Despite difficult circumstances, the pandemic-enforced move to remote working for office-based staff was recognised as broadly successful. Nevertheless, the forthcoming shift to a more permanent hybrid working model is still generating much anxiety among HR leaders.
What is hybrid working? How well have organisations adapted?
Hybrid working is a form of flexible working that enables employees to split their time between attending the workplace and working remotely. This approach was starting to emerge to some extent before COVID-19 struck due to growing workforce demands for more flexibility and a better work-life balance, with all of the health, wellbeing and productivity benefits they afford.
Nonetheless, according to our latest study, 52% of HR professionals believe their organisation’s response to the sudden shift to hybrid and/or remote working was ‘average’, ‘not very good’ or they simply can’t make a judgement at this stage.
But the many benefits offered by this kind of approach, not only for HR but for the rest of the business too, make it vital to find ways to work through any challenges.
The importance of workforce flexibility
For those employers that have been hesitant to disrupt the traditional 9-5 model, hybrid working offers a chance to experiment.
The benefits are clear: employees each respond differently to different ways of working. For example, while some prefer routine, others flourish when they have control over their own schedules.
Unsurprisingly then, just under a third of employers (30%) say they plan to either update or rewrite their existing policies around hybrid, remote and flexible working.
Introducing such flexibility is expected to become a key differentiator for organisations trying to attract and retain key talent. As demonstrated by our survey, flexible working hours were the most popular employee benefit during lockdown. But this situation will become even more marked as skills shortages really start to bite again for many roles, leading to increased demand for ‘gig’ workers.
So in order to make the most of this flexible working opportunity, here are four key things that HR teams should do:
1. Define what hybrid working means and understand the legal implications
Hybrid working constitutes a significant shift from pre-pandemic, office-based norms and the remote working models of lockdown. As such, it presents new people-related, operational and technological challenges for HR teams.
At the moment, however, because hybrid working means different things to different people, it will likely be implemented in a range of ways. This makes it important to clearly define what it should look like in your business and to rewrite key HR policies on that basis so that employees can understand their rights and responsibilities.
In this context, it may also prove useful to seek legal advice over how such a shift is likely to impact employment contracts, tax liabilities, and other regulatory concerns.
2. Ensure flexibility leads to better work-life balance for staff
To date, there has not been unanimous agreement that remote working automatically leads to a better work-life balance for employees. Per our research, 42% agree, while 38% disagree.
When operating from home during lockdown, many staff indicated they were actually working harder and for longer hours, while also experiencing less social interaction.
As a result, it is vital that employers take steps to encourage healthier lifestyle choices when moving to a hybrid model. Leadership modelling, teambuilding exercises, wellbeing programmes and reviewing policies around working hours, holidays, and breaks all help here.
3. Help employees stay in touch via technology
Our research indicates that as many as two out of five (39%) HR professionals felt that staff productivity and engagement levels were damaged by the sudden shift to remote working during lockdown. Moreover, less than half (45%) felt employees were adequately equipped with the technology required to do their job from home.
Key areas needing focus going forward here include optimising the use of online collaboration and communication tools, providing mobile apps to enable easy employee self-service, and migrating to cloud-based HR systems so that key data, files, and tools can be accessed anytime, anyplace, anywhere.
4. Review and update your benefits packages
More and more employers are recognising the importance of personalising and tailoring their employee benefits packages to cater to the needs of different demographics, which includes those working from home, in the office or both.
Unsurprisingly then, our study shows that a third of organisations plan to take a hybrid approach to offering benefits going forward.
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