Article by Carol Mote of PAI.
The last 2 years have had a transformational effect on the entire work ecosystem and navigating this new landscape is proving challenging for many, whilst providing a wealth of opportunities to reframe the work experience both from an organisation and an employee perspective.
Hybrid working is a development of the traditional flexible working policy that many organisations embraced; and flexible working was not practical for all organisations – this will continue to be the case for discussions around hybrid working. Those working on shift arrangements for instance have less room to adapt their working hours and those upholding public services running transport systems, the NHS, the Police or working in a factory setting are less likely to be able to work from home effectively. Therefore when we talk about adjusting working hours to permanently work from home for certain days, we are talking about the percentage of workers, in general, who would otherwise be office based.
The paradigm shifts we have experienced are all the more profound for being global and spread across almost every industry sector. Never before have we encountered quite such a fundamental, universal and rapid evolution in our work environment and I believe most will agree that the traditional blueprint of working life may no longer be relevant
In effect this is the perfect time to reframe what the ideal work experience should look like in the future – starting today.
For most organisations, what they do now is pivotal to their evolving employee experience. Decisions made will reflect the maturity of an organisation, how they have listened to their employees and their subsequent response to and value of their employee relationship. For this to happen, successfully it will also require consideration of what I define as ‘the third wheel’ in the conversation between office based or hybrid working which is that of Purpose Led Location Guidelines.
Purpose Led Location Guidelines are where an organisation trusts individuals as equals and encourages equity through allowing employees to individually create a bespoke framework that suits their preferences for work life balance – the return on this organisational investment, delivering loyalty, exceptional performance and a unique organisational value system.
With clarity on roles and responsibilities, Purpose Led Location Guidelines can cover all potential working arrangements (both office based and hybrid) putting the accountability on the employee to perform at the highest level to make appropriate decisions to advance their contribution (individually, team wise and within the corporate structure). Through this mature and trusted approach, Purpose Led Location Guidelines create advantage in business delivery while increasing equity and business stability.
One of the principle reasons why there is resistance to return to the old working model is that the last two years have been liberating for most people, opening up a whole new way of working that offers a world of exciting and motivating possibilities. Trust at an individual level has arguably increased as employees remotely structured their days, making independent decisions. To maximise on the value that was created from this shift in accountability, organisations should continue to seek to fully engage with their employees pro-actively ensuring retention of the talent required for new growth and expansion. Most individuals do not want to go back to having the specific detail of working hours dictated.
At the other end of the spectrum, organisations are perfectly able to dictate that they require employees with an office based contract to return to work in the office. If this is what their business needs, they should be clear about it. Such transparency will no doubt be supported by traditional flexible hours around a core day or other individual agreements. With financial pressures on most markets, organisations that are able to be clear on how they see their business operating at peak performance over the coming months will be respected for their candour, even if it compels some employees to reconsider their position.
It is short sighted to pay lip service to hybrid working if in real terms the organisational heart is not in it. Employers should be clear with employees to ensure expectations are met. If individuals no longer want to return to the office at the level the organisation is seeking, they may well leave and that could well be appropriate for both parties. Equally where an organisation has decided to embrace hybrid working, the policy needs to be clear and the organisation will need to decide whether they are adjusting employment terms and conditions to a new contractual base; or whether they will retain the current office based contracts for a further period of consideration before formalising adjustments.
Without doubt hybrid working is a challenging environment to support – if some are in the office and some are not, there can be miscommunications, employee relations challenges, technology hitches and frustrations – the downside could become a sense of ‘flexible working on steroids’ By it’s very nature, hybrid working suggests you will not always be in the office.
It is yet to be seen whether hybrid working can offer the best of both worlds or whether it will in effect become a high maintenance policy. To deliver it will need to be organisationally led and will work best within a clear policy on structure and how individual requests will be processed. It will need to embrace the connectivity generated across an organisation. For instance, are some teams not able to apply for hybrid working and expected to be in the office? Is the framework for a hybrid contract led by an organisational need or by employee request?
If the future work model is to become a positive and dynamic experience we need to have the right building blocks firmly in place. And this should be defined by fairness and equity with greater flexibility to align individual needs with corporate requirements.
According to research, since offices have re-opened work-related stress and anxiety have hit their worst level since surveying began in the summer of 2020. The research went on to show that employees with little to no ability to set their own work hours were 2.6 times more likely to look for a new job in the coming year, compared to those with schedule flexibility.
Flexibility around how, where, and when people work should no longer be a differentiator, it should now be table stakes.
It wasn’t that long ago that companies who allowed their employees to fill one day a week with their chosen activity, or take Fridays off, or work remotely every so often were deemed cutting-edge, innovative and aspirational. Even Casual Fridays were a big hit in the 90s when you could go to work in casual wear.
Now, without seemingly too much effort we are entering the era of the “Everywhere Workplace”.
Ultimately focusing on outcomes and trusted employee relationships will drive how the new work model will unfold. We have the technology to amplify organisational culture through core attributes such as collaboration and mentoring. Big data, the cloud, the internet of things, robots, automation, video and AI collaboration platforms are already transforming the way we work and live.
These are exciting times – performance and productivity need to go hand in hand with trust, as the future of work increasingly and appropriately leans towards the everywhere workplace model driven by employee accountability.
Carol Mote harnesses over 25 years in the corporate sector to deploy a cutting-edge approach to helping individuals and teams build resilience and thrive. Her unique style has positively impacted organisations around the world going through transformational change.
Mote, who has an excellent track record in creating outstanding HR solutions, is founder of People Advisory International, an innovative consultancy that focuses on unlocking people related challenges, while enhancing individual talent and wellbeing. Mote is currently developing a range of products and resources, the first of which is Morning Boost, a daily micro talk for individuals to engage with, enhancing confidence and energising the day ahead