Healthy Hybrid – It’s the quality of the interaction, not the frequency.

  • Kristal McNamara, Co-Founder at Workwell PCS>
  • AuthorKristal McNamara, Co-Founder at Workwell PCS

When we speak to employers about how hybrid working is going for them, their focus is typically on how often their people are coming into the workplace. Many are mandating employees come into the workplace 3 days a week. 

Employee Choice

But many employees have become used to the luxury of choosing where and when they work. So, taking this away from them feels like a huge loss of autonomy and freedom.  Moreover, employers that implement frameworks to enable employees to work in a dynamic way have proven to make a positive impact, with workplace attendance rising from an average daily attendance of 29% to 41% – almost the same as when a 3-day week is mandated (BBC, 2022; Forbes, 2022).

And at a time when employers are struggling to attract and retain their talent in an ultra-competitive market, it’s worth seriously considering what your employees want.

In our view, a day spent travelling to and in a workplace doing what could have been done remotely is more damaging than not coming in at all. If it feels like a waste of their valuable time that is going to impact employee morale, wellbeing, productivity and ultimately organisational culture.

At Workwell PCS, we help businesses develop and apply HR and workplace change that prioritises people, climate and society. We specialise in the development of effective hybrid working. We ask employers to consider the quality of the time teams spend in the workplace, not the frequency.

According to a recent CIPD study, before the pandemic, 19% of UK workers worked from home all or most of the time. By the end of 2021, 74% were doing all or most of their job from home. Employees have adapted to a completely new way of working and most have enjoyed this new flexibility and are settled into a different way of work. Statistically it takes 66 days to establish a habit: by spring of 2022, when a permanent return to working life looked possible in the majority of countries, 700 days had passed since the start of pandemic. New habits had been established in people’s lives, and completely new routines, we simply aren’t the same people as we were pre pandemic.

Employee Voice

Employee voice (understanding what your employees think and feel and enabling them to express that) is so important when you are trying to consider the way your teams work. We engage with teams in the form of surveys, interviews and focus groups so that we can independently assess the employee voice and use this insight to implement frameworks for future ways of working.

Ruth Woodsford, Professor of Equalities and Organisation, School of Management at the University of St Andrews shared insight into the importance of employee voice in a recent CIPD article.

‘Enabling employee voice is key to developing sustainable working patterns, building engagement and cementing best practice. However, the danger of employee silence is particularly relevant in the pandemic context, where it is more difficult to gauge employee trust, motivation levels and opinion.’ 

She goes on to say, ‘organisations predicted to fare best in the long-term following the COVID-19 pandemic are those prioritising employee wellbeing and safety. And voice, as we have seen, is closely related to these organisational characteristics.’

Employees are coming back to the workplace a few days a week and many offices are very quiet on Mondays and almost empty on Fridays. In fact, office workers are going into the office an average of 1.5 days a week, suggesting an average daily attendance of 29%, according to a recent Advanced Workplace Associates survey of 43 offices in the UK (BBC, 2022).

At Workwell PCS we ask employees to take a step back from their diaries, recurring meetings and commitments, to consider the work they do. That includes when, where and how they need to do it, and how and when they come together as a team. Autonomy in the workplace does not have to look the same for every team in the same company. People have different working styles and personalities. The outcomes are most effective when you enable every individual team to decide how autonomy looks for them.

Antonia Seymour, CEO at Institute of Physics Publishing told us “We learned that, regardless of geographic area, the majority of our colleagues said they appreciate the freedom of working from home but value the social connections which hold together the physical and the digital workplace.”

“We worked with Workwell PCS to put in place team level agreements on the ways our teams will work together and how often they will meet in-person. Some of our teams have decided to meet in the office either once a month or once every quarter whereas others come together much more often.”

IOPP have 350 people based in their Bristol HQ but have only put in place 90 desk alongside more flexible workplace settings. The role of smart building tech, combined with engagement, research and new ways of working, has enabled a transformation of their approach to work, and will support their goals of attracting and retaining talent.

“With our new ways of working now in place, the role of our office has also changed to accommodate social cohesion and collaboration. Our space is designed to bring colleagues together whether that be in-person or in hybrid ways, whilst smart building technology is instrumental in helping us adapt.”

Whatever your approach to hybrid working, engage with your employees to find out what works well now; what needs to change; and how you can adapt ways of working to retain them. On your job descriptions share the details of the different working options available, so that employees can compare their options. That way you can make sure you’re competitive in the employment market as well as contributing to individual wellbeing.