For years, evangelists of the notion that employment should be based on the outputs people produce rather than the inputs (i.e. hours) they put in have also banged the drum that work is a ‘thing you do, rather than a place you go’. For just as long though, it’s a view that’s not always chimed with managers themselves – many of whom have been raised on a diet of direct employee oversight, hardwired to view the office as somewhere everyone needs to congregate. As Yahoo!’s CEO famously opined, too much homeworking created a lack of ‘chance encounters' that stifled creativity – leading to it being banned. But then came Covid-19.
What started off as a response to the spread of contagion has – in a very short space of time – led to an assumption that the corporate HQ is no longer the be-all and end-all, and that work will never be the same again. Some employers may still not ‘get it’ [a recent survey by EPOS found 53% of bosses expect employees to return to the office, compared with just 26% of employees] – but the facts don’t lie. The consensus emerging is that work-life-challenged employees now want a permanent hybrid [part-office, part home] solution. Office solutions provider Moneypenny finds as many as 88% of workers now want at least a 50:50 split between home and office, with YouGov in April revealing 20% want to work from home full-time.
Despite genuine worries about burnout, staff not being able to ‘switch off’ and potential mental health issues of staff not having physical contact with colleagues, most of the evidence suggests hybrid working is an optimal solution for staff and management teams. The office gives the occasional focal point for the real-life interaction staff crave, while working remotely gives employees the ability they need to manage their lives and just get on with work uninterrupted. A study by Stanford University of 16,000 workers over nine months finds homeworkers saw increased productivity of around 13% – with most citing fewer distractions and being in a more convenient working environment.
Employers don’t just benefit from greater productivity, but many [such as HSBC, which is planning to reduce its office footprint by a quarter in the next few years] can reduce real estate costs, and remodel the office as a place of collaboration on an ad-hoc basis. All told, those that don’t now offer this more enlightened way of working will lose out. Last year half of prospective employees said they wanted flexible working from their employer; this year, two-thirds of employees with caring responsibilities said they want increased flexibility. To be able to work in a hybrid fashion is now one of the biggest attraction and retention determinants.
So where does this leave employers still needing to know that their employees are being productive or working their scheduled hours? The good news is that for those companies who embrace this by providing proper technological back-up, very few management principles actually need to be changed at all.
It’s worth remembering that employees thrive off being trusted (providing autonomy is actually one of the key levers of creating greater engagement). But employees want something back in return. The key proviso for working remotely is that employees simply want (and perhaps expect), to be given the same at-work experience with technology as they do in their everyday lives. They want the process of doing work remotely to be made easier. This means being able to use slick systems that enable them to see where they are in their company and team objectives, as well as projects they’re working on, with further options enabling them to declare which locations they are working from so organising face to face meetings with the team, is not an issue.
Providing systems for structure needn’t be seen as overly authoritarian oversight; rather as giving staff the tools they want to do their jobs effectively. The best systems allow staff to report where they are working, what they are doing, and allow managers to see if they are taking breaks to avoid burnout or not. Through properly set-up systems, managers can notice if performance drops, or is raised, or is linked to sickness at different locations. In essence, hybrid working can open up more opportunities to have valuable discussions around goals, and performance not less. And the chances are that empowered staff will be more productive staff as a result. Research by Gartner shows that organisations with managers who are most effective at contextualization (ie setting out what needs to be done and by when) can boost the percentage of high performers from 44% to 60%. Even if they are not though, trends can be spotted early, and proper productivity conversations can be had.
Hybrid working was already here to some extent, but post-pandemic it’s going to be here for good. But the best companies won’t push against the tide. They’ll accept this change is happening, and equip themselves to handle it appropriately.
Find out how Appogee HR can appropriately enable your business to go hybrid. Book a demo or start your 14 day free trial of Appogee HR Success today.