Is the hybrid model creating a more self-centred workforce?

Article by Ben Watson, MD, internal communications agency Blue Goose

When business leader Alan Sugar tweeted recently that people who work from home are ‘lazy gits’, and suggested employers ‘get them back to the office or fire them’, he exposed some of the tension that exists in the UK workplace right now.

Research suggests that Lord Sugar is wide of the mark. According to insight analyst Truthsayers Neurotech, companies rolling out a strong hybrid culture have boosted their commercial performance, and have employees who are almost twice as engaged as those at non-hybrid businesses.

The pandemic has shown that business leaders can trust their staff to work productively wherever they are, and that most people in the UK want flexible working to continue (Microsoft). But what that tweet also did was demonstrate that while agile working may be here to stay, it’s not going to happen by accident, or without a concerted effort by employees and employers. We’ve got months and years of refining and experimentation ahead of us, and internal communication strategies are going to play an important role.

Agile working has opened doors for many people – think of the parents of school-age children, or those who have mental and physical challenges that make conventional workplaces difficult to negotiate. Many point to a better work-life balance – less commuting, more autonomy, more flexibility.

But perhaps what hasn’t been discussed as much is a potential shift in culture that prioritises the individual over the group; that waives a generosity of spirit to the detriment of internal business culture.

Here are a few observations about how we can ensure important stuff doesn’t slip through the cracks just because we’re excited about our brave new world.

Onboarding for a new generation

Those of us who have been part of the workforce for many years can probably cast our minds back to our early, green days, when we relied on the more senior members of the team to answer dozens of questions and to show us the ropes. We held on to their approving nods and the reassurances they gave us that we were doing OK; we watched their every move for guidance.

Getting onboarding right is so important. It improves employee retention and boosts productivity (Brand Hall Group). With the fight for talent stepping up and job mobility soaring, those early days are more important than ever. They’re an opportunity to convey the company culture, to encourage recruits to see a career for themselves. Yet a recent survey by Gallup revealed a staggering 88% of employees surveyed think their companies do a less than impressive job.

In a hybrid environment it needs to be thought through in minute detail. That might mean coming into the office in the early days, if appropriate, and encouraging other team members to do the same. Or it could be about providing as much information as possible, and making team leaders constantly accessible via digital communication tools.

It’s important that new recruits feel as though they are part of something. If they don’t, what’s to stop them moving on?

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Empowering managers to nurture teams

A good manager will encourage team members to fulfil their potential and see a future for themselves, as well as honouring business strategy and key performance indicators.

When staff members feel included in the company culture, and can see opportunities for career progression, they’re more likely to stay. Encouraging managers to communicate in a way that conveys a career-long mindset can go a long way to improve retention and productivity.

Boosting company culture

No matter what your plans, the culture of a place will always overcome the best intentions of those at the head of the business. But we have to accept, company culture is going to look different from now on.

Take IBM, which has been proactive in its efforts. Its Working From Home Pledge was set up to encourage employees to support each other, and fostered a culture of sensitivity to people’s need for family and leisure time. One of the biggest issues about hybrid working is that people don’t switch off at 5pm – they’re ‘on till they drop’.

Shifting old-school thinking

Perhaps Lord Sugar’s comments reveal more about a generational shift, with younger people not responding to that controlling management style. But even where there is a need to get together in an office or hired space, surely it would be better if it didn’t feel like a compulsory burden.

Internal communications could make that day in the office one full of potential – to collaborate in real life, to access a busy manager for a quick chat, to enjoy a G&T with familiar faces.

For most of us, the journey to a fully entrenched hybrid working practice is only just beginning. We need to keep talking, and finding ways to ensure everyone feels like they’re part of the process.

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