By Jonathan Abbott, IoD member, and founder and chairman of scarlettabbott.
With Covid-19 restrictions now lifted across England, many hope that a sense of ‘normality’ can start to resume.
For over a year, the key message has been for employers and employees to work from home if they can and it’s led to a lot of discussion around working in an office, working from home…working from anywhere.
Having listened to their employees, many businesses have implemented hybrid working models, flexible working models or simply given their teams the freedom to work where they work best. For each business, each team, each individual the way they work is going to be very different.
While this may seem like a ‘best of both worlds’ approach, many employees may still be feeling anxious about returning to the office after a long stint at home, concerned not only about their physical health, but also a change in their routine and the potential drop in productivity.
Here are its five top considerations every employer needs to think about.
Whether your team, or parts of your team, are going back to the office full time or just two or three days a week, it’s a good idea to think of it a little like endurance training. Just like when someone is training for a marathon they will build up their endurance by doing practice runs and shorter distances. You should take this approach to returning to the office too.
Your employees will need to get used to the commute again, the routine of being in the office and interacting with larger groups of people. So you might want to consider building up the number of days in the office over a period of time rather than making an instant switch.
Review your digital strategy
It’s likely you’ll have introduced platforms to communicate and collaborate during Covid-19 - are they the right fit for hybrid working, or are they too focussed on everyone being at home? And does the technology you have in place for the function and wellbeing of your team fit with your defined hybrid working ambitions?
These are just two parts of your digital strategy that you need to consider. We know the impact and importance technology has played in all our lives in the past year and the role it will play in business and personal lives in the years to come. Having the right technology in place to support your business objectives and your communities is going to be key to the success of your hybrid or flexible working model.
Spot barriers to inclusion and avoid proximity bias
Businesses need to watch out for new barriers to inclusion that a hybrid working world could create. Such as, proximity bias forming between line managers and colleagues who work in the office or the same space. Flexibility stigma, where those who work to flexible schedules are considered not to work as hard. Or by focusing too much on hybrid working, are unintentionally excluding those people who can’t do jobs offsite, like a production line in manufacturing.
These are easy traps to fall into and businesses should be aware of these sorts of barriers forming that could cause challenges. Having a clear hybrid working policy and people strategy in place, should help create an inclusive culture. And if your team is split into ‘front line’ and ‘support office’ make sure that comms are targeted and don’t increase resentment between ‘us’ and ‘them’
Keep your options open
Just because the government has removed all restrictions and given the green light to face-to-face meetings and events, you shouldn’t assume that everything will immediately return to normal. Many people will still be cautious about Covid-19 and some will either prefer a meeting or event to be virtual, or at least have that option. It’s important to keep that level of flexibility both with employees and customers. Employees have gotten used to flexibility and won’t want to give it up, so make sure you have that weaved into your hybrid working model.
Many business leaders are championing the return to the office. They may feel confident that their presence equates to leadership visibility - but it doesn’t. There are many people in teams who often don’t see or feel the impact of leaders, something which is likely to only be felt more widely with hybrid working. It's essential all senior people show up appropriately across your channels.
scarlettabbott, an employee engagement consultancy with offices in York and London, advises businesses on everything around people and culture including introducing hybrid working models.