How can HR leaders achieve the right hybrid working balance?

Industry experts explain how they're implementing model without compromising on productivity or culture

How can HR leaders achieve the right hybrid working balance?

For many employees, the shock of working from home in early 2020 has become a blessing in disguise. No need to dress up, be stuck in traffic or sit next to someone on public transport with bad taste in music, not to mention those endless unnecessary water cooler conversations starting with, ‘How was your weekend?’

While Zoom meetings have grown tiresome, the luxury of pretty much working your own hours dressed casually in your home office, combined with the savings of buying snacks and meals throughout the day, has opened the eyes of many employees as to the future of work.

But that’s presented HR leaders with a problem. Many companies want employees back in the office and with vaccination rates increasing, there is now less reason for employees to be working from home every day of the week. However, that doesn’t mean they have to – or want to – be in an office everyday either.

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“Giving employees a reason to come back to the office is key,” John Maley, Head of Human Resources, The Access Group APAC, says.  “Simply being visible in an office undermines the productivity gains – personally and professionally - many employees have been able to achieve in the past 18 months.  And if people are coming to an office to sit at their desk and do emails then why not stay working from home - therefore, physical time spent together should be valued.

“Planning around when teams come together needs more consideration and thought by people leaders to be valued with opportunities for collaborative and improved outcomes being a central focus of time spent together.”

A research report entitled, “Autonomy to the People” conducted by The Access Group this year revealed that 54% of respondents want to “have control over when and where they do their job” while 51% want to “have control over the resources they need to do their job”.

“The foundation of a business is its workforce culture,” Maley says.  “Culture is a living entity and cannot be defined by an organisation, nor necessarily the environment in which it exists.  It is driven by the individuals that make up the collective – their values, their way of working and their engagement - and therefore it is fluid. 

“The last 18 months are proof that it extends beyond the physical environment.  The idea of culture had to shift and morph when physical interaction was not possible. 

“Therefore, it’s imperative that we continue to remain agile as we transition again to a hybrid way of working and continue to see and leverage physical collaboration – either in an office or otherwise – as one of the tools at our disposal.  If individual and team objectives are clear and access to information is fluid, then so can culture.”

Maley believes employees need to see a “beneficial outcome” to returning to an office environment as family time and “me” time have become increasingly important for employees.

“People leaders will need to invest time in not only understanding what motivates individuals to work collaboratively but also making sure time together is thoughtfully planned and structured and continuous input is solicited from teams,” he says.

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James Comer, Head of HR at Cisco ANZ, however, believes that office returns should not be heavily mandated. He states that employee empowerment needs to remain and trust in the individual to know when and where to work should remain.

“People should be trusted to choose their own individual schedules and integrate their work and their lives effectively,” Comer says. “We know from our research that nine in 10 employees expect to make daily decisions about when, where and how they work. We also know that six in 10 will leave their employer if that flexibility isn’t afforded them. At Cisco, we are working towards our offices reopening, but it’s up to our people to decide when they work from the office, or home, or anywhere.”

Treating employees with maturity and allowing them responsibility to make decisions on a daily and/or weekly basis with regards to their working environment will breed confidence and certainty within the organisation.

Allowing individual independence throughout the company is simply an extension of what has been happening in practical terms since early 2020.

“It’s crucial that employers equip their workforces with the right processes, cultural mindset, and technology to enable connections to happen, regardless of where people choose to be,” Comer says.

“A common misunderstanding surrounds hybrid working - it’s not really about incentives for employees to work from the office. It’s about creating a clear value proposition for your people, so that when they wake up in the morning and think about their day, it’s clear to them how the office will make their hybrid work and hybrid life easier, more engaging, more productive and how it offers them a great experience.”

There is no doubt some employees are longing for the office life of bouncing ideas off colleagues, separating work from home and regaining their work identity again. Ultimately, it will be a feeling of “team spirit” that will bring workers back into an office environment.

“Another interesting development we have seen throughout the pandemic has been people’s desire to belong and feel part of a team,” Comer says. “When we had no option but to work from home, employees missed those spontaneous human interactions and the connection that physical proximity enabled them.

“That’s a big reason why many don’t want to work from home five days a week and want a mixture between working from home, from the office, from anywhere that supports their human connection and belonging. Choice is key.”

Whatever model you decide to implement, make sure it is an environment that allows your employees to flourish.

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