Hybrid working is inescapable. Businesses encouraging employees back to their offices five days a week will be in the minority. Lockdown has shown that we can work at home without any impact on performance – but following through that approach to a long-term strategy isn't a case of just carrying on as you are.

5th October 2021

With social distancing restrictions eased, it doesn’t suit many employees to return to the office full-time, and businesses are realising the cost benefits of smaller workplaces and the performance and engagement gains of supporting people to work flexibly. While it might seem a no-brainer, hybrid working requires careful consideration.

We asked five internal comms experts for their advice on how to make a formal part-office/part-remote arrangement run smoothly.

JO COXHILL, general manager – communications and engagement, Volkswagen Financial Services, UK

Give your colleagues a voice at every step.

Moving to hybrid working will mean a total mindset, cultural and behavioural change. Facilitating open, two-way communication is essential, as is canvassing views from leaders and managers; their support in communicating, adopting and embedding hybrid working will be vital.

We hosted “Big Sofa” events, where colleagues discussed their desires and fears about hybrid working and we used this as the basis for our key principles. We are encouraging transparent communication at all times and keeping the conversation going.

Once you’ve introduced hybrid working, keep the feedback loop open by inviting and monitoring employee feedback. Pulse surveys are great for this. You’re unlikely to get everything right first time, but that’s OK. With open and honest feedback, things can be adapted, and you’ll arrive at your hybrid working utopia together.

ROISIN M REILLY, communication lead, University of Glasgow

Focus on outputs and keep it human.

We have a fantastic opportunity to create work cultures and environments where people are valued for their creativity and innovation – let’s not spoil it by insisting they are always at their computer!

As leaders and managers, ensure you are having honest and meaningful conversations with your teams so that they understand the expectations around availability and ways of working. It’s also important that each employee is able to share what is important to them. Why not host a virtual workshop and ask each member of staff to draw their vision of hybrid working? This helps everyone contribute to the team’s ways of working and means that each employee knows what good looks like and the etiquette to follow when they are working from home, the office or anywhere else.

ANDREA GREENHOUS, president, Vision2Voice

Prepare for a bumpy journey.

Hybrid is about more than just where people work – it’s about empowering people to determine the best way to get work done.

Communicate the future of work as a journey. It’s important to acknowledge that there’s going to be discomfort and turbulence, particularly with the emotions attached to this period in time.

There’s already a disconnect between what leaders expect and what employees want. Painting a rosy picture of a perfect finish line will only deepen this divide. Instead, recognise that you don’t have all the answers, and make employees partners in your journey by practising deep listening. If these are key elements of your strategy, your organisation will have a better chance of getting to a place where employees feel trusted, respected and empowered.

MIKE KLEIN, internal communication consultant, principal of Changing The Terms and founder of #WeLeadComms

Consider which comes first: office or remote.

Whether organisations emerge as office-based or remote-first, internal communication will definitionally move from being a support function to becoming both the bedrock infrastructure and strategic conversation upon which organisations either thrive or dive.

But the how will be very different. Reliance on office-based channels – physical meetings, townhalls, posters and digital signage – is baked into most organisations’ DNA. Office-based organisations will need to be wary of their continued use. Remote-first organisations, in turn, will need to build strategies from the ground up and avoid unleashing chaos with unscalable or less-than-inclusive platforms.  

IC will be under pressure to migrate cultures and core business activities while keeping a lid on noise and priority conflicts. The most important thing: this is no time to look inward or be too busy to seek support from peers or experts.

CLAIRE FOWLER, head of communications, Hays

Run deep consultations and keep conversations going.

Consultations with staff need to run deeper than simply asking what they want. It is about truly engaging with your staff to find a solution. If you haven’t done a consultation exercise, make sure they are two-way, that you don’t just consult en masse, and that you explain what’s at the heart of the decisions. For Hays, this was about our people, our performance and our culture and we wanted to be confident that our new agreement would enhance all of these.

We’ve made it clear that our new agreement might need more time to get it right – but that this is a collective effort that everybody has a voice in. The consultations shouldn’t stop with your new policy.

And there’s more...
Check out IoIC London’s webinar, Hybrid working – how to prepare for and manage a reimagined world of work, which considers the pitfalls and learnings of implementing a long-term strategy of hybrid working.

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