Is a hybrid approach to working from home the best way forward for your business and your people?
The topic of working from home has been hotly debated for the past 12 months, but it is not a new one. Over the past few years, we have seen the desire for a hybrid way of working, enabling more people to balance their work and home life better, gaining traction across businesses. However, when Covid-19 struck, the subject quickly became urgent; companies were forced to find work-arounds for pandemic restrictions on travel and gathering and then people found they quite liked their new freedom to work where they wanted.
As countries around the world contemplate returning to the office, can things return to the way they were before Covid-19 struck? Or should they, now that the global pandemic has illuminated alternative ways of working?
Office v home: are we heading for a hybrid workplace?
For many people, working from home used to be a perk you got to enjoy when you were promoted high enough, or had to do because you were housebound. Some businesses had already fully embraced a 100% remote workforce before Covid-19, yet the majority rallied against the idea of allowing any home working for a variety of reasons (cohesion, inconvenience, cost, security, trust). Listening to the debate now, it’s obvious that the divide still exists among business owners, and indeed employees, over whether home working offers enough benefits to be worthwhile.
Even though so many businesses have had to learn to embrace a remote workforce to maintain their income and the livelihoods of their employees, many have been clear in their desire to return all their employees back to the office location. Many employees are also looking forward to escaping small flats or noisy family homes and getting back to the office culture they enjoyed.
However, many businesses are looking towards a hybrid approach, allowing staff to split their time between an onsite work location and working from home. Lockdown kickstarted the “WFH” experiment and it seems the results remain mixed, highlighting both the benefits and challenges of the approach.
The pluses and minuses of working from home
In reality, there rarely is a “one-size-fits-all” solution and the arguments for and against homeworking have weight. No two businesses are the same and each employs a diverse workforce with different needs. Each will have their own arguments why working from home may or may not work for them.
The President of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development believes: “The evidence pre-Covid was that people wanted to work more flexibly, and work partly at home, partly from a central office. Findings showed it enhanced job satisfaction, there was higher productivity, and less sickness and absence. But what most people didn’t want is what we’ve been doing in the pandemic: remote work 100 per cent of the time.”
So, if a hybrid approach may be the best way forward for many, what still fuels the debate about remote working?
Proponents of flexible, remote working argue that with so many workers wanting a better work life balance, flexible working is key to attracting top talent and retaining them. It’s a great way to drive engagement to increase productivity and removing the stressful daily commute, providing more time at home while creating a better balance between productivity, mental health and wellbeing.
In contrast, it can be argued that homeworking adds an unnecessary complexity by not having your workforce in one place and that distance acts as a barrier. Collaboration and innovation become harder, and the team loses the spontaneity that can often lead to a breakthrough idea compared to scheduling another virtual meeting.
Building connections is harder to do remotely and cannot be consistently nurtured, leading to people feeling isolated, missing out on good work practices and team development. These people may require additional support to help maintain their wellbeing which would have been provided by their peers. It can also be harder to detect both personal achievements and disengagement from work.
What employers and employees are saying about WFH
May’s edition of Personnel Today stated that four in five firms expect hybrid working post lockdown and People Management magazine suggest a third of employers are reportedly saying they will quit if flexibility is not continued after lockdown. It seems the pressure is on to seriously consider your position on permanent homeworking. What might be the personnel losses for your business of not embracing homeworking, or the cost to your productivity if you introduce it but don’t having the right practices or technology in place to support it?
Whatever your current position on homeworking, employees are considering the implications of returning to the office and what this means for the life they have established over the past year. Requests for flexible working are increasing and businesses need to consider the implications of declining or embracing a more flexible approach.
If you decide that a hybrid approach to working is the way forward for your people, then technology needs to be central to your plans.
Technological considerations for hybrid working
Businesses understand the right technology can hugely enhance the productivity of a team working in one location. The event of lockdown then showed us how this could also happen with teams working remotely; businesses that already utilised new, digital technologies were quickly able to pivot to home working, as were those who were willing to adopt new technology into their business and adapt working practices accordingly.
To address the concerns associated with home working regarding productivity, collaboration or employee isolation, the right technologies are critical but they must also be employed effectively, working practices adapted and teams and individuals taught to maximise the potential of the tools they are provided.
Our top 8 technical challenges to introducing a hybrid working pattern and latest trends and solutions
- Online security: Networks need to be secure, VPN utilised, and employees educated on better fraud, password discipline and how best to maintain robust online security. Response: Companies have generally started allocating resources towards addressing these challenges and investment into security is a strategic and practical necessity. This is a good thing that has gained more importance as an outcome of remote working challenges.
- Bandwidth speed: What are the minimum network speeds employees need at home to ensure they can guarantee connectivity, capacity and functionality? Response: We are still evolving in terms of internet speed and connectivity infrastructure, however the surge in demand created a major investment drive from both government and private sectors. Now we have more options of broadband packages; the new WiFi mesh technology performs magic in terms of reducing wifi black spots. Packages from suppliers are emerging where you as a company can buy bulk internet connections for your employees at discount etc.
- Data Protection: Data needs to be secure, stored, managed, and transferred in line with legal requirements. Response: This is one very critical area of action, companies need to increase internal training and awareness of data protection measures, invest into better insurance protection against data theft or cyber leak incidents and take data as a more serious matter with way more priority than before. Companies now have to depend a lot more on their DPO (data protection officers); if there is no one identified they should urgently recruit or train an internal resource.
- Communication: Which platforms best suit your communications and collaboration and how do you ensure you don’t complicate the workplace with too many varieties, or the wrong tools? Response: This is one area the pandemic has definitely, positively influenced and most of the companies now have invested in collaboration and communication tools. We now live in the world of Zoom, Teams, Hangouts and many more, make our lives a lot more connected, increase productivity and save time.
- System failures: How to you build redundancy into a system to negate the impact of any system failures or ransomware attacks? Response: Companies need to have a trusted supplier to manage their hardware and cyber security to manage this very critical area.
- Equipment to be purchased: Is there are requirement to increase procurement and boost IT budgets? How affordable is this and who determines the specification of additional equipment needed? Response: This has been a challenge for businesses; however the demand and technology have driven prices down.
- Wellbeing: How do you maintain the same level of responsibility around health and safety and workstation set-up to ensure employee wellbeing and a safe working environment? Response: Major innovation is taking place in the world of employee welfare and wellbeing. Companies should look around for a number of smart and creative approaches and solutions out in the market. Explore the wellbeing apps out there.
- IT proficiency: Do employees have the skills to manage and make the most of the technology required to work from home? How do you deliver training to remote employees and ensure a technological level playing field? Response: Demand for investment into training your employees can be met with online training options which are readily available and cheaper.
Taking the lead in hybrid work patterns to help our customers
At Incepteo, we have embraced a hybrid approach to homeworking, supporting our teams to work a split between the office and home. We understand the advantages that this will bring to them as individuals, and we know that we already have a culture of collaboration and innovation in place to make it work.
A strong team culture and a shared belief in the service we provide clients are essential, but we also know that without the right technologies to support our work practices and facilitate team dynamics and individual productivity. Just as we have seen the right technology implemented and integrated into teams onsite enhance productivity, we know that can be the case for hybrid working teams.
We plan to make our expertise and the lessons we’ve learned available to benefit our clients by advising, implementing and supporting the changes needed so that they can adopt a more flexible way to work in the future.
Going hybrid isn’t just about the latest fashion in the “here and now”, it’s about future-proofing your business to remain competitive and continue innovating so that you can make the most of your people and your opportunities as the global economy gets going again.