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Considerations for a permanent hybrid working model

By Sundara Sukavanam, Chief Digital Officer, Firstsource

Over the last 18 months, remote working models were rapidly rolled out with varying degrees of success. Now as offices can reopen in the UK many businesses find themselves in the middle of a debate: should they continue to support remote working or revert to office work? 

Instead of all or nothing, many employees and companies have their minds set on hybrid working. Below we explore why this approach might be the answer and what organisations can do to ensure the success of hybrid working models.

The case for keeping home working

Remote working options open a wider talent pool, in the UK this means greater access to 43 million people. This pool includes those who may find it difficult to permanently work in an office setting, such as parents with childcare responsibilities, those in rural areas and people with disabilities. 

Home-based employees are also more likely to be open to flexible working hours or splitting shifts. This can give businesses the needed bandwidth during peak periods which is especially important for functions such as customer service.  

Talent retention is another factor to consider. With many workers having adjusted to working from home, 30% of employees have said they are more likely to look for a new job if hybrid working is not an option. 

The benefits of retaining on-site operations

A hybrid approach maintains the elements of a traditional office setup that businesses need. For example, some tasks and processes require strict adherence to data and security protocols which are easier to implement in an on-site environment. 

There are also certain activities that are more effective in an on-site setting. For instance, delivering training in-person on-site gives employees a richer taste of company culture and might provide a more comfortable learning environment that can’t be matched in a home setting. Of course, let’s not forget about the water cooler moments. Being in the office allows employees to meet colleagues and have those informal and impromptu chats that are vital for supporting the team spirit. 

People come first

Therefore, when transitioning to a hybrid working model, it is important to meet the needs of both the office-based and home working staff. Doing so requires careful, long-term planning, listening to all employees to figure out what is and isn’t working and providing the right support. 

For example, virtual collaboration requires different tools, skills and capabilities for team members and leaders. Creating a sense of community presents unique challenges across a dispersed workforce. Leaders need to lean into practices that support this, such as setting up informal virtual forums to enable bonding, celebrating projects and successes in a way that includes all team members, and holding company-wide meetings for everyone to connect.

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When rolling out a work-at-home model for a leading media and broadcasting company, Firstsource put these practices into action. Staff received digitally enabled training to improve virtual employee engagement, with online learning courses facilitated by discussion through online break-out sessions. Consequently, the company’s net promoter score (NPS) – a loyalty and satisfaction measurement on a scale of 0-10 – for at-home associates was 4.5 points higher compared with the in-centre workforce. And productivity for remote employees was approximately 10% greater.

Adjusting the notion of ‘productivity’

While over half (58%) workers say they get more done while working from home this sense of productivity can be a double-edged sword. Once you start to view productivity as the number of meetings attended, you’re heading down a slippery slope. It’s the quality of interactions and outcomes that you need to focus on.  

Hybrid working requires adjustment to the collective mindset for how productivity is viewed. This mindset considers the environment most conducive to needed outcomes. For example, status updates can be tackled online. But if you need creative and collaborative output, then a half a day face-to-face meeting with a good old-fashioned whiteboard is likely to yield better results. 

Importantly, this mindset can’t be mandated. It needs to be supported by a group-up movement. One way to do this is to create project or team cohorts that can self-organise. Cohorts can be provided with guidance for face-to-face versus online meetings without being given mandates. This way members feel empowered to take ownership over the relationship they have as a team.  

Motivating and managing your employees for success

Effective planning and training are not the only components for ensuring a smooth transition to hybrid working. It also requires company-wide HR initiatives. 

There are many ways to achieve this, for example, at Firstsource we’ve introduced virtual rewards and recognitions across geographies, through our First Rewards platform. Additionally, our HR teams have introduced initiatives that focus on wider aspects of employee wellbeing with sessions such as online yoga classes to support physical health, personal finance masterclasses to help people manage their finances, and support around mental health. 

Highlighting how the pandemic has impacted the UK’s overall mood, a YouGov survey revealed 41% of Brits as feeling stressed and 38% feeling frustrated. This is why, since the start of the pandemic Firstsource trained 110 more Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA) in the UK. Now we have one MHFA for every 45 colleagues, helping employees feel more supported and cared for.

Ensuring a smooth transition 

Ensuring staff are heard is paramount when transitioning to a permanent hybrid working model. It’s also essential this is complemented with the correct planning and technology, as well as the provision of tailored training. By making it clear to all team members they are being listened to and supported by the business, both professionally and mentally, they have more reasons to be invested. 

With your team on board, businesses are best placed to take advantage of a hybrid working approach. Combining the advantages of a flexible, happy and productive workforce without losing the benefits of the camaraderie and safe environment to perform sensitive business tasks that can only happen in the office.

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