Why we need to reframe the debate on hybrid working
In this guest article, Stephen Firth, Senior Partner at Vivaldi discusses why we need to reevaluate the current debate on hybrid working.
The whole debate about hybrid working needs to be reframed. While it has been focused on the needs of the employee or the day-to-day practicalities, the question that is rarely asked is, is this right for the business? In some cases, the answer may be no.
From an employee perspective, the desire to work from home or remotely is going to be strong. It may be in the individuals’ best interests to suit their lifestyle. But it is not necessarily in the interest of the employee’s professional development or the benefit of the business.
While Elon Musk took a lot of flak for his comments on wanting employees in five days a week, he knows the needs of his type of business, so may well be right. The business needs to review its growth plan and decide what is in the best interests of the long-term performance of the company.
However, in reality, most businesses can and should move to a hybrid remote working model in order to balance business performance with employee well-being as the two are clearly intrinsically linked.
Developing a strategic approach to hybrid working
It’s imperative these businesses develop a clear and considered strategy to make it work. Boeing went to remote working several years ago but had a clear strategic plan for achieving this. In fact, this is something they had been pioneering since 2002.
It was a sensible move with a workforce constantly on the go. They understood how they were going to create virtual water cooler moments. They understood how they were going to change line management to maintain employee activity. They had created a clear plan for it and delivered. But the point was it was right for them as a business.
However, most other businesses have been hideously unprepared for a hybrid working model. They were forced into taking immediate action as a result of a global health emergency.
For businesses that want to pursue remote working, you have to invest in the processes, have a coherent plan, and consider the working environment of employees. Data from Global Workplace Analytics indicates that companies can save an average of $11,000 (£9,079) per year for every employee who spends half of their time working remotely.
Investing in your employees’ working environments
The costs saving you accrue on not spending money in the office should be reinvested in the personal environments of employees and their professional development. How do you invest in replacing the many benefits of face-to-face office working (social interactions, agile working, more natural conversations) in a virtual environment?
If not, you may face a number of issues including health and safety as you still have a duty of care to each employee no matter where they reside to work. If you as a business haven’t set your employee up properly at home and aren’t able to support them, you are risking a potential lawsuit.
Employees can potentially claim their companies didn’t invest in the right infrastructure for them mentally and physically. So, the question you need to ask is, have you invested in the environment they are working in to support their own physical and mental health as well as their professional development?
Making flexible working work
If businesses also want to entice employees back to the office even on a part-time basis, how can you create more flexibility and purpose, and environments that people want to visit? The traditional nine to five, dead time ofice environments aren’t going to cut it.
Think about flexible working hours to make work life and commuting easier. Make the days in the office more purposeful by maximising people interactions, i.e. workshops, collaboration, intimate meetings and social occasions. Invest in environments that people want to visit, creating a home from home.
Businesses need to take a cool-headed assessment on hybrid working and decide if it really is in their best interests as their starting point. If the answer is yes, a clear strategy needs to be developed and the working environment of employees must be paramount.