In 2020, the global pandemic forced office-based organisations to close their doors and adapt overnight. The rate of home working – for those who could – increased hugely out of necessity.

Now, as the world slowly gets the upper hand with Covid-19, a return to the office is starting to become an option.

A global study from McKinsey showed 90% of companies expect to combine remote and on-site working post-pandemic. ONS data reveals that 85% of UK staff want to see a hybrid approach.

But how can organisations successfully build a hybrid working culture, balancing employee and employer needs, when choice is a factor?

Our experience of helping implement hybrid working has identified 10 key success factors.

1. Treat it as a change programme

Plan and structure your approach, and don’t rush it. Take a holistic approach, ensuring you design and implement changes to technology, office space, people policies and behaviours.

Bring experts in systems, space, people, and change onto the team. Develop an overarching change strategy, including building the case for change, creating a positive vision for the future, understanding change impact and readiness, and delivering effective communications.

2. Understand your data

Collect data on how people work, what activities they spend time on, how much time they spend on different tasks and locations. How much time is spent in meetings? How many people are typically in meetings? Understand employees’ preferences. Do they like quiet library type space? A coffee shop environment with ambient noise? Or more physical space to collaborate or work with tangible products, technologies or artefacts?

3. Engage and empower your people

Talk to your people to understand what they want and fear. Use focus groups to gather the stories and feelings behind the quantitative data and identify any barriers to hybrid working.

Ensure a two-way dialogue throughout the process. Senior managers often worry that homeworking will lead to reduced output or ‘bunking off’. In reality, we have seen many reports of increased productivity and employees spending more time, not less, at work. Listening to employees helps managers understand that the majority are focused on doing their job to the best of their ability.

4. One size does not fit all

Some organisations jump to a rigid formula, such as three days in the office, two at home, as this is easy to implement and less open to challenge. But attitudes to where and how people work best vary, even across identical job roles, driven by factors such as age, career stage, home environment/location, caring responsibilities, and level of introversion/extraversion.

A survey of 30,000 Americans revealed a stark dichotomy: 32% wanted to work from home full time, while 21% never wanted to work from home again.

Successful changes recognise the needs of different groups or personas, cater for these differences, and accept that circumstances and preferences will change over time.

5. Focus on productivity

Focusing on productivity helps shift the conversation from “I want to work from home” to “Where can I be most productive for our business/ customers today?”.
Use a recognised tool such as the Leesman® index, which benchmarks workplace effectiveness against a global database by understanding work activities, workplace design, and how people feel about their work. Measure at the start of the change programme and test again to track progress and ensure continuous improvement.

Middle aged man remote working

6. Remodel your space

The data you hold about your office or working spaces should tell you how much time your people spend in small meetings, large meetings, solo working, or collaborating when in the office. It will give you an Agility Index for each team – the proportion of time spent at a desk – which is likely to vary greatly across different functional areas. Use this data to remodel your layout, and better match space to the requirements of each type of work.

The solution should take account of day-to-day communications in a mixed location model. In the pre-Covid world we were used to a majority working in the office; during the pandemic this flipped to everyone working remotely.. In a blended approach the need for dedicated enclosed spaces for Zoom or Teams meetings becomes apparent.

Invest in the space and facilities. Introducing more inspiring design, adding colour, plants, or buying better coffee machines, can significantly improve the way people feel about their environment.

Pay for your change programme and space improvements by reducing or subletting office space. If you implement hybrid working well, you will not need as much.

7. Introduce outcome-focused performance management

This is a policy and cultural change that is important for successful hybrid working.
Managers need to move from measuring inputs (hours worked or time visible in the office) to outcomes (tangible impacts on business performance, such as increased sales or customer satisfaction). This is hard and requires a rethink of your goal setting and performance management processes, as well as behavioural change and a new way of thinking for many managers.

8. The role of the line manager is critical

Managers will implement your hybrid working policy at the front line. They need to be confident in their conversations with team members to make the necessary judgements to balance individual, team and company needs, and agree appropriate working patterns.

Deciding approaches to simple things such as team meetings, when people have very different preferences for remote or face-to-face working, can be challenging. Those preferring home working may find themselves alienated if they rarely visit the office. Others may find it frustrating to commute to the office and find none of their key colleagues there.

Give managers guidelines and support to help them agree hybrid working approaches, set goals differently and change their conversations around performance.

9. Understand that leadership behaviour will often be the hardest to change

Appoint a sponsor for the change who will ‘walk the talk’. Senior people have spent many years learning how to succeed in a culture where office working is the norm. Help leaders understand and shift this behaviour, allowing them to express concerns and personal vulnerabilities in a safe way.

Emphasise the importance of role modelling the change needed. Give leaders practical tips and tools, such as using digital collaboration platforms and ensuring all meetings take place online even when some of the team are in the office together. Ensure leaders are prepared to judge performance based on outputs and outcomes, rather than presenteeism.

10. Recognise and celebrate success

Implementing a successful hybrid working approach that works for the business, customers, and employees is not easy, and success in this area is worth celebrating.
Organisations that do it well can expect improved productivity, reduced costs and increased employee engagement.

Measuring and celebrating these achievements will help everyone appreciate their contribution and fully embed the new ways of working.

Download the full Hybrid working report
Business woman working remotely

This article is an abstract from the Change Associates report, Making Hybrid Working Work.

Image (c) Shutterstock |  fizkes

Helena Miles