Jed Hassid – Strategic Business Planning Lecturer on the 20Twenty Leadership Programme.
With approximately 80% of UK GDP generated by service business, for a large number of business to be able to survive the lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the ability to work from home (WFH) meant the difference between keeping the lights on and ceasing to be in business.
12 months after the first lockdown, WFH has become a significant activity for many businesses. The question is, what happens next? Do businesses try to go back to how they were operating before Covid-19? Or do they adapt to the new reality where WFH becomes part of the way they operate?
A starting point is to consider the importance of renaming or rethinking about WFH. With a positive, growth-oriented mindset, business leaders can think about WFH as merely a “hybrid” form of working. This includes both working in and away from the office.
By doing this they can improve their competitiveness and deliver even greater levels of value to their customers.
Advantages of hybrid working
Access to talent – Traditionally businesses have had to recruit from a talent pool defined by the distance/time taken to commute. Businesses can recruit from across Wales, the UK or maybe even the world.
Ease of collaboration – Other colleagues, based elsewhere (including their homes) can take part and collaborate on projects/meetings.
Flexibility – Employees working away from the office gain some level of flexibility to deliver their work. This helps them to also attend the school play or help a neighbour. The key is that the employee is trusted to deliver the objectives that have been set in the timeframe required.
Environment – In a recent study by Atlas Cloud ‘Get Hybrid Working Done‘, it was reported that before the pandemic, the average UK commute was 84.4 minutes. By working from home, there is little or no commuting. This leads to an improvement in air quality and hence the environment.
The same survey found that by working from home, employees delivered an additional 39.9 minutes of work. They also benefited from an added 44.5 of leisure time per day.
Disadvantages of hybrid working
Balance of work and life – The danger is that people find it hard to switch and demarcate their lives between work and life. As a result, the possibility of burn-out / overload increases and mental health declines.
Culture – It is certainly true that the traditional way of bringing new people into the business when working remotely is unlikely to work.
Businesses therefore need to re-engineer their onboarding of new employees in this remote setting.
One person I know received a “goody” bag welcoming her to the business in addition to receiving a laptop already set up prior to her first day of the office.
Introductory Zoom meetings were pre-arranged. All these actions showed that her new employer had thought about the first few moments/hours/days of the new role.
Relationships – The camaraderie and creativity of “water-cooler” conversations has been lost. Therefore, companies should look to try and re-create these informal settings.
One way is to have a regular start of the day virtual meeting with colleagues, during which you chat about the weather, sport and not about work!
During a series of webinars that I have delivered recently, delegates were asked “how many weekdays would you choose to work remotely”.
Over 97% responded that they wanted at least some remote working (the most popular response (40.7%) wanting two days per week). Whilst not a large sample, this result mirrors a range of recent survey findings.
The challenge now is to determine how to use this new way of working to improve the level of engagement with staff.
How can a business move its thinking from merely working from home to offering both existing employees and those that it is looking to recruit, a form of hybrid working?
It’s important to consider or re-affirm the vision for the business. Where does it want to be in the future; what will it have achieved?
A typical timeframe for such a question is three years but that is not set in stone, you choose a timeframe that is relevant for your business.
Remote working strategy
Having determined where you wish to get to, the next step is to consider the strategies that will help you to achieve the vision. Consider the following:
Leadership – A central feature to delivering success will be the culture and values that all leaders demonstrate and live by.
If remote working is seen as something that will stop when we get back to “normal” then there is little chance of hybrid working delivering the type of results that could be achieved.
On the other hand, if the culture and values of the company encourage growth and abundance, then leaders and others will encourage new ways of thinking and innovation.
Customers – They have also had to get used to being remote and not receiving face to face visits from salespeople and account managers.
The opportunity therefore presents itself about how can the existing sales force adapt its ways of working to help customers buy remotely.
Such remote sales models have been shown to work. In a McKinsey study – How sales have changed during Covid-19, more than 90% of B2B companies “have transitioned to a virtual sales model during Covid-19”.
The question is: what are the relative pros and cons of maintaining such a model vs returning to the way things were, pre-Covid?
Property/location – With an increase in remote working, the need for office space changes. Some report a decline in the expected property costs over the next two years due to a reduction in space needed. Others are thinking about a re-specification of the existing space.
IT infrastructure – The rise in the value of IT/software businesses is testament to the availability of digital tools to enable hybrid working.
However, businesses should not assume that just because these tools exist and have been introduced to employees, everyone is able to use them.
Gartner has coined the term “digital friction” to acknowledge the additional effort required to use these tools in a remote setting.
How to facilitate hybrid working
There is a range of activities that companies can do to facilitate hybrid working. In terms of making it a positive experience as well as mitigating some of the downsides:
Which roles should be remote? – Most roles are made up of a number of different activities, some of which lend themselves to being carried out remotely and some of which do not.
Therefore, businesses should review the activities rather than the roles that should be carried out remotely and then review the organisational structure accordingly.
For example easier customer service calls could be dealt with remotely, whereas the more complex calls could be triaged to colleagues in the office.
Training – Consider what training needs individuals need to facilitate effective working away from the office. This might also require an investment in IT equipment, Wi-Fi upgrade and possibly furniture.
Enabling Hybrid Working – Consider employment contracts and the extent to which they allow for such working and, if not, amend as appropriate. Other considerations should also include making sure that the health and safety aspects of remote workers are addressed. Consult the Health and Safety Executive website on this matter.
Wellbeing of employees – At its heart, businesses should be aware of the goal to provide a psychologically safe environment where employees feel safe and supported.
Tactics to help could include:
- Regular check ins and polling of staff
- The offering of Employee Assistance Programmes as part of the employment package
- Offering a wider range of “perks” to enhance engagement
Adapting hybrid working
On balance, participants of my recent webinars have considered working from home as being a generally positive experience. However, businesses must not assume as much. There are negative consequences of such working and the disproportionate impact these have had on specific cohorts of society, for example women. Therefore, businesses should gather evidence for themselves and amend/adapt their hybrid working practices as appropriate.
WFH or hybrid working have the potential to change, for the better, the way that employees and hence businesses operate and deliver value to their customers and satisfaction/engagement to their members of staff. The key is on how decision makers frame the topic.
Do you want to go back to the way things were or do you want to take the opportunity to build something new and better?
Jed Hassid is a Strategic Business Planning lecturer on the 20Twenty Programme and a director of Purple Performance Ltd which works with owners/senior business leaders to drive business performance.
Inspiration for your company’s vision – recall the conversation between Alice and Wonderland and the Cheshire Cat.