An employer’s guide to hybrid working
How to ensure a successful hybrid workforce as we transition back to the office
Tash Thomas is a Diversity and Inclusion Consultant at EW Group. She is also Director of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion at the European Coworking Assembly, responsible for advancing D&I and creating safe spaces within the coworking industry.
It’s been well over a year since employers across many industries had to send their workers home because of the pandemic. As a result, many organisations are now adopting a hybrid working model and giving employees the flexibility to work from home, the office, or a mixture of the two.
Research from the CIPD in its ‘Embedding New Ways of Working: implications for the post-pandemic workplace’ illustrates the trend towards hybrid working. It shows that pre-crisis 65% of employers either did not offer regular working from home or offered it to 10% or less of their employees. This is expected to fall dramatically to 37% in the aftermath of the pandemic. Meanwhile, 40% of employers expect more than half their workforce to work regularly from home post-crisis, compared to just 15% pre-Covid.
With hybrid working here to stay, what can business leaders do to better support employees with training as some return to the office, others continue to work remotely, and some split their time between the home and the office?
Making working from home or working from the office work
Working from home has certainly proved to be more productive than expected. Research by the CIPD found that 71% of employers said that the increase in homeworking during lockdown has either boosted or made no difference to productivity.
Many businesses accelerated their digital transformation in 2020, with meetings, training and even social activities all taking place virtually. While this has enabled them to reduce the need for office space and reduce costs, it has presented unique challenges for learning and development teams and how to deliver training.
Ideally, training should be delivered to a group face to face, and in a separate session delivered remotely in order to maximise engagement. If the training is being delivered online but half the team is working remotely, it would be a good idea to run the session as though those who are in the office are remote.
Those employees in the office would go to a break-out room and log on, but this should be limited to just one or two people so the person delivering the training can see them both. This has worked well in our own training delivery where people have been onsite, for example in businesses with several locations. I would try, where possible, for everyone to be remote in terms of logging on for the training session.
How to maximise the success of training when it’s delivered in person and remote
From Teams to Zoom, many of us are now comfortable using technology to engage with colleagues. But are trainers making the most of Zoom’s functionality? It can be much harder to read the room when training is delivered virtually. While pausing and observing reactions can provide instant feedback, features such as break-out rooms, chats, polls, and the raise hand function can also help in terms of monitoring engagement and encouraging participation.
During the shift to hybrid working, and training delivery in particular, feedback is crucial. Tools like Survey Monkey can be used to ask the whole team what they like about working from home or the office, and what they think the challenges and opportunities are now that some people are in the office and others are at home.
It’s also important to keep the virtual coffee chats and meet ups going. As employees return to the office, they may start going for lunch breaks together, so keeping the virtual chats and check-ins going will help those working at home not feel excluded.
The challenges of hybrid working for employees and employers
Hybrid working presents a number of different challenges for both the employer and employee.
Some employees may feel pressured to go into the office but don’t want to
This could be for one, or a number of reasons. This can also vary across teams, with some feeling more pressured than others. According to Microsoft, 63% of workers disagree that they did not feel pressure to return to the office.
Employers should not pressure people to go into the office and employees should be advised on who to contact if they feel they are being pressured. Whether that person is the CEO or somebody in HR.
Employers should recognise that many people have been working from home since the beginning of the pandemic and may not feel comfortable commuting again and being around other people on crammed trains or buses.
Employees should be encouraged to use their mental health and wellbeing officers and support services if these are available.
More men may return to the office than women and this could impact gender equality and career advancement
It’s vital that employers consider diversity and inclusion to ensure they provide a level playing field for all employees regardless of whether they work from home or in the office.
Not everyone wants to go for lunch or go to the pub after work and can feel pressured to do so if others are, feeling like they are missing out if they don’t join in.
Another thing to be mindful of is ensuring that exciting projects are not just given to those employees going into the office because they are visible.
Those that return are also able to have informal chats with colleagues and management, making connections, bonds, and building their network. This can make those working from home feel excluded and disconnected. It’s really important to ensure that managers and colleagues remain connected with people who are still at home by checking in on them and making sure they are also considered for exciting projects.
Employers must set clear expectations about returning to work, or hybrid working, such as when employees are required to be in the office, for instance, when there is client-facing work. Having guidelines and policies in place around how employers are going to support people returning to the office, and acknowledging that not everyone wants to return while others are desperate to, is important. These guidelines should be flexible, for example saying that people can come into the office if they want but to be mindful of regulations and to look after themselves.
Regular employee surveys should be carried out to find out what is working, what isn’t working, and how employees would like their employer to support them.
Hybrid working is here to stay
Whilst it’s great to see offices reopening, hybrid working is here to stay so it’s important for business leaders to communicate, react and adapt. Doing so will help ensure teams are happy and productive, and that every individual feels included wherever they work.
You can make inclusion a key thread of your organisational fabric. EW Group has almost thirty years of experience advancing their clients’ inclusive cultures – supported by Diversity and Inclusion Training, Leadership Facilitation, Diversity Audits, and specialist consultancy support. Champion inclusion today. Get in touch to explore how we can work together.