HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging The Hybrid Workforce
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We know hybrid working is here to stay, forcing many organisations to experiment with innovative and creative strategies from 4-day working weeks to unlimited holidays as a means of combatting the great resignation. This is uncharted territory for all people leaders, especially with the lack the experience to be sure the policies we’re testing will be successful at scale. How are organisations progressing with the return to the workplace and hybrid working? What does good look like right now?
On Thursday 28th April 2022, HRD Connect hosted a group of senior HR and people leaders to discuss these questions in a virtual roundtable that was led by Michelle Blayney, Culture & Colleague Proposition Director, Lloyds Banking Group, and supported by Dan Rogers, Vice President of Product Strategy for Voice of the Employee, Workday.
The group explored their common challenges (and solutions) to hybrid working to understand both how to benchmark their organisations employee experience strategy and to engage, retain and attract talent. The session was conducted under Chatham House Rules so while this write-up will include key discussion points and takeaways, all participants are anonymised.
When to Mandate?
The starting point of the roundtable conversation centred around when to mandate certain hybrid working policies. For some, they have chosen to avoid all mandating altogether, instead opting to build highly flexible models, so employees aren’t forced into ridged working policies that are reflective of pre-pandemic. The aim here is to prioritise employees’ sentiments, whilst elevating their competitive advantage as a business.
Others have chosen to mandate hybrid working practices. For instance, one participant shared that they have pivoted to a 5-day fortnight, where employees must be in the office 5 days every 2 weeks. This policy is managed across the business by team leads to ensure those who need to be in the office on certain days are present. For others, they are scheduling ‘hub days’ for the business, where 2 days a month everyone is expected to be in the office creating and formalising a purpose for coming in.
These ‘hub days’ or ‘anchor days’ have appeared to be a popular approach. Often these days have been orchestrated having learnt that people need to be given flexibility within a structure. Leadership needs to mandate the flexibility they want to see, otherwise, it can result in uncertainty leading to a lack of drive to come into the office.
The Employee Experience
Hybrid working strategies feed directly into the effective attraction & retention of talent, and consequently the employee experience. One participant, with extensive understanding and knowledge of the recruitment market, flagged the need to feature your flexible working policy on all job descriptions and promotions. If this is not included, the assumption will be that you don’t have one in place, and you’ll risk losing out on talent.
When it comes to safeguarding productivity within your hybrid working strategies, several roundtable participants shared the different methods they are trailing. Being able to identify where team members will be on certain days is a tool many employees have benefited from. Often, people head into the office because they’re keen to have a face-to-face meeting or bump into someone they’ve been struggling to pin down. This has been well received by those utilising it, who shared that often it’s the little things that have the greatest impact on employees’ experience.
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Another strategy under pilot is using tools that allow teams to book out focus time or update their status to ‘do not disturb’ via email or professional instant Messager platforms. It helps people dedicate their time, and the little nudges act as an impactful time management support system.
The Impact on Organisational Culture
Many in the group highlighted that over the last couple of years, they’ve been forced to review the definition of their workplace culture. It has been common practice across the board that all key people practices have been under review and are in the process of being updated for the hybrid world.
Thinking about the purpose of the office, and why people will start going back in also falls into the conversation around culture. People leaders must be deliberate when considering the purpose of the office moving forward, and asking themselves what is going to draw people back in? Often, this can be as simple as giving out free pizza. A rationale, or framework, for managers to rely on proves incredibly beneficial not only in drawing people back in but ensuring such occasions are creative and collaborative.
Common Challenges to Hybrid Working
One participant shared the need to reframe the notion of productivity for employees when they’re in the office. We now live under the perception that if we do not clear 200 emails in a day whilst in the office, we’re unproductive. When in fact our productivity has just been refocused since there is no reason to be in the office and follow the same format as you would do at home.
The divide in attitude amongst employees when it comes to returning to the office has continued to fuel disagreements among senior leaders. Many senior executives do not consider the cost of living as a factor in the hybrid working conversation. Whilst junior employees are more inclined to work remotely, this can significantly impact their ability to learn as they miss out on accessing insight from senior, more experienced leaders.
When it comes to real estate, the solutions are less clear-cut. Do you reduce your space, or continue to keep it but use it more creatively? Is it possible to use your space in different ways on different days? It is imperative people leaders collaborate with their estate managers here, to ensure that when a lease comes up, it’s used as an opportunity to review in line with the wider people and business strategy.
International Hybrid Working Policies
For global organisations, the disparities between regional expectations to hybrid working are creating prominent challenges. For instance, divisions and teams based in the Middle East, typically expect people to be back in the office more so than their UK counterparts. This can lead to different policies for different offices or parts of the business. People leaders then must question how fair this is, and will it create tensions between teams working across different regions and/or continents?
Further, tensions or uncertainty can be caused when employees opt to work from locations that aren’t their permanent homes, like basing themselves out of a foreign country for a month or so. How heavily does this need to be monitored? If it’s not monitored, how can managers effectively mitigate any potential risk? Or should the approach be that teams are treated professionally, and are to be trusted, without the necessity of heavy-handed management? Many argued the need for a level of formalisation to ensure businesses are compliant with other jurisdictions. One roundtable participant shared that they had established a working abroad policy, offering the opportunity for all employees to work in a foreign country for 20 days a year. Whilst this requires resources to track and monitor, it’s been well received and has boosted both the attraction and retention of talent.
In summary, the group agreed that they’re seeing a lack of motivation to return to the office. With considerations around the cost of living, longer commutes, and pricy season tickets, it’s no surprise. People are well set up at home and feel the benefits, both in terms of reduced costs and greater productivity. As people leaders navigate this interesting cultural shift, it’s time to hold your nerve as we await the great comeback.