More and more companies are moving to hybrid working, not as a well thought out plan, but as an outcome of the pandemic. What does it mean for HR leaders caught in the cross-hairs between workers seeking change, and management teams with their heads in the sand? It means you need to get ahead of the game, and lay out the rules, before your positive company culture is consumed by productivity paralysis and confusion.
Flexible working through the backdoor
When COVID-19 struck, you would’ve been something of a soothsayer to have imagined what was going to happen next. Millions of full-time workers around the world were introduced to a new way of life. Many of them liked it, and didn’t want to return to a lifestyle of constant unpaid commutes to the office. They were able to buy a dog and take it for a walk in between meetings, jump on an exercise machine when they fancied a break, and, for some, they were able to tuck their kids up in bed for the first time in their lives, having always missed the moment after returning late from the office. After years of progressive HR leaders pushing for flexible working, this new way of work-life crept its way in the backdoor of organizations that had been largely resistant to change.
Hybrid is the new default standard of work lifestyle
Working from home is a passing condition that became a habit, and has subsequently become the norm. The majority of workers today see home working not as a lifestyle choice, but as an unquestionable employment right.
Track back a couple years and the annual rail fare or the fuel consumed by a daily commute were immovable costs of employment; a fact of life that had to be suffered by workers. Now they are seen by many as costs employers should cover. When working from home is the norm, attending an office—committing to collaborating with colleagues face-to-face and being a team player—these are behaviors employees want to be compensated for.
Falling into a flexible working netherworld
I have a friend, a manager for a large US motor manufacturing company who, like managers in many other companies, is seeing his employer struggling to deal with the hybrid / flexible working paradigm.
Some managers, now accustomed to working from home, make no effort to return their teams to the office. This, although they are fully aware that their once buzzing open plan offices have become wastelands, infrequently interpolated by an occasional lone worker strolling through like tumbleweed through a desert. Friday attendance has become the friction point, a time of week when the office is empty of managers and workers alike.
Friction in the ranks
It’s understandable that those without the possibility of working from home due to their role obligations may feel unfairly indisposed when the office clears on a Friday. They may have just cause to slow their pace, niggle to a colleague while at the water cooler. And, what makes matters worse is the fact that employment contracts haven’t been upgraded to embrace this new era of working, the design of workplaces has not kept in step, team working tools have not evolved quickly enough.
Filling the policy gap
Businesses work better when they are led, not driven by events. The move to flexible and hybrid working when thoughtfully designed and scripted can yield rewards. The wellbeing and lifestyle of workers can be enriched by accommodating lifestyle preferences and circumstances. Productivity can build, teamwork and collaboration can strengthen. All this happens when policies attitudes, and behaviors are aligned to reasonable outcome expectations.
There is an inevitability about the progression toward hybrid flexible working. Rather than wait for events to take hold, the smart move is to agree where parties can meet in the middle. Having established goal posts that all sides can live with, these should be enshrined in policy and ‘coached in’ to the enterprise. Just as the habits of hybrid working have formed, so will the behaviors that re-define team working in this new paradigm.
Employers have many ways to balance disparities between hybrid and non hybrid workers. They can offer additional holiday days, discounted charging stations for their electric cars, free midday meals, bonus points towards discount clubs, air miles, Starbucks vouchers… any measure of things. But there has to be balance, fairness… equality.
- Establish acceptable terms agreed with managers, and by workers that can work from home and those who can’t
- Formalize terms into flexible working policies
- Reinforce policies with training to coach in positive attitudes
- Allow flexible working arrangements to develop organically and fall outside of policies
- Disregard the frustrations of workers who have no other choice but to work from the workplace
- Assume that new policy directives will be automatically swallowed up by workers without coaching in new behaviors