Jonny Combe, UK CEO of PayByPhone, shares five powerful ways to make the move to hybrid working successful
The move to hybrid working represents a huge opportunity for leaders. Great things can be achieved when the right balance is struck between remote working and office time. Strategically, now is the time for leaders to create hybrid working models that positively benefit their organisations and their people. And while change is often feared, we have a long history of adapting to change, even if there is early resistance. In years to come, companies that resisted flexible working will seem old-fashioned.
Pre-pandemic, traditional nine-to-five office culture was already eroding as more employers recognised that delivering real outcomes was more important than clock-watching or presenteeism. The Office of National Statistics found that online job advertisements mentioning homeworking terms have increased at a faster rate than total advertisements. In May 2021, homeworking advertisements were three times above the February 2020 average.
There are a few practical steps leaders can take to create truly successful hybrid working models.
High workplace performance comes from high self-esteem felt by the individuals in a team. This stems from feeling appreciated, valued and significant. Savvy leaders should view hybrid working as an opportunity to configure a working model that works not only for the individual but also for the business. Hybrid working turns the traditional nine-to-five working model on its head. Breaking away from the norms many of us have adhered to for years can only be effective when everyone is respected as responsible adults.
Professional adult-to-adult relationships work best in a culture of mutual trust and respect. Trust is vital for results-focused hybrid working – setting realistic goals, outcomes and commercial targets, and, crucially, letting individuals work out how they get there. Leaders must trust they will deliver.
Conversely, professional relationships that mirror parent-child relationships are not as effective in creating a culture of high self-esteem. In this type of parent-child model, successful hybrid working is stifled. Companies should aim to develop a model that is collaborative, not authority-led.
Drive a culture of recognition
In a hybrid workplace, it’s critical to build consciously a culture of kudos and recognition and to reinforce the behaviours you want to see virtually. In an office, it’s easy to say “well done” in the moment; with a hybrid office model, a virtual platform where people can easily channel recognition works well.
Employees put more energy into their work if they are recognised for what they do. Time invested in nurturing this culture pays dividends in staff motivation and output.
But it’s not just about formal policies. An organic, company-wide attitude of recognition is equally powerful. Managers play an important role in recognising the successes of their team — it doesn’t matter if it’s a one-on-one conversation, a note of thanks on a Post-It, a friendly email or an award nomination – it’s all part of the same process.
And kudos shouldn’t only be top-down; it should go up, down, sideways… Employees should feel able to let colleagues know when a job has been done well regardless of company hierarchy. This is an excellent way to reinforce the positive behaviours that make hybrid working effective in the long term.
At PayByPhone, we encourage people to use the Thank You channel in Slack, but there are a myriad of ways businesses can create accessible virtual platforms for employee recognition.
Flexibility helps everyone
In every organisation, some people thrive on working in the early morning and, conversely, others achieve more in the evening. Wherever possible, leaders should enable this flexibility because it delivers results and enhances staff wellbeing and morale. Everyone wins.
Leaders must communicate clearly and set realistic, measurable expectations. But positive reinforcement and being flexible, particularly with working hours, leads to better outcomes than a rigid, authoritarian approach.
The greater flexibility of a hybrid working model streamlines workflow and means better work-life balance for everyone, particularly parents. They can be more present in their children’s lives, incorporating school pick-ups into their workday. This immediately offsets the guilt acknowledged by many working parents. In return, employees granted more flexibility have been shown to more than repay their employer with increased loyalty and higher engagement with their work.
Attract and retain young employees
Younger employees generally adapt well to hybrid working and its technology, so employers will find it easier to attract and to retain enthusiastic Millennials and Generation Z employees if they adopt this approach. The on-boarding process is critical for people in the early stages of their careers so leaders should consider extra support, such as mentoring, to address this either face-to-face or virtually.
Process and autonomy are certainly not mutually exclusive in a professional context. In fact, autonomy is not a free-for-all. HR functions such as performance reviews are still important in hybrid workplaces. Setting OKRs — objectives and key results — brings clarity and facilitates autonomy. When team members don’t need constant supervision because of clear OKRs, leaders can focus on developing the business rather than micro-managing.
Looking to the future
Hybrid working is here to stay. We are all still adapting to this new way of working, but the quest for perfection should not overshadow the excellent progress most businesses have made. There will be hard days and there will be fall-out when people can’t do something or don’t know how to do it, but leaders should meet every new challenge head-on.
By developing a culture of trust, collaboration and recognition, leaders should make it easier for their people to approach them – with ideas, proposals, even complaints. Leaders must do more than just pay lip service to hybrid working — they must be committed to making it work for everyone.