Hybrid working is a simple concept – at least, on the surface.

As ACAS define it: ‘Hybrid working is a type of flexible working where an employee splits their time between the workplace [and] remote working’. But the definition belies complexity because hybrid work can refer to any combination of remote and office-based work.

This means there’s no definitive hybrid working model that works for everyone.

New research reinforces this, showing that disputes around flexible work have jumped by 50%. Sophie Vanhegan, Partner at employment law firm GQ Littler, comments:

‘The continued rise in employment disputes related to flexible working suggests employees and employers are still finding it tricky to agree on flexible working arrangements. Although many businesses have listened to their employees and implemented hybrid working models, in some cases it's proven difficult to find a balance that works for everyone.'

Should you mandate office days, so teams can work together? Or should teams decide for themselves, or should individuals? And how many days should employees work from the office? Do you care? Should you care?

It’s true that most employers are ready to embrace more flexibility. For example, a recent study found that 96% of organisations in the UK have become more flexible about where employees work since the pandemic.

But good intentions aside, hybrid working can be hard to get right. Business leaders must face the issue head-on, to build a hybrid work model that benefits everyone.

In theory, the hybrid work model benefits everyone

Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows that hybrid working has become the most desired model of work across the UK, with 84% of workers saying in February 2022 that they hoped to split their time between home and the office. The proportion of employees planning to return to the office permanently fell to only 8%. 

And employees typically feel extremely strongly about the topic. For example, a recent study by Microsoft found that more than 50% of workers in the UK would quit if their employer removed hybrid working as an option.

HR leaders recognise the truth of this. The same study found 38% of HR decision-makers believe there’s a risk of losing staff to organisations with better hybrid working options. 59% of HR decision-makers said hybrid working has had a positive impact on the mental well-being of their workforce. 25% felt abandoning the hybrid work approach would have a negative impact on productivity, well-being and burnout.

Given the UK faces extremely low employee engagement and is experiencing the worst productivity slump in a quarter of a millennium, hybrid working could be an answer to some of the biggest people challenges that organisations face today.

Hybrid working could also be a key to engaging the younger workforce; the leaders of tomorrow. A recent study from King’s College London found that 40% of 16 to 24-year-olds working in London find it easier to put themselves forward for tasks when working remotely, for instance, and 45% said it’s easier to ask questions.

Developing future leadership strength is a priority for most organisations, so developing policies that help attract, engage and retain great younger talent is important. 

But the many benefits of hybrid working don’t mean it’s an easy approach to get right. Here’s some guidance on how to build and implement a hybrid working model successfully in your organisation.

How to implement a hybrid work model successfully  

Set your vision for hybrid working

As we’ve said, there’s no single right answer to hybrid work, so no prescriptive recommendation will work for every organisation. Not least because hybrid working isn’t possible for everyone, irrespective of preference.

ONS analysis of how adaptable jobs are to remote working finds that frontline workers are among the least likely to be able to work from home, for example. Those most likely to be able to work remotely at least sometimes are employees in higher-paying jobs, like managers, directors, and senior officials and those in professional occupations.

Before you can outline a strategy for hybrid work, you need to know what you’re trying to achieve. To set this vision – and build a future workplace based on how not where we work – you need to understand how work happens across your organisation.

A strong people analytics practice is valuable here, as is strategic workforce planning – both of which centre on visualising your workforce at a granular level. The better you understand your workforce, the better positioned you are to implement a successful hybrid work policy.

Listen to your people

It’s clear that different employees have different needs and priorities from hybrid work. For example, perhaps Jude needs to work from home on Mondays and Tuesdays to handle childcare, while Sam wants to avoid the office commute on Fridays.

It’s difficult to build a hybrid working policy that accommodates everyone’s needs without understanding those needs first.

This could be as simple as prompting managers to gather feedback from their teams about hybrid working during one-to-ones, or you might choose more sophisticated employee feedback software. The global employee engagement and feedback software market is forecast to grow at 12% CAGR from 2022 to 2029 as many organisations embrace this approach.

Employee listening can pay dividends, not only for rolling out hybrid work successfully but continually, as you navigate today’s complex, changing and uncertain world of work.

Be open to different approaches

Your approach to hybrid work is unlikely to be set-and-forget, at least to start with. There’s not a proven roadmap to follow, because hybrid working is still relatively new for most organisations. (As ONS puts it, the pandemic drove an ‘unprecedented increase in homeworking’ from 2020). 

That means organisations are still very much working out what works for them on an ongoing and continuous basis. It might be, for example, that hybrid work isn’t the answer but a four-day working week is. Or flexible working should actually mean agile working, which is a related but different approach. Or perhaps, following Twitter’s recent lead, a full-scale return-to-the-office might suit your needs best. 

There are no simple answers to these questions – but an approach of trial, error, and close listening can help you work out the best path forwards.

Build a strong internal communications policy

Strong internal communications have become increasingly critical in a working world characterised by volatility, where employees rely on their leaders for support and transparency. For example, the BACP’s Public Perceptions Survey found that 58% of UK workers believe their employer is at least partly responsible for their emotional wellbeing.

Internal communications maturity is a major prong of fulfilling this duty of care to your people. It’s also especially important within the hybrid working context, to stop a dispersed workforce becoming a disconnected one.

Work closely with IT leaders

Hybrid working might feel more like an HR priority, but it has huge ramifications from a technology perspective too. That’s true both in terms of the hybrid employee experience and considering cyber security.

A 2021 study from Sapio Research warns: ‘while all indicators signal hybrid work environments are the future, most organisations [are] not fully prepared to deliver a seamless hybrid work experience.’

The study found that barely a third of respondents believe they’re prepared technologically to support the shift to hybrid work and 88% are concerned about digital disparity between in-office and remote employees.

Respondents highlighted three of the biggest barriers to adopting a hybrid work model: technology disruption (32%), poor home/remote network performance (31%), and expanded security risks (31%).

To make hybrid working a success, HR and IT leaders should work closely together.

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Remote work exploded onto the scene with COVID-19 and has cemented itself on the map. Employees overwhelmingly support hybrid working, and the onus now falls to employers to build a hybrid working model that can accommodate the needs of the organisation as well as its people. What is a hybrid working model? It’s whatever you imagine it to be. Allow that to be an empowering thought, not a frightening one.