In the past two years or so, we’ve seen dramatic changes to how we work. But now, as we settle into a “new normal”, it’s clear that hybrid working is here to stay.
For many, this more flexible way of working is a welcome shift. Last year, research published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that 85% of employees who were working from home wanted a hybrid approach to work in the future. “It provides a level of flexibility and, if implemented well, gives a really strong balance of autonomy and collaboration,” says Lee Chambers, a business psychologist and founder of Essentialise Workplace Wellbeing.
Resistance to this new way of working is futile, says Dave Prezzano, managing director at HP UK and Ireland. “Rather than try and push staff back to the office, business leaders would do better to equip and empower people to perform at their best – wherever they may be.”
For managers, however, leading a hybrid team can create unique challenges. How can you keep your team connected when you’re not all under one roof? Here are four expert tips on how to make the most of hybrid working.
1 Add some structure
While the appeal of hybrid working is its flexibility, creating some structure within that helps, says Chambers. “By setting clear expectations, it stops that ‘them and us’ culture that can be really difficult to manage.”
If appropriate for your company, he says, it can help to share work schedules among the team, so people know who is working when, and from where. “It helps with expectations of how quickly something might be replied to and what might be the best way to contact someone.”
Alongside this, Chambers also recommends managers schedule quick one-on-one calls or emails to touch base with remote staff so they feel seen, cared for, and have the opportunity to discuss any issues they might not feel comfortable raising in a group meeting. “For those who are remote, make sure you’re organising check-ins, and try to do it informally,” he says.
2 Make sure your team feel supported
On making hybrid working a success, Prezzano warns that “it’s not as simple as just buying new solutions and waiting for productivity and wellbeing to magically maximise themselves”.
This is backed up by data, with 48% of UK hybrid workers reporting they feel disconnected from their organisation and colleagues due to remote working according to a Future of work report by Capgemini.
Chambers flags that it’s especially vital to make sure that new and younger employees are getting the support they need when they’re working remotely. “You can’t just roll your wheelie chair over to someone a bit more senior and ask them that quick question,” he explains. “I think managers have a responsibility to identify those who haven’t had that kind of office experience and give them a bit of extra support.”
Supporting staff across multiple locations is undoubtedly a “unique challenge”, as Prezzano puts it, but it’s vital if you’re to keep morale – and output – high.
Chambers’ recommendation is both simple and easy to implement. “Try to create spaces where employees can still get that informal learning and feel they’re getting that progression – even on days they’re not in,” he says. Regular team meetings and social get-togethers can help foster a sense of team spirit and help team members build bonds, while more formal initiatives such as annual performance and development reviews and mentoring schemes ensure learning, development and progression don’t slip off the radar.
3 Be inclusive during hybrid meetings
With a mixture of people joining from home and others in a conference room, hybrid meetings can be tricky. “You need to be an inclusive manager if you’re going to manage a hybrid team,” says Chambers.
But what can you do, practically, to make sure everyone is clearly seen and heard? “Technology that helps bridge the physical distance between team members and co-workers is critical,” says Prezzano. HP Presence is a video conferencing system designed to make sure everyone is clearly seen, and heard, no matter where they are – with features such as automatically adjusting volume levels. “All too often in hybrid meetings, the people joining remotely can be drowned out by those who are in the same room in the office – the loud get louder and the quiet get quieter,” Prezzano explains. “Adjusting the volume of remote attendee speakers means that their contributions to the discussion are heard, which encourages people to participate.”
As well as using technology that’s been specifically designed for the hybrid workplace, Prezzano also recommends being more structured in how you run your meetings, saying: “Giving one person the responsibility to help steward online meetings by paying attention to comments in the chat and inviting people who have ‘raised their hand’ to speak can go a long way to creating a more inclusive environment.”
4 Be brave, bold and agile
If there’s anything we’ve all learned over the past few years, it’s that long-held norms can change in the blink of an eye. The trick for managers? Be brave, bold and agile.
“Remaining competitive and building a resilient workforce in the modern marketplace requires a commitment to inclusivity – something that must be reflected in an organisation’s hybrid work tools, processes and solutions,” says Prezzano. “The steps that business leaders take now will define, in the months and years ahead, whether people struggle or thrive in the workplaces of the future.”
His solution? Embrace change rather than run from it. “If needed, we must be willing to rethink organisational and team structures and get the most out of new technologies and cloud applications, which can bring new levels of agility and real-time communication to hybrid work,” he says.
Chambers agrees. “I think managers need to expect the unexpected. There will be times when it doesn’t work, but it’s about how you react that really sets the tone for the whole team,” he says. To do this, he recommends managers tap into their softer skills and engage staff on a human level. “As a manager, it’s actually important to acknowledge that you’re learning how hybrid working works as well,” he says. “We’re all kind of learning how to do this together.”
Elevate your hybrid working experience with HP Presence – a more human collaboration solution. Whether you’re in the office or working from home, with HP Presence, everyone is seen, heard and able to share their thoughts as if they were in the same room. Discover more at hp.com/uk-en/solutions/presence.html