Is hybrid working here to stay?

Sophie Austin - MHA Monahans

Business Leader recently spoke to Sophie Austin, HR Partner at MHA Monahans, to discuss the challenges and opportunities of hybrid working, and why businesses need to prioritise mental health and wellbeing this year.

What are the positives of hybrid working?

The key positive is the flexibility it offers – for both the employee and the organisation. While the term “work/life balance” has always been used, I would say that it’s now more about ensuring an integrated work-life approach. As a result of the pandemic, the need to focus on employee health and wellbeing has become even greater. It’s not just taking the “sticking plaster” approach but really understanding how organisations can anticipate and meet the needs of the workforce – and it’s a welcome change.

MHA Monahans has always prided itself on its flexible approach, but it has truly been kicked up a notch over the past two years, as we continue to ensure we can offer a great employee experience. The results of our new approach to hybrid working are tangible, too.

Employee engagement is at the heart of everything we do: we have an employee forum, hold regular employee engagement surveys to gauge how our people are feeling, and then work with them to bring about meaningful changes in their roles and working environment. Our recent survey results were overwhelmingly positive, focusing heavily on the impact of hybrid working for our colleagues – whether that was about enabling them to spend more time with family and friends, undertake hobbies and interests as well as have more control over their working day.

And it’s not just our existing team that the hybrid working model works well for. We have been able to revise our recruitment strategy to our benefit, increasing our talent pool and attracting a greater number of candidates by breaking down geographical barriers.

What are the challenges of hybrid working?

No way of working can rely on being one-size-fits-all. While there will be people who thrive on working remotely, others will prefer to spend their days in the office, favouring face-to-face communication and the ability to learn from others, as well as enjoying a degree of separation when it comes to work and home life.

The biggest challenge for us as an employer is how we maintain our great culture when many of our colleagues may be working remotely. How do we adapt our practices and ways of working to ensure that we don’t miss out on those important informal “corridor” conversations? How do we ensure that new colleagues get a real feel for us, with fewer people in the office? How do we adjust our communications to fit the new working model? And most importantly, how do we equip our managers with the skills to lead their teams in different ways, while still keeping engagement high and wellbeing at the forefront?

There are huge positives for employee wellbeing, but there are challenges too. For those working remotely, the boundaries between work and home become blurred and it can be difficult to maintain clear separation. Working with employees to ensure they keep clear boundaries is key.

It can also be trickier to spot the signs of someone struggling with their mental health if you’re not in the office. Again, raising awareness, ensuring great support is available, and continuing to work on removing the stigma associated with talking about mental health are all vital. There’s no question – our role as leaders is key in this cultural shift.

How can employers help themselves and their teams to overcome those challenges?

Engage their teams – listen! Talk to people about what they need and find out what would help them.  Consider how technology can support new working practices, and enable greater collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Ensure that line managers have the skills and the confidence to manage in a shifting landscape. Consider training, education, and communication.

Plus, you must keep an open mind. How can the changes benefit your business? Remember resistance is futile!

Is the hybrid working model here to stay?

Yes, I believe it is. At the start of the pandemic, we moved to this way of working because we had no other choice. However, over the past two years we have seen greater benefits and it has most certainly defined the modern workforce.

The changes have done more to cement the integration between work and other aspects of life. The stigma attached to flexible working has been broken and generally employees have regained a better sense of control over their professional lives.

We have moved significantly, from a place where little homeworking existed to our current flexible hybrid model. When Covid restrictions were relaxed, while some individuals wanted to return to the office, we didn’t see a huge number of people rushing to re-establish their old working patterns. I think this speaks volumes about trends for the future.

What trends do business leaders and senior teams need to be aware of this year?

2022 will be the year of review. Leaders will reevaluate their people strategy and plans in the light of changing ways of working and the impact upon the culture of the organisation. The pandemic has been a catalyst for change. We’ve been having many more open conversations around health and wellbeing – especially mental health – there have been shifting mindsets about working practices, new approaches to recruitment, and different ways of collaborating and communicating. This way of working is here to stay, and business leaders need to take a long, hard look at their culture, internal processes, and communication models and make them truly fit for the future.

This year, I envisage recruitment will still be a challenge. With movement in the market still limited and the waves of “the Great Resignation” still being felt, the competition for the best talent will continue. Business leaders are going to need to continue to define their offerings and make themselves stand out as an employer of choice if they are to fill vacancies. Don’t forget retaining your internal talent – keep thinking about how you reward, motivate and develop your existing employees. They are your greatest asset and ambassadors.

What are the three core ideas that businesses should focus on this year?

From my perspective, it’s health and wellbeing, recruitment, and retention. Businesses need to help managers to be able to deal with, and proactively manage everything that hybrid working has brought to the table. Key questions to consider are:

  • How to maintain a great culture with so few people in the office?
  • What support do colleagues need to manage their health and wellbeing?
  • How do we ensure and maximise opportunities for collaboration and knowledge sharing?
  • How do we ensure new joiners integrate quickly?
  • How will we manage communication to meet changing needs and the working arrangements of our workforce?
  • How do you stop individuals from feeling isolated?
  • How do we embrace technology to facilitate change?

These are all the questions employers will be facing and will ultimately need to find an answer to.

What opportunities do you think this year will bring?

The impact of Covid-19 has shown businesses that work can be done successfully in different ways, and that will continue. Whether it means you are moving from paper to the cloud, or that you can enable people to work with flexibility, new opportunities will arise from the disruption the pandemic has caused.

The biggest opportunity for businesses is to focus on efficiency more than ever before. It has also given people more freedom and empowered them in their roles. You don’t have to be on a seat in the office to be doing a good job, you can be just as productive elsewhere.

How can businesses improve their policies in 2022 to prioritise health and wellbeing?

Simply, the key is to genuinely take it seriously and recognise the very real impact of health and wellbeing of employees on your business. If you’re not doing it, or you’re paying it lip service, your employees will see through it. It goes beyond having a few tools in place. You need to listen to your employees and understand what they need.

As well as running regular surveys, we have undertaken a programme of training and also set up an employee health and wellbeing group, comprised of employees. But we aren’t complacent and know there is more to do, in order to break down the barriers which prevent more open discussion about health and wellbeing issues.

How can businesses help their employees feel more comfortable about being open and honest about their health and wellbeing?

As a business leader, you need to lead by example. Create a culture of openness where conversations about health and wellbeing are welcomed, where individuals are supported and respected. Greater communication, education and training for all is necessary, because changing behaviour is key. These actions speak louder than any words possibly could.

enewsletter