When the British government lifted the restrictions around movement and work practises in February 2022, perhaps understandably, many companies, their staff and contractors, didn’t rush back to life in the pre-pandemic office. Many had discovered new-found levels of productivity, increased work-life balance and in some cases, cost-savings thanks to reduced rent on now redundant premises. Nevertheless, while some professionals continued to work from home, others favoured a return to the ‘office’, whether a traditional shared workspace or a theatre, restaurant or hair salon. After all, it’s difficult to cut someone’s hair over the phone.
Data from the Office of National Statistics paints a clear picture that remote working has increased from pre-pandemic levels*, with many workers now expecting their employers to show a much greater degree of flexibility around home-based work than they did prior to 2020. For business leaders this necessitates embracing the benefits of a hybrid-workforce whilst also taking steps to confidently tackle the inevitable challenges created by having more home-based workers.
Telecommunications expert and mayflower director, Mike Allison, shares what he believes it takes for business leaders and their organisations to thrive in the new season.
Embrace the benefits
“Firstly, all managers need to lead from a place of optimism and in this situation, that means sincerely embracing all the great opportunities that hybrid and remote working cultures create” says Mike Allison. “It’s a no-brainer that if our employees are happier about their work, maybe because they can avoid a three-hour commute and spend more time with family – or even just get enough sleep! – then they will perform better at their job. Improved baseline job satisfaction also means our team members have more emotional capacity to deal with stresses or difficulties when they arise and aren’t so likely to burn out.”
Hybrid working can allow for new ways of thinking to emerge and team dynamics to evolve in positive ways explains Mike: “Virtual meeting rooms and collaborative working software have made it possible for a more diverse range of people to come to the table and share ideas as geography need no longer be a barrier.”
“Remote working practises can also make it easier to recruit the right person for the job by opening up more potential candidates; the person with the best skills and experience simply may not live within commuting distance to the ‘office’, but now they can still become a valuable member of the team,” says Mike.
Reduced over-heads can also be a benefit of a remote-working culture. “I know companies that no-longer pay a monthly rental bill for a dedicated office; instead, they hire a great venue once a month and everyone comes together for fun and friendship as well as in-depth strategic discussion. The cost is much cheaper and the buzz of being together on those days is tangible,” explains Mike Allison.
To make the most of these opportunities, organisations must have a reliable communications infrastructure to support fast-paced innovation and hybrid teams. “It means providing team members with fast internet, network security and purpose-built virtual office space where individuals can meet, discuss and give feedback in real time.”
Prepare for the challenges
Naturally, every model can have its draw-backs and each business will be assessing its own strategy on a regular basis, taking into account the needs of the company and the staff. For those who whole-heartedly embrace remote-working, whether for some of all of their staff, or for some or all of the time, there will be different challenges to overcome. Mike Allison shares three top tips:
1. Manage expectations through clear communication
“Clarifying expectations is always important, but especially when your team members aren’t just down the corridor,” says Mike. Everyone needs to know what others expect from them, and ideally, to agree that those expectations are reasonable. This should include conversations around hours of work, whether people are sharing an office space at home and if so, how they will protect privacy when needed. It also means learning people’s preferred method of communication (video chat, email, text message etc), whether people are happy to be interrupted spontaneously for non-emergencies or whether they like advance notice.
“Leaders of remote and hybrid teams can avoid many pitfalls by staying flexible, asking lots of questions, not making assumptions, giving clear information about deadlines and fostering a culture of open dialogue and feedback,” says Mike.
2. Schedule all the conversations so they actually happen
“When we work in an office with people every day all sorts of conversations naturally occur that are hugely beneficial to the culture of the business: people talk about their weekend activities, share news about family and make time for a laugh, in-between sharing their latest solution to a business problem or a new idea. These are unlikely to happen by chance when your team works remotely so be proactive and make space for all sorts of conversations through some form of regular schedule that everyone understands,” Mike says.
- Social catch-ups – These are virtual meetings when you don’t discuss work – it’s all about building connection and staying up-to-date with how people are feeling. For some, it’s a great way to start the week, and for others it’s best at 4pm on a Friday with an optional glass of wine. Some teams meet for this daily – others once a week. It can help for someone to facilitate this to ensure everyone has an equal voice and no-one sits silently in the corner of the screen the whole time. How long you give to it will depend on the team.
- One-to-ones – In an office environment, leaders can grab an individual at the coffee machine for a private chat, or head out for lunch. In a hybrid workspace, it’s still important to schedule regular conversations with home-working individuals, especially as it gives them a chance to raise issues or share concerns that they might otherwise be too busy to address.
- Regular check-ins – Who needs a check-in daily and who just needs that once a week? Can team members check in with each other, or does the leader need to do that? These are issues every team needs to nut out, but it’s important that people have some regular point of contact to prevent isolation and loneliness, and to keep the team spirit strong.
3. Strive for seamless connectivity
Keeping the connection strong also requires solid technology. If some people have an unreliable internet connection, that can cause problems. Using different software can also create headaches. Thankfully, a growing army of cloud-based solutions are here to support businesses and teams with project management, team planning, creative collaboration and video conferencing, but everyone needs to be properly trained on how to use these tools and to feel confident to ask for support when they are struggling with using them. There is also the issue of access to company information and documents: where are files stored and does everyone have access to these, including those who work remotely? Is sensitive and confidential information stored in the cloud or over a VPN?
“Many companies find that they need a reliable and future-ready telecommunications partner to help navigate these issues – one who has technical gravitas but also helpful experts available to provide support 24/7, the whole year round,” concludes Mike Allison.
With the right leadership approach and the right communications partner businesses who adopt a hybrid model of office and home-based work can thrive and be competitive.
Mike Allison is available for a free consultation today. Get in touch with mayflower to find out more.
In February 2022, more than 8 in 10 workers who had been forced to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic said they planned to hybrid work. Since then, the proportion of people working hybrid (home- and office-based) rose from 13% in early February to 24% in May 2022.