Hybrid working, where employees split their time between the office and working remotely, is now popular practice across many businesses. While previously known only in tech and creative industry vernacular, the term “hybrid working” is now as commonplace as “PPE,” “furlough,” and other words ingrained by the Covid-19 pandemic.
It has become so entrenched in fact, that employees now expect it. Gartner research shows that 75% of hybrid workers say their expectations for working flexibly have increased since the pandemic began.
For many businesses, this shift towards a fundamentally different way of working can offer many advantages, but it can also present a variety of structural and strategic challenges. Luckily, many of these challenges can be mitigated through learning and development (L&D) programs, particularly those focused on managers who are key to driving these new working practices.
Exploring the positives
Hybrid working is distinct from remote working in that it requires staff to work a specified number of days in and out of the office. This means, if rolled out correctly, it can offer the best of both worlds.
The hybrid model is clearly preferred by employees. According to the Accenture Future of Work Study 2021, 83% of workers globally prefer it.
Key advantages include:
- Better well-being – Workers are often happier when they have more free time to spend with family or on hobbies. It also gives them more flexibility over personal responsibilities such as childcare.
- Improved productivity – Happier employees are often more productive employees. With less commuting time and fewer office interruptions, they can get more done.
- Increased collaboration – With set days in the office, there is often more commitment to collaborate with other team members and to make the most out of in-person days.
- Reduced costs – By reducing the need to commute and eat lunch outside the home, employees are better off mentally and financially. Lower office occupancy could also reduce operating costs, which means the business is better off too.
- Increased safety – With the impact of Covid-19 likely to linger for some time, some organizations might want to maintain safety protocols by keeping in-person contact to a minimum.
Delivering these benefits consistently across the business requires a commitment to manager training. Learning programs to help teams adapt to this new working environment are important, but courses specifically tailored to managers are also critical, as managers are responsible for implementing and driving the long-term success of hybrid working.
Tackling the negatives
Although hybrid working offers many benefits, it is not without pitfalls. Insufficient investment in planning, communicating, and supporting hybrid working can prove detrimental to the organization and workers.
Possible pitfalls include:
- Reduced trust – In a fully digital environment away from the office, it is easy to lose trust. It is therefore essential that managers trust employees to complete their work, and that workers trust managers and colleagues to support them.
- Increased stress – With the boundaries of home and work being blurred, employees can easily log too many hours, inducing stress and ultimately burnout. Processes to safeguard staff well-being should be prioritized.
- Increased isolation – Even in a hybrid working environment, team members can still feel isolated if other colleagues are not in the office when they are. When schedules workers risk being “out of sight, out of mind.”
- Over-reliance on technology – For hybrid working to flourish, it must operate in a “location-agnostic” way. It’s important to ensure teams have the opportunity to connect on a personal level.
Resolving these issues often involves rethinking the way business is conducted. For example, changing the office space to include hot-desking and collaborative spaces can help smooth the jumps between office and home. But the best way to bridge these two worlds is to make your teams more agile and resilient. This is where L&D can help.
How L&D supports hybrid working
To maximize the benefits of hybrid working, L&D must reconfigure learning to support location-agnostic practices. This starts by identifying, planning, and nurturing the skills your workforce needs to thrive in this new working environment. Key skills include building trust, stress management, effective communication, effective and engaging meeting planning, employee motivation, and team collaboration.
A well-planned L&D program can help you overcome many of the potential challenges of hybrid working. For example, cultivating a culture focused on work output rather than hours logged can alleviate stress and burnout.
Successful delivery of such programs depends on the right mix of virtual and in-person learning, with the right tools and technologies to match. This gives learners the opportunity to apply what they have learned within their respective work setting. L&D should provide training specifically for managers, to equip them with the tools to help them and their teams adapt to this new way of working. It is particularly important for managers to learn how to improve collaboration and initiate activities to strengthen team relationships.
The most important aspect of your hybrid working training program is cross-business consistency. Mixed messages and unclear policies create confusion. It is crucial that you regularly gather feedback from managers and individual team members to ensure the training is relevant and helpful. Focus on maintaining a strong company culture within a hybrid working environment should also be a priority.
Where next for your business?
Hybrid working is clearly here to stay. The big question is how to embrace it, since not doing so risks damaging everything from well-being and productivity to recruitment and retention. It is up to Human Resources and managers to find the right balance of office and remote working for their unique organization and their teams.
Achieving this requires high-level business change and adaptation. But it also demands a well-considered L&D strategy that earns the support of every stakeholder, to ensure that teams can thrive in this new working world.