The hybrid working from home (WFH) solution for businesses

The majority (77%) of UK employees say a mix of office-based and remote working is the best way forward post COVID-19, according to new research by the Adecco Group. Read on to learn how your business can benefit by adopting a hybrid approach to work.

How Will Work Change in a Post COVID-19 World?

Many small business owners are asking themselves how will work change thanks to COVID-19? With mass remote-working set to become the norm for many workers, small businesses in particular can turn what appears to be a massive upheaval across their enterprises into an advantage. Work is changing. Those businesses that can manage the transition to more flexible working practices will reap the rewards.

Flexible working has, of course, become commonplace as workers have looked to rebalance their working and personal lives. As a small business owner, you know how important the wellbeing of your employees can be to their productivity. In a post-COVID-19 business environment, flexible working will evolve into something new: the hybrid worker, which your business can take advantage of.

Flexible Working is a Trend And Permanent

A range of reports issued over the past six months clearly indicate that remote working and a more flexible approach to employment, is not just a trend but a shift in how workers are changing their relationship to their working lives.

Data from The Future Strategy Club shows that over half (57%) of Brits do not want to go back to traditional office structures and a normal way of working once lockdown gets completely lifted.

For business leaders, too, change is afoot: In fact, nearly 3 in 10 (29%) of business leaders have already streamlined their teams during the pandemic, while 35% of Brits say their company will return to the office with a smaller team and with workers handling more varied responsibilities.

Justin Small, Founder of The Future Strategy Club.

Justin Small, Founder of The Future Strategy Club.

“Many businesses have had to or will need to pivot quickly and effectively to remain competitive in the market post-lockdown, so experienced talent will be required to help achieve these,” says Justin Small, Founder of The Future Strategy Club. “Businesses of all sizes, but particularly SMEs, will need to embrace skilled freelancers quickly to pivot, retrain staff and rebuild their business model to help them survive and then thrive as the economy begins to bounce back.”

Telecommuting and Home Working is Set to Grow

Business is changing and so will how workforces get organised. According to research from Zscaler almost half (48%) of respondents across Europe expect remote worker numbers to grow by at least 25% and up to 50% in the next 12 months.

The hybrid worker has a number of key traits:

  • Work remotely from any location.
  • Use advanced digital communications technologies.
  • Able to collaborate remotely with individuals and teams.
  • New skills can be acquired quickly as they are needed.
  • Seamlessly switching between, office, home or a co-working hub.

Speaking to SmallBusinessPro, James Hirst, COO and Co-Founder, Tyk an API management platform said: “It may be that businesses adopt a hybrid model but still require employees to come into the office some of the time. Alternatively, businesses may adopt a permanent option for employees to work remotely 100% of the time, if they wish to do so.”

James Hirst, COO and Co-Founder, Tyk.

James Hirst, COO and Co-Founder, Tyk.

“This can be hugely beneficial for businesses as it can allow them to tap into a pool of global talent in a competitive recruitment landscape, while at the same time, offering people the ability to work anywhere in the world and not be restricted by the traditional business centres.”

How Can You Develop a Hybrid Home Working Model?

To develop hybrid working in your small business, ask yourself these questions:

How has COVID-19 impacted your business’s operations?

Your staff will have been working remotely for some time. How is this likely to change? Do you need your staff in a central location? Can they work remotely on a permanent basis?

Are your staff asking for more flexible and hybrid working?

Before the pandemic, your staff could ask for more flexible working. Is the vast majority of your workers happy to continue with remote working for at least a percentage of their working week? Assess how your staff would react to hybrid working practices.

Do you have secure, remote digital communications in place?

For hybrid working to become more permanent across your business, your staff will need communications systems that are reliable and secure. Think about the investment your business may have to make to install these technologies.

Are all your staff able to work efficiently from remote locations?

Not all of your staff will have adapted well to working from home. It’s vital to identify those employees who will need additional training and support if they are to move to hybrid working practices. Don’t forget the wellbeing of your staff when switching to a hybrid working structure, as ‘going to work’ becomes something very different for them to adjust to.

What is the generation range of your workforce?

It’s clear that Generation Z and the Millennial groups have embraced flexible working and its use of digital technologies. However, older employees may struggle with digital communications and remote working in general. Be aware that a hybrid model of working is not one size fits all. Your business may have to adapt its hybrid working approach for specific groups of employees.

A Happy Workforce At Home or in The Office

“The wellbeing of workers is massively important to small business and can have a major impact on productivity,” explained Ryan Demaray, Managing Director SMB EMEA at SAP Concur. “In fact, 39% of workers say they’d be willing to work harder if they were happy in their current role or place of work.”

Ryan Demaray, Managing Director SMB EMEA at SAP Concur.

Ryan Demaray, Managing Director SMB EMEA at SAP Concur.

Demaray continued: “Also, the move to hybrid working can have an effect on this wellbeing, with some employees missing the office and the interactions that come with it.”

“To overcome this, businesses should think creatively to build connections between employees working in different places. There are many collaboration tools that you can use to set up social activities such as quizzes and coffee catchups, to ensure that people don’t become disconnected.”

As a business owner developing new working practices that can be adopted across your enterprise will take time to come into focus. As mass remote working has now been the norm for several months, the pros and cons have become apparent. However, as remote working looks set to become the long-term norm, a hybrid approach to organising your workforce is a sensible step to protect efficiency and profitability in the medium to long term.

How To Create The Perfect Employee Office

How to create a hybrid workforce for your business there are a number of steps to take:

Step 1. Assess how hybrid working would operate across your business

No two businesses are the same, so you need to create a hybrid working model that fits your enterprise. Perform a flexible working audit to see how hybrid working would impact your business.

Step 2. Can all your employees adopt hybrid working?

For some of your workers a larger percentage of their working time will need to take place in your offices. Place your workers into groups according to how far they can or, want to adopt hybrid working practices. You can then design your hybrid working systems to suit each group.

Tyk’s James Hirst says: “Business managers and owners should be open to hybrid and remote working practices and look beyond the numbers and quotas to see what actually works for their employees and business.”

Step 3. Take a phased approach to hybrid working

Don’t jump straight into hybrid working for all your staff. Taking a phased approach allows time to make adjustments to the hybrid working systems you have developed.

Step 4. Design your physical spaces with hybrid working in mind

Don’t forget, hybrid working means your staff will spend some of their time in your offices, co-working spaces or satellite offices. These spaces need designing so everyone can then work safely. The Netherlands has developed what they call the ‘6 feet office‘ which enables staff to work with social distancing in place.

Step 5. Ensure your workers have all the equipment they need

The rush to work at home revealed the lack of professional equipment being used at home. The hybrid working approach means your staff need to seamlessly transition from their home office to any physical office space they need to use.

Says Iain Moffat, Chief Global Officer at HR and analytics company, MHR: “The technology can help employers ensure productivity, connectedness, and continuity across the workforce, wherever their people choose to work.”

Iain Moffat, Chief Global Officer at HR and analytics company, MHR.

Iain Moffat, Chief Global Officer at HR and analytics company, MHR.

“There are key objectives businesses should meet to ensure the hybrid model is a success. These include encouraging social, expressive, and motivational interactions, providing easy access to relevant data and information, and making sure regular manager/employee check-ins take place. The right technology platform will help to facilitate these objectives.”

Step 6. Keep your teams and business culture alive

One of the hardest aspects of hybrid working to maintain is the culture and connections your staff have with each other. It’s critical to develop virtual activities that keep your staff connected to each other. Using collaboration tools such as Slack can encourage interactions to prevent remote workers from feeling isolated.

“In the new age of hybrid working, organisations need to rally a collaborative state of mind; one that drives productivity and retains the very essence of their brand’s identity, while making employees’ work lives manageable, engaging and rewarding,” says Poly that creates professional office space at home.

Your Action Checklist

Use this checklist to get started on your business’s development of your own hybrid workforce.

  • Perform a flexible working audit to assess how hybrid working would operate across your business.
  • Assess current remote working spaces and equipment to identify where upgrades will be necessary to ensure your staff can work efficiently no matter their location.
  • Design your hybrid working policy that takes into account the needs of each worker. Hybrid working won’t be the same for every employee.
  • Think about how you will maintain communications across your dispersed employees. Keeping your business culture alive is critical for long-term wellbeing.
  • Phase your implementation of hybrid working to see where mistakes have been made and where improvements could deliver better outcomes.
  • Hybrid working could mean using satellite offices, co-working spaces, your existing offices and, the homes of your staff. Ensure your hybrid working planning accounts for the unique needs of each of these working spaces.

“This is a key moment in time that we have never seen before. Business leaders have received an unprecedented opportunity to hit reset on pre-pandemic working norms and shape the future of work in a way that allows the workforce and businesses to thrive,” The Adecco Group (pdf) concludes. “Those who do not embrace these challenges risk being left behind. This presents a rare and unique opportunity for businesses to re-think their operating models and pivot toward working styles that will benefit both management and employees long-term.”

How businesses organise their workforces has, of course, been evolving for decades. The pandemic has accelerated this process. Post COVID-19, your business will operate very differently. Bringing all your staff back to your office or adopting total remote working may not be feasible. A hybrid approach gives your business the best of both worlds.

Get Hybrid Working Done – Pete Watson of Atlas Cloud

The research entitled ‘Get hybrid-working done‘ surveyed more than 2,500 people about how they used to work, how they’re working now and how they’d like to work in future.

Pete Watson, CEO, Atlas Cloud.

Pete Watson, CEO, Atlas Cloud.

The survey found that 69% of office workers want to move to some form of hybrid-working, just 5% want to return to the office full-time and 26% want to work from home full-time.

What does this new model of flexibility look like? The chart below gives us some idea of how productive those models of hybrid-working will be for businesses and for office workers.

Work locations before and after COVID-19

Where have people worked pre and post COVID-19?

Will SMEs in the wake of COVID-19 switch permanently to hybrid- working practices?

“At this stage the wider economic environment is so uncertain it’s very difficult to predict that all SMEs will permanently switch to hybrid-working. However, what we can say is that SMEs which don’t switch to hybrid-working will lose their ability to hire a significant number of staff.

“We’ve just surveyed more than 2,500 office workers and almost seven in ten employees (69%) said they want to move to some form of hybrid-working and less than 5% said they want to work in the office every day.”

“These statistics show that it’s very clear that the vast majority of workers value the flexibility of hybrid-working and want to enjoy the benefits of both office working and, home working.

“If SMEs want to recruit the best talent to move their business forward, they need to consider how they will make hybrid-working happen long-term to help provide the flexibility that their team members want and that will enable people to perform at their best.”

What does this new model of flexibility look like?

“This model of flexibility will work differently for different employees but we have some interesting insight into what the most productive model of hybrid- working is. Hybrid-working offers significant win-wins for both SMEs and their team members.”

“Our survey found that on average, when not commuting, employees work an additional 38 minutes per day. Interestingly, on average, they also gain 46 minutes of personal time a day. If employees work from home every single day and you extrapolate that across a 47-week working year, that equates to businesses gaining an additional 21 working days a year and employees gaining the equivalent of an additional 25 days of annual leave every year.”

“However, only a quarter of those we surveyed said they want to work from home every day (26%). To maximise productivity SMEs would be best enabling employees to work from home three or four days a week which would see businesses gain an additional 13 days of work or 17 days of work respectively. Meanwhile staff would gain the equivalent of an additional 15- or 20-days annual leave respectively.”

“We believe that model of hybrid-working will be most productive for businesses and employees. As a business we passionately believe in empowering people to work anywhere and we believe in empowering our staff to define their own model of hybrid-working and to select a way of working that best suits each individual team member.”

“While great work can be done from anywhere, we still passionately believe in the power of offices as a space to come together to build relationships, bring staff together to bond and for attracting and retaining talent.”

For small businesses, what are the key challenges switching to hybrid- working?

“For SMEs the biggest challenge to move toward hybrid-working is having the buy-in of the workforce and getting a system in place that supports people and enables them to work at their best. Businesses need to carefully think through how they will put hybrid-working into practice and allow team members to make the most of their time in the office and working from home.”

“To make hybrid-working as productive, safe and compliant as it can be SMEs should carefully consider technology like virtual desktops which allows employees to work on any device but ensure that valuable business information doesn’t end up out of the hands of the business and on personal devices. Again, consulting with staff and getting their buy-in will help to ensure that the technology which is brought in is used in the most efficient way.”

Does hybrid-working also mean business owners and managers also have to change? Is emotional intelligence the key to a productive, healthy hybrid-workforce?

“Our survey found that more than a fifth of workers (22%) said the lack of social interaction which comes from homeworking had negatively affected their mental health.”

“When not meeting face-to-face it is more difficult to read people’s emotions. However, by commuting less and being away from the office less business leaders can invest additional time with their workforce. Our leadership team has held 121 video meetings with all staff to find out how the changes are affecting the team and to understand if there’s anything else we can do to support them at this time.”