The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that, in the case of flexible work design, the impossible turns out to be possible after all. The enforced trial of homeworking has demonstrated to many that it works better than they could have imagined and perceived barriers have faded away as managers have learned to design work differently.

Looking to the future, 63% of participants in our employer survey said that they planned to introduce or expand the use of hybrid working to some degree, combining time in the workplace with time at home, depending on the needs of the job, the individual and the team, and the team working practices.

This report builds on our earlier research into homeworking during the pandemic and uses qualitative and quantitative research to identify seven strategies which organisations can use to make a success of hybrid working.

While these findings are based on UK research, the broader trends and implications should be of interest wherever you are based. 

7 strategies to make hybrid working successful in your organisation

Develop the skills and culture needed for open conversations about wellbeing

Many managers reported that they found it harder to pick up on how staff were feeling when working remotely. In a remote environment, managers need to create opportunities to talk about non-work issues and actively encourage openness to talk about wellbeing. Employers should:

  • Upskill managers to discuss wellbeing confidently.
  • Create an organisational focus on wellbeing.

For more information on having open conversations, see pp11–12 of the report.

Encourage boundary-setting and routines to improve wellbeing and prevent overwork

Many interviewees recognised that the loss of boundaries – in time and place – could lead to working longer hours. In addition to longer hours, the temptation to work without taking breaks could also be a challenge. To tackle this, HR should support managers and employees to:

  • Establish boundaries and routines – and monitor them across the team.
  • Take breaks between video calls.
  • Notice signs of overwork.

For more information on boundary-setting and routines, see pp12–13 of the report.

Ensure effective coordination of tasks and task-related communication

A number of interviewees recorded having to change the way that they co-ordinated work when it was performed remotely. To assist with this, employers should:

  • Set clear objectives.
  • Calibrate the frequency of task-related communication.
  • Develop more deliberate task-related communication.

For more information on the coordination and communication of tasks, see pp14–15 of the report.

Pay special attention to creativity, brainstorming and problem-solving tasks

Some tasks were harder to do remotely than others: brainstorming and problem-solving were often cited as particularly difficult, because some of the shared ideas, energy and creativity was lost. To tackle this:

  • Take time to explore the functionality of the technological solutions.
  • Identify which tasks are more effective face-to-face.

For more information on creativity, brainstorming and problem-solving, see pp15–16 of the report.

Build in time – including face-to-face time – for team cohesion and organisational belonging

The enforcement of total homeworking, without any opportunity to meet face-to-face, over an extended period of time, undoubtedly challenged engagement. HR directors were aware of the challenge of maintaining an organisational culture virtually. Solutions include:

  • Creating common purpose across the organisation.
  • Building personal and team relationships online.
  • Building in face-to-face time, post-pandemic.
  • Timetabling co-located working within teams.

For more information on team cohesion and organisational belonging, see pp16–18 of the report.

Facilitate networking and inter-team relationships

While intra-team networking might be taken care of by organising online team meetings and socials, inter-team networking shouldn't be left to chance. Employers should aim to:

  • Create opportunities for co-working with other teams.
  • Encourage inter-team relationships and networking at organisational level.

For more information on networking and inter-team relationships, see p18 of the report.

Organise a wider support network to compensate for the loss of informal learning

While informal learning can take place at any point, interviewees recognised several points at which learning needs were particularly intense. The challenge was not limited to technical learning about the job, but extended to learning about the organisation. To ensure informal learning can continue, employers can:

  • Recognise the points when learning needs are more intense.
  • Organise more structured development opportunities.

For more information on support networks, see pp19–20 of the report.

Download our flexible working report and case studies to learn more about our findings and recommendations

Report: Flexible working: lessons from the pandemic

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Case studies: Flexible working: lessons from the pandemic

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Key findings

Collaboration and upskilling have been boosted

Although collaboration is often mentioned as a challenge of homeworking, survey participants reckoned that both creating new ways to collaborate with IT tools, and IT upskilling, were benefits of homeworking, at 34% and 23% respectively.

Wellbeing has increased

The most frequently mentioned benefit of homeworking was increased wellbeing through avoiding the commute (46% of survey participants), followed by enhanced wellbeing because of greater flexibility of hours (39%).

Inclusion is improving

Normalising the use of technology could help inclusion for those with a disability or illness that prevented or impeded travel, and for those working in distributed teams.

Homeworking is not without distractions

A reduction in distractions also featured (33%), although given that lockdown enforced homeworking regardless of home circumstances, some employees were dealing with increased distractions.

Practical guidance for people professionals

Use our guide for HR to explore:

  • Seven strategies for effective and productive homeworking and hybrid working, focusing on what HR can do in terms of policy, support and training.
  • How to use the experience of the pandemic to build the business case for flexibility. 

Practical guidance for line managers

Download the line managers guide for advice on improving working practices and behaviours and supporting teams to make these a reality.

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