of these organisations and their people think hybrid working should look like. So, how do you bridge the gap between them and make hybrid working successful in your organisation? In this blog, we will go deeper into what’s driving that gap and offer solutions for leaders to start implementing now.
Hybrid Working @ Rythmik
A growing disconnect with multiple dimensions
If you read many of the headlines on hybrid working these days, the main issue seems to be quite simple. Many organisations try and impose a return to the office (be it full-time, a set or minimum number of days, or a percentage of working time) and employees are challenging it while their managers are lost in the middle. In reality, there are different factors at play. We won’t list them all here but a few definitely stand out.
A perk or a “right”?
Employees believe hybrid working is here to stay. In a recent Future Forum survey, 67% of respondents said they prefer a hybrid working arrangement, including access to a physical workspace. In addition, 81% wanted flexibility in where they work, and 93% in when they work.
How does this compare to what leaders of these organisations think? There is not a single global view on this, and things are changing fast. A year ago, half of leaders said their company requires, or plans to require full time in-person work in the year ahead. Since then, organisations have realised that more flexibility is needed but too many have tried to overly structure their hybrid working approach, often dictating working arrangements across the organisation or a division.
Too often, offering flexibility and hybrid working is still seen as a perk by organisations. But employees see it as a basic expectation, almost a right. No wonder the question of where and when employees should work remains divisive.
The value of the office
If your organisation has a policy defining time spent in the office, it may not be enough to motivate your employees to come back. 73% of employees say they need a better reason to go to the office than what the policy says.
There could be a missed opportunity here: organisations are still focusing too much on defining where and when their employees should work. But employees need more to understand hybrid working policies. Almost half of 7,300 professionals (49.2%) surveyed by Fishbowl said they don’t understand their company’s hybrid working plan.
Of course, we are still in the middle of a significant change. Organisations continue to experiment; they change course and try different approaches. But there should be no reason why leaders and employees cannot align on what the office should be used for, especially when leaders are incentivised to reach new levels of performance.
The first condition for that to happen? Start with defining your activities, and how they can and should be performed rather than focusing on where and when your employees should work.
Are you productive enough?
Measuring and monitoring productivity has always been key for organisations. It is seen as an important input into an organisation’s performance. But when lockdown restrictions came in, leaders and managers suddenly found themselves not able to see what their employees were doing. Many leaders and managers felt uncomfortable, resulting in loss of trust. Our human brain tends to favour what’s around us more than what’s not, a concept known as proximity bias.
On one hand, a report by Citrix found that half of leaders of organisations believe that when employees are working “out of sight”, they don’t work as hard. While on the other hand, 87% employees think they are productive, regardless of where they work³. The perception gap could not be greater right now.
Productivity is a very hard thing to measure and can be subjective. However, countless surveys and studies say that hybrid working reduces attrition and increases engagement. And more data is now emerging on how much extra time people dedicate to work when they don’t commute. Leaders have a unique opportunity to shift their mindset, and tap into the opportunities created by the pandemic.
Squeezed from both sides
Very often, it comes down to managers to bridge the gap between leadership priorities and employee expectations. Hybrid working is no exception. Managers are and will be key in driving the culture of their organisation. Right now, they feel the pain, not having the influence to make changes for their teams. With the right support and empowerment from their leaders, managers could make the difference.
Empower your managers and their teams to make hybrid working successful
As we have just seen, there many factors contributing to a growing disconnect between organisations and their people on hybrid working. But we’ve also captured some great opportunities.
We are at an inflexion point. In a competitive and changing talent landscape, the next few years will be critical for organisations to get hybrid working right. Here are 6 things leaders of these organisations should start doing now.
1. Demystify hybrid working across your organisation
The first step is to create a shared understanding of what hybrid working means across your organisation. With so much news coverage about the topic, there is potential for confusion and wrong assumptions being made. One option is to get started on a simple change management plan that creates the space for managers and their teams to talk about hybrid working.
2. One size does not fit all
Making your hybrid working policy organisation-wide simply does not work. And putting too much structure around it won’t make it better. Not only can employees perform different roles within your organisation, but they also have their own unique personal “set-up” to accommodate and manage. You could start by defining broad guardrails that focus on how work should be done and by decentralising decision-making.
3. Managers and their teams know better
Thinking about hybrid working in terms of where and when we work is only part of the answer. We have already seen that starting by defining the activities and how they should be done will create better alignment and belonging. Your managers and their teams are the ones closer to the work at hand. You should provide the framework, yet let them decide how they will work towards their best. Make team agreements the norm.
4. Hold people accountable
In a hybrid world, the need for clarity and alignment is even more critical. If you empower your managers and their teams, you need to provide them with absolute clarity on work priorities. Building a culture of accountability and peak-performance takes time but consider regularly reviewing and sharing the organisation’s goals and mission. This makes for a great opportunity to get the majority of your employees physically together on a regular basis.
5. Build manager capability in a hybrid world
The need to build manager capability is not new, but managing hybrid teams comes with nuances and specific challenges. Take a step back and review your manager capability offer while applying a hybrid working lens. We witnessed that to learn new skills, managers need constant practice, again and again. As they cannot necessarily do this with traditional learning modules, you might consider investing in practice-led modules, that help managers unlearn practices and skills not suited for the hybrid world and replace it with those that enable peak-performance.
6. Listen, listen, listen
Hybrid working is complex, and the landscape is changing fast. But if you have robust listening mechanisms in place, you will be able to adapt quickly. You could use quantitative mechanisms as much as qualitative ones with your managers and their teams regularly to gain insights on how hybrid is working for them.
I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed researching and preparing it and I would like to invite each of you to share your own experiences, thoughts and reactions.
At Rythmik, we have experienced the impact of the pandemic on the workplace, have managed ways of working programs at scale and conducted years of research. Through all of this, we learnt that getting hybrid working right starts with empowering managers and their teams. Enabling them to focus on the work at hand and how they will work together should come first. Only then, they can define where and when they will work.
We call this approach Hybrid 2.0 and we believe that bringing new practices, skills and tools to managers and their teams will allow them to achieve peak performance for their organisation.
Future Forum quarterly pulse on 10,243 employees between November 16 and December 22, 2022.
Microsoft Work Trend Index report, March 2022
Microsoft Work Trend Index interim report, Sept 2022
Fishbowl insights, Jan 2023
Citrix hybrid work report, survey of 900 business leaders and 1,800 knowledge workers – download the full report