19 July 2021

Making hybrid working work for your business

As workplaces reopen, a recent survey shows that three quarters of businesses expect flexible working to become more common, while around a half see hybrid working continuing beyond 2021. Brad Taylor, Director of People at CIPD, looks at the opportunities and challenges that presents and how you can prioritise wellbeing and maintain productivity.

“One of the things that probably surprised a lot of businesses, is how adaptable people can be,” says Brad Taylor, Director of People at CIPD, discussing how quickly employees and employers responded to the initial lockdown. “I’m hearing that a lot of people who were previously against homeworking have been converted – they can see the advantages. Employers are now realising that hybrid working is here to stay.”

As it shifts from being a response to an emergency situation to a model of working that could deliver long-term gains, it does mean that employers need to consider a whole range of issues, explains Brad.

“They need, for example, to think about how they can ensure they’re still a responsible employer with regards to the health and safety and wellbeing of their people across both office and remote environments. But they also need to think about what the workplace is now. A lot needs to go into thoughtful workplace design. I think we’ll see a shift to them being more collaborative spaces or places people go to access tech, tools or equipment they don’t have at home.”

A people-first approach

But there are more esoteric issues too. He describes the pandemic as not only changing the places we work, but also the ways we work and the entire approach. “We’ve seen good employers taking a people first approach, understanding that everyone is different and taking the attitude that if I understand the issues going on with each individual and I’m flexing my approach to help them, I’m going to get the best back from that individual.”

It’s an approach that will arguably become more important as normality returns, from balancing the needs of people who are desperate to return to the workplace with those who are happier working remotely, to ensuring that opportunities and treatment are equal for those present in the office as well as remote workers. As businesses start to create policies around hybrid working, Brad says that thinking flexibly really counts.

If you treat people like adults, if they’re clear on the outcomes and what’s expected, and you judge them on that, you’ll be amazed. We’ve seen innovation, productivity and engagement go up.

Brad Taylor, Director of People at CIPD

Understand what matters to your business

“What are the key principles that matter to us as a company? What are the outcomes we’re expected to deliver? How can we fulfil the best interest of our customers in a way that works for our colleagues? And then, within that framework, allowing employees to take personal responsibility for approaching their day effectively.”

It’s a bold move and a radically new mindset for many, he acknowledges. “In many ways, the pandemic has shunted civilisation forward. There was a mentality of control and of doing things because they’d always been done that way. Whereas if you treat people like adults, if they’re clear on the outcomes and what’s expected, and you judge them on that, you’ll be amazed. We’ve seen innovation, productivity and engagement go up.”

Maintaining business culture

Of course, there are challenges. For many, the culture of a business was tied closely to the working environment. Brad says that there are a number of things that can overcome that and help you maintain and instil your culture in a hybrid working model.

“Embracing virtual tools can drive communication and collaboration, but it’s also about being really clear on your organisation’s mission and values, and the core principles of what, who, why and how we’re doing what we’re doing. Leadership becomes even more important – not just in terms of reaching out to everybody in the business, but also in giving a sense of character and personality to the culture of that business.”

Getting the most from technology

Whilst technology was clearly an enabler of the shift to remote working, it has also thrown up challenges for businesses of all sizes – whether that’s finding budget or managing supply. For businesses planning to adapt to a hybrid or flexible working model, Brad says, it’s a good idea to take a step back from that initial urgency and consider your longer-term plans.

“It’s worth thinking about your technology strategy. What systems do you want people to use and what equipment will they need to enable that? Do you want to have a use your own device approach and how can you manage that securely? If you’re going to buy equipment, how do you do that in a way that’s affordable and sustainable?”

It’s opening up conversations and attitudes to a more flexible workforce, which is helping a lot of people to balance their lives in a way that works both holistically for them and enables them to do a great job for their employer.

Brad Taylor, Director of People at CIPD

Unlocking the opportunities of hybrid working

Hybrid working can offer opportunities for businesses. We’ve already heard about greater levels of engagement, higher productivity levels and innovation, and many of these benefits are long-term and could help drive business growth.

“It’s opening up conversations and attitudes to a more flexible workforce, which is helping a lot of people to balance their lives in a way that works both holistically for them and enables them to do a great job for their employer. If I’m a business owner, I can get a lot from people who are happier, I’m seen to be a great employer, and my customers benefit because happy staff give them a great experience.”

For both businesses and people, hybrid working can open up a wider geographical range of opportunity too – you’re no longer limited to your local area to either attract talent or fulfil a role.

“It can also benefit areas such as inclusion and belonging, equality and diversity,” says Brad. “We can cater our workplaces and how work is done for a whole range of individuals, and that again broadens opportunities for recruitment.”

Don’t rush it

As we return to normality, Brad says it’s key not to be put off by the challenges if we’re to fully realise the opportunities that change can offer. “There’s a risk of a knee jerk reaction back to the way things were and that would be a missed opportunity. The main thing is not to rush. There are tools out there to help you think through all the things that need to be put in place, but don’t get hung up on the workplace or the technology.

“Take a human-centred approach – what’s worked well and what hasn’t, and why? Talk to people and listen to their ideas. By building around them and being consultative and collaborative, you’ll get something that people are engaged with. And remember, you don’t have to get it right first time, you can review and adapt along the way. We’re all learning as we go.”

Work smarter not harder

Getting your cost base under control can help you build a leaner, more efficient business. From suppliers and customers to ways of working and operations, our quick video looks at how you can interrogate your costs and identify savings.

Make remote working work for your business

Remote working isn’t for everyone, but when we’re all encouraged to work from home as much as possible, making it work is important. Whether it’s a short-term move or something you’re considering for the longer-term, we look at some of the benefits and challenges and how you can make it work for you and your business.

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