Transitioning To A Hybrid Working Model

Posted in : HR Updates ROI on 13 April 2021
Niall Eyre
Issues covered: Remote Working; Hybrid Working; A-typical working

Transitioning to a hybrid model - How to navigate complexities, make and communicate decisions to arrive at the right destination…

Seismic change in the design of work is underway. The when, where and how work is completed is a critical question. As organizations move out of the Covid bubble key decisions must be made. What is the work design plan? How do we navigate through this? How and when do we engage with employees? If remote working is to be part of organisational life, how will this be communicated and implemented? If a hybrid work model is the preferred option, how many days will employees attend the office and/or work remotely?

Never in the history of HR have such critical questions been asked when answers are not prescribed or validated. Questions are at the forefront of HR leaders’ minds and progressive organizations are moving forward. However, some organizations are making decisions without all aspects been thought through.

For example, within the Global Tech sector, (e.g. Google, LinkedIn, Facebook) there are interesting developments. Earlier in the pandemic many Global Tech. organizations communicated a policy of “remote first” with indications that employees could be based anywhere and work outside the office, over the longer term. Recent updates from this sector provide a nuanced context. The expectation is employees are required to be located within travelling distance of an office location as employees will be required to attend the office for “some periods” – as always, the devil is in the detail.

The approach where employees can work (100% of their time) from home is not gaining traction. As a HR practitioner I can understand this rationale. Currently, the “office” is undergoing a microscopic review regarding its role within the world of work. It will have a smaller footprint, yet there is high-desire for co-located work and a human-interaction work culture. These considerations are proving difficult to ignore.

Recent announcements from PWC, IBM and Unilever outline the approach many organizations are pursuing i.e. the hybrid work model. This model has been explained in terms of number of days in office (2 or 3) or time spent in office i.e. 50% - 60%. This provides for a mix of time spent through home and office working and appears to be a work model of the future.

A question is how can organizations make decisions and engage with employees regarding this?

The following steps are a guide:

1. Formulate a cross functional work group with representation from business functions, business levels, ensuring diversity.

HR should lead this work and act as a thought leader, providing relevant data, information, emerging practices and analysis of relevant employment laws. Through open and transparent dialogue, the work group should focus on two key questions.

What work model works best for the business?

What work model works best for employees?

 2. Agree “core” design principles

The work group should establish “core” design principles that will act as a barometer for recommendations made. Examples of core design principles are… “we value face to face time in office”, “our work design solutions are to be equitable across the business”, “access to development opportunities and promotions are to be consistent across remote working and co-location teams”    Once agreed the core design principles greatly assist the work group in formulating recommendations.      

3. The work group considers a range of options, considering: - business goals, employee feedback and perspectives, desired work culture, transformation challenges etc

The work group should focus on the balance required for co-location and remote working. What is the best balance? Why and when should employees attend the office? What work can be completed inside and outside the office?

In these discussions the work group assess challenges specific to the remote work model i.e. ensuring innovation and creativity, the potential impact to work culture, the effect on existing coaching and mentoring methods and management of internal opportunities and promotions. These items are proving significant challenges for organisations; evidence is mounting regarding employer concerns for these areas.     

4. Agree a work design model for returning to the office / implementing a new work model

The work group should present recommendations to senior leadership for assessment and review. This interaction is critical. The rationale and validation for recommendations should be explained by the work group and senior leadership can use the recommendations as a base for action, making decisions and/or changing or modifying as required.             

5. Engagement with employees detailing the plan and path forward

A critical aspect is for leaders to engage with employees with an explanation of the approach and details of the plan to return to office. Employees want clarity at this juncture and time for surveying employee opinions/surveys has elapsed. It is important to provide adequate notice to employees, regarding changes to work routine and allow enough time for employees to make suitable personal and family arrangements. Ideally, the organization should enable employees to work within a transition period of 3-6 months as employees get used to the new routine. This flexibility will be very well received by employees. 

The steps outlined are broad in nature yet provide a template for decision-making and engagement with employees in relation to new ways of working. Communication with clarity is required and solutions proposed are a balance of the needs of the business and the needs of employees. All this is occurring within the context of a changing working world.

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This article is correct at 13/04/2021

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Niall Eyre

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