A survey by IrishJobs.ie, published last week, found almost 40% of workers did not have clarity on when and in what way they will return to the office. This level of uncertainty, after 15 months of pandemic, is hard to fathom. Sure, the date of return to the office could be subject to movement given COVID variants, but there is no reason why there should be a lack of clarity in the form it takes – whether at all, part-time or full-time return.
Remote working has been the great social experiment of our age, but the longevity of the pandemic has meant that there has been the time to test the hypotheses around remote or hybrid working. Most must know whether this pilot project can be mainstreamed.
The most sceptical of employers’ pre-pandemic concede that, even with the challenging circumstances in which the experiment was trialled, it has succeeded. U.S. research even pointed to productivity gains of up to 30%.
Employees too have experienced benefits. No long commutes, greater flexibility in how and where they work, increased time with family or to pursue their interests. Greatest of all has been putting control back into their own hands. They now manage how and when they work, making their working life synch better with their lives outside of work.
Some companies called it quickly, as early as last summer and autumn, declaring a permanent move to remote working, based around a spilt of remote and office based, so called hybrid working. A minority went further calling an end to office work completely.
At SIRO, a company rolling out a new 100% fibre broadband network across Ireland, we have always facilitated remote and hybrid working. We are now working to enhance this further. This includes supporting greater collaboration, ensuring no divisions or disadvantages between remote or office-based working and bolstering company culture to underpin the existing strong sense of purpose and value.
The idea that some companies are waiting to see hybrid works out for others first just isn’t credible. A measure of uncertainty on ways of working into the future should not be a reason for indecision or inaction.
To do so creates a vacuum; risks disengaging and demotivating employees; or worse, a business brain drain where talent migrates to companies who have provided greater clarity on their working policies.
In short, business leaders need to get comfortable with uncertainty and deal with it. Confronting risk and working with it is a normal facet of business life, so why look at new ways of working any differently?
Variance on what the future of work will be goes to the heart of hybrid working – there is no single definition and equally no playbook. Companies need to frame what works best for them; not what others are doing. Arrive at that point and the pathway to implementation becomes easier.
Hybrid working, like all experiments, can be trial and error. Some things work well. Those that you expect to, may not. The greatest advances in science or technology didn’t happen overnight. Be willing to experiment, fail and learn to achieve a model that works for your business.
A successful transition to hybrid working requires clear and consistent communication. Your internal communication strategies and tools are going to be working overtime.
It’s ok to admit you don’t have all the answers – the situation is an evolving one. It is critical to continuously communicate, engage and encourage feedback from your employees (good and bad) as you plan and activate hybrid working strategies. Think staff surveys, one-to-one check ins, and bigger picture all-employee communications, on an ongoing basis.
Numerous surveys show most employees want hybrid working. It’s a great opportunity to reframe our lives for the better, so don’t let the intricacies of implementing it drain the positivity of the experience.
It’s essential to maintain and strengthen company culture. The novelty factor of the company social club Zoom event has, understandably, waned. Yet, sustaining those connections, fostering a sense of purpose and cultivating collaborations which are both work related and social is even more important with hybrid working.
The answer lies within the office part of the hybrid model. After over a year of restrictions there is a palpable yearning for contact with real people, not just people onscreen. As offices reopen use these spaces, not just for work tasks, but for social collaborations. HR and senior leaders must drive these, prioritising these connections as essential to company success.
COVID-19 reset many aspects of life, but it has also created many opportunities to do things differently, and better. Living more sustainable lives, where we are more rooted in our communities, became a reality during lockdowns. Hybrid working fosters sustainability but there are other actions employers can push to further it.
These include supporting sustainable commuting to work (walking, cycling or public transport); greater diversity through a wider hybrid working talent pool; or ongoing upskilling/reskilling for employees to meet emerging workforce needs.
Hybrid working is good for business and employees. It’s a huge opportunity to reset; getting rid of bad ways of working which suited neither employers nor employees. Time is moving on; business leaders now need to embrace change and give employees their vision for a new world of work.
Blanaid O’Regan is SIRO Director of People and Culture. SIRO, a joint venture between the ESB and Vodafone, is rolling out a new 100% Gigabit fibre broadband network across Ireland.