Why it is vital to plan your approach to hybrid working now

Larger organisations are announcing a permanent shift to hybrid working post-pandemic. Names such as Capita, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Unilever, Microsoft, and Google have said full-time office working is a thing of the past.

In fact, the BBC recently carried out a survey of the UK’s 50 biggest employers, from banks to retailers. Almost all said they didn’t intend to bring staff back to the office full-time.

This concurs with our survey of housing associations too. 99% said they would not be returning to the old model of working.

The picture is clear – employers want a hybrid working future.

But there is a problem. 68% of organisations have not described what hybrid working looks like to staff (McKinsey & Company). They don’t have a plan.

The anxiety risk

Whilst employees also favour a hybrid approach to work (52% of workers, according to McKinsey & Company), they need to know what that looks like in practice.

After 18 months of turmoil, almost half feel somewhat burnt out, whilst at least one in four are anxious about future working practices. McKinsey & Company suggests as many as 47% are experiencing some level of anxiety.

Without a clear path, employees will create their own narrative to uncertainties such as:

  • Will I be COVID-safe at work?
  • Will I have to commute during rush-hour?
  • What will my day look like?
  • Will my job role and responsibilities have changed?
  • Is my job under threat?
  • How will I manage my work relationships face-to-face?

Anxiety has a direct impact on productivity. It promotes strained work relationships, reduces job satisfaction, and in turn, lowers performance.

As a leader, you must consider the term anticipatory anxiety in relation to your team. How tolerant is each employee to uncertainty and change? What is their anxiety threshold likely to be?

Whether extrovert or introvert, they will have frustrations and concerns right now. Extroverts feel isolated at home and are desperate to return to the social office. They spark from continual interaction and conversation. Meanwhile, introverts are generally comfortable with home working and fear what office life would feel like for them.

However you look at it, evolving into a hybrid model is a huge psychological challenge for all concerned. And during the transition, you must maintain your organisation’s performance and customer service.

To reduce your risk, you must plan.

Define your hybrid and communicate

Some call it a ‘re-imagination of the workplace’. As hybrid is simply a term, you must define what this looks like for your organisation – at a strategic and a practical level.

Forming a multi-level working party involving leaders and employees will benefit the process.

Staff insight and ideas can be incredibly valuable, whilst helping to get buy-in on the best way forward. Flexibility will be key. What suits one set of people will be inappropriate for others.

As leaders, you must understand what is important to your employees right now and accommodate this in your hybrid plan.

Multi-level, multi-department engagement and communication is crucial. It is impossible to return to normal. In fact, ‘normal’ is what we are dealing with now. New territory for everyone – leaders and staff – it is important to create a way forward that delivers for all.

A new style of leadership

In meetings where some of the team is in the room and others attend via video link, leadership skills must adapt. Empathy, listening and agility have become more important than ever.

Are your leaders equipped?

You cannot insist someone works from the office exactly as you want. In today’s environment, you will soon lose key people. And given the recruitment market is now national, thanks to remote working, you will quickly experience the toughening war for talent. This is already evident in professions where skills are short nationally.

Consider your lockdown recruits. Their induction was completed remotely. Now meeting the team face-to-face for the first time, how will this alter team dynamics? And should their induction be repeated in a physical setting?

Positive learnings from lockdown

Whilst most are happy to be post-lockdown, good came from this challenging time. What will you take into your new hybrid way of working?

Staff coming into the office will lose their freedoms. Their ability to blend home life, childcare, and work to suit them. How can you help this transition?

Many skills were learnt during lockdown. Some employees developed better self-management skills. Many became more IT literate and learnt a raft of communication skills. How will these evolve into your new working model?

You need a plan now

To say you will work to a hybrid model is not enough. Your employees need to know exactly what this looks like. Now is the time to start considerable planning.

Should you operate your hybrid model without careful thought and widespread communication, your risk to employee well-being and productivity is high. In today’s ever-fluctuating business world, risk is something everyone wants to minimise.


Ian Roberts EMA Consultancy

Ian Robertson

Executive Director

01926 887272