Research reveals ways to help navigate the move from home office to hybrid working while retaining your workforce
While many employers and employees may have found the move to home working painful and fraught with anxiety, it turns out that the return to the office is no less difficult.
In addition, after over 18 months of a better work/life balance for many, employees are more aware of
their options, and more confident about articulating their needs than ever before.
This combination means that all employers, but particularly large, complex corporations, need to
tread very carefully if they want to retain their best and brightest – in fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that
they need to think in a completely new way if they want to prevent mass resignations.
Of course, desk-based employees had been working in the office for most of their professional lives before moving to fully remote working during the pandemic. Now, a lot of organisations are experimenting with hybrid work, which they have come to realise is neither of the two, but a new form
of work organisation. With opportunities come challenges and with little precedence to build upon, hybrid work is a steep learning curve for many organisations.
So how to get it right? Drawing on data from thousands of employees who participated in the working@home research project, as well as a research study on the University of Edinburgh members of staff, I’ve identified three key areas that merit attention when planning a hybrid work future.
First, get your goals right: what is it that the organisation wishes to achieve from hybrid work? Do
you want to reduce costs, boost staff productivity, offer improved customer service? Perhaps your goals are more employee-centric and you’d like to enhance staff wellbeing and work life balance, attract talent or promote the equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) agenda.
Ideally attach numbers to the priorities to guide you through the different priorities. When these turn out as competing priorities, ranking them will prove useful to move forward. It may also be that one is a condition to the other, for example the priority of an organisation may be to reduce costs under the condition that current EDI achievements are not compromised, or the priority may be to enhance the EDI agenda under the condition that customer service is not compromised.
No matter the priorities, it is important to acknowledge that tensions may arise and that creative solutions may be required to handle tensions. Second, get your hybrid work budget right. No matter the savings, there is also a cost with hybrid work, so it is important to think through what the organisation is ready and able to allocate a budget for.
This could include investing in hybrid meetings’ infrastructure, re-designing the working space to reflect the changes in office occupancy, providing financial support to staff to adjust their home work station to support mental and physical wellbeing, or perhaps providing staff with a working from home allowance to cover utility bills.
Considering the short-term cost vs long-term savings of such investments is equally important. Some organisations are making savings from reduced office space and associated costs and are reinvesting
in hybrid work technology or staff allowances.
As such, assuming that increased working from home will lead to savings may conceal the investment
needed to support hybrid work appropriately. Third, communicating clear principles to guide manager-staff negotiations as well as decentralising hybrid-work budgets are key, as competing priorities may be a cause of contestation.
What happens when managers reject hybrid work requests on the basis of business needs that staff
consider unreasonable? Dozens of staff I spoke to are disillusioned with their managers’ return-to-office requests, and expect sensible reasoning behind such requests. Lack of agreement may lead to anything from resentment to resignation: there is little doubt that manager-staff disagreement partly accounts for the “great resignation” we have been witnessing.
So, how can organisations best support manager-staff hybrid work negotiations? First, acknowledging the possibility of managerial bias in negotiations is significant. A study among the University of Edinburgh staff has shown that managers tend to favour relatively more office days than non-managerial
staff. Simultaneously, depriving managerial discretion through centralised decision making may undermine the chances of making the most out of hybrid work, which may allow more flexibility
than formal “flexible work” policies.
So what is the answer to managing such tensions? The answer lies in organisational transparency and support: communicating the organisational goals when promoting hybrid work (the first step discussed
above), as well as allocating a hybrid work budget for managers to tap into when making decisions.
When organisational guiding principles and available resources to manage the change are clear and communicated to both managers and staff, the chances of disagreement or resentment are reduced: both parties will be able to benchmark their expectations against the guiding principles and available resources.
It will also make the success of the hybrid work policy easier to assess (are the principles promoted
within the budget?), with further interventions more likely to be successful (if goals are not achieved, how far from achieving them are we?). Our workplaces have undergone spectacular change in a very short amount of time and it is clear that we are never going to return to pre-pandemic work practices.
Thoughtful employers will see this as an opportunity to build a newly engaged and satisfied workforce
with reinvigorated loyalty – a real hybrid.
Partner Content in association with University of Edinburgh
Dr Lila Skountridaki
Why innovation and marketing are the perfect partners to make changes that matter￼
With the rapid evolution of traditional marketing and the appearance of digital marketing, technology and innovation has become part of any marketer’s life without the need of working for a…
Transitioning to a four-day week – CEO’s vow to strike a healthier balance in the workplace
I came to Scotland nearly 20 years ago from Ireland, with no contacts but a lot of determination. While Ireland will always be my home, Scotland has given me amazing…
Women Lead: The female-led company championing intuitive working
Over the last two years, the pandemic forced a shift to more remote and flexible working practices. Whilst we might be seeing a “return to normal”, some companies are choosing…
Women Lead: My passion for young people to consider a career in digital
Twenty years ago, I stumbled across my career in digital marketing almost by accident. It was during my honours degree in marketing at Glasgow Caledonian University. I was on work…
Women Lead: Inclusive Silicon Valley cohort gives hope to entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds
Things are happening on the Scottish tech scene. Big and small initiatives are creating a fantastic ripple effect on the sector, bottom up and top down, thanks to the recommendations…
Women Lead: The story of an entrepreneurial scientist
I first arrived in Scotland over 20 years ago. I had £75 in my wallet and a scholarship offer to do a PhD at the University of Edinburgh. Sometimes I…
Please mind the gap… or healthcare may fall
Imagine sharing a lengthy train journey with others. From beginning to end, imagine how often you might hear ‘mind the gap’ messages about embarking and disembarking safely. Picture how navigating…
Women Lead: My journey from Dragons’ Den to Silicon Valley
Following her appearance on Dragons’ Den, Sheila Hogan, serial entrepreneur, founder and chief executive of digital legacy vault, Biscuit Tin, shares her experience of her time in the Den and…