How should business owners react to the challenge of hybrid working?
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 led to the greatest upheaval in working since the second world war.
According to government figures, more than 11 million people were furloughed. Millions of others started homeworking as employers, and business owners struggled to cope with the enforced closure of their offices and other places of work.
18 months on, things are slowly returning to normal. But given the impact of homeworking, and the fact that – in many cases – it has proved to be a great success, it’s clear that the pandemic has been a big game-changer.
When it comes to where and how we work, things may well never be the same again.
Different structures and ways of working are being proposed and tried. One of these is “hybrid working” – effectively companies setting up flexible working arrangements between home and office for their employees.
Read on to discover why hybrid working may well be the future, and the challenges this poses for business owners.
Homeworking has advantages for employers and employees
The stereotypical nine-to-five working day in a workplace doesn’t suit everyone.
People are productive at different times. Some may work more effectively first thing in the morning. Conversely, others may be night-owls who do their best work while the rest of us are starting our evening meal.
They are also impacted by external factors, such as their family life. Homeworking can make it easier for parents to manage childcare. It can also improve their work-life balance by removing the time spent commuting from their daily schedule.
One key thing to remember is that many of these advantages apply equally to business owners as to their employees.
But there are downsides to working at home
It’s important not to lose sight of the downsides to homeworking, however. Again, these can apply just as much to business owners as to the people who work for them.
Above all else, not every job lends itself to homeworking. I’m not just referring to the obvious example of a shop or other customer-facing scenarios. Some businesses are structured in such a way that working in the same location is essential to the success of the business.
Many business owners feel more comfortable having all the business in one place. Staff can be more accountable and it’s often easier to monitor the status of specific projects and tasks if they are being carried out in front of you.
Alongside that, not everyone’s home set-up lends itself to homeworking. There’s also the importance of social interaction in an office or other work environment that you don’t get if you’re working on your own at home.
Hybrid working – the best of both worlds?
So maybe one solution is to create the situation where employees can split their time between home and their place of work.
On a basic level, this means organising your workforce by balancing time spent in central offices with remote working.
Drilling deeper, it could entail your employees working in different places at different locations at different times, perhaps on a week-by-week or even day-by-day basis.
This type of hybrid working could provide you with a great opportunity to reinvent the way your business works and create a more productive – and agile – way of working for both you and your employees. Happy employees tend to be more productive, so a successful hybrid strategy could be the key driver in taking your business to the next level.
There’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution, however. What works for one business won’t necessarily work for another. Different businesses will have different requirements, and business owners will want to consider different models of hybrid working.
These will depend on factors such as the type of work being carried out, the size of your workforce, and the timeframes within which certain work must be done.
Probably, above all else, it depends on what you, as the business owner, are comfortable with.
The key criteria must be the success of your business
Dramatically changing the way your business works can’t be done overnight. You will clearly have built and grown your company in a certain way, and with a certain working structure. To suddenly change that needs planning and thought.
You also need to have a clear idea of the actual work each of your employees carries out, and whether this can be done just as effectively under a hybrid working arrangement.
There are big and tangible advantages to hybrid working: it could likely mean reduced workspace being required, thus reducing one of your biggest business overheads.
It can also help when it comes to recruitment. If proximity to the place of work is no longer an issue, it means you can widen the geographic net – even to the extent of recruiting from overseas.
Employment contracts obviously must state a contractual location. This may not change because of hybrid working – depending on what’s agreed with each individual employee – but employees who work permanently from home should have their home address as their workplace.
A robust communication strategy is essential
Possibly the most important factor when it comes to the success of hybrid working for your business is communication.
You need to ensure you have a strategy in place that you’re totally happy with. As some of your employees may not be in the workplace full-time – or at all – the ad hoc interaction you may be used to won’t be possible. Whereas before, someone could lean across a desk to ask a question, now that has to be done online.
Clearly there are secure messaging apps for business, such as Slack, that make this relatively straightforward. But you need to be happy that this will enable the level of immediate engagement required for successful internal business communication.
At a higher level, online meetings have become very much the norm during lockdown. Again, however, you need to be comfortable with this.
It’ll be perfectly understandable if you want to ensure a certain level of face-to-face interaction with your employees. You may well find that they will want this too.
You get to make the final decision
Hybrid working presents challenges for businesses in aligning people and performance against business objectives and strategy.
If it’s carried out successfully it can give companies a big advantage, making them agile and potentially putting them ahead of competitors.
The key factor to bear in mind is that, ultimately, it’s your company – the business you’ve worked hard to build and drive forward. Any final decision on hybrid working is down to you because you have the most at stake.
Get in touch
I’m not an HR specialist, so wouldn’t presume to tell you how to manage your own business when it comes to hybrid working. I believe I can advise you when it comes to financial planning, however.
If you think I can help you, give me a call on 0203 813 8265 and we’ll set up a convenient time for a clarity call.