By blending on-site and off-site approaches, team members may be working from different locations at different times. Anecdotally, employers are reporting that some employees have moved abroad without notifying them, which will shape their ability to return to the workplace. Planning and organisation will be required for those who embrace hybrid working, with few precedents to follow. It is likely that some experimentation will be required to determine what works best in particular contexts.
It is crucial that employers consider how they can set policies in a fair and transparent way. Whilst companies can instruct employees to return to the office, it does not mean they automatically should. Businesses need to be clear on their reasons for requiring this of people and ensure that policies are applied uniformly across the company without any risk of discrimination. Employers have concerns that their people might come in on random days and miss one another, risking diluting the team and team-building opportunities. A lot of employers are reporting that the short-term solution is not necessarily a long-term change to ways of working.
Many are seeing how their new terms and conditions pan out as they seek to balance new working arrangements with stability. Whilst some are enshrining this formally in contracts, the CIPD cautions against changing employment contracts too quickly, instead opting for informal flexibility and changing the culture. Some companies will instead be updating their company handbook in the form of a new policy.
Line managers will be crucial in the roll out of hybrid working. Organisations are managing more complex, hybrid and distributed workforces, meaning that line managers are the gatekeepers between employee experience and monitoring productivity. Organisations rely on strong management to maintain corporate culture, making remote and workplace experiences seamless. A key part of this is performance management, with the risk of ‘proximity bias’ – accidental favouritism that arises from consistent interactions if they sit near someone rather than have to video call someone working from home. To overcome this, leaders should ensure they have a system in place to connect with everyone on their team regardless of their physical location. Being alive to how hybrid working can be just and fair for all will be critical to its long-term success.
Where members of staff in the same team request different flexible working hours, employers will have to formulate a consistent approach. Managers will have to be trained to deal with the practical issues of how teams can work most effectively with one another. Tech systems had to be rolled out overnight to meet the demands of working from home and will have to be maintained and invested in to support collaboration from numerous locations.
There is also the issue that some employees have made permanent and significant lifestyle changes since March 2020. Those who have adopted pets, moved abroad and even taken on side projects during this time will be struggling to accept a return to the workplace. A level of flexibility and virtual working is now an expectation. Disabled employees have also reported that the world of work has more readily opened up to them given the barriers to working that have been removed with the shift to online.
Feedback is also important from a wellbeing and mental health perspective. Line managers must recognise the signs, and support individuals, earlier than when they need to seek help. Having ongoing open and confidential discussions can help reduce the risk that people will struggle further down the line. Any return to work may be accompanied by anxiety for employees, so line managers need to be equipped to have effective conversations. Paul Allsopp notes that, “The scale of remote working over the last 18 months and the anticipated continuation through hybrid working has ensured these issues cannot be considered only a fringe problem applicable to the more limited numbers of home/remote workers pre-Covid. As such, health and safety has now taken centre stage, not only in terms of the impact on individuals and businesses but also the NHS resources required to deal with the outcome of these issues.”