Business management

Building the bridge: 10 steps to supporting a happy hybrid workforce

Hybrid working brought in on a temporary basis is now becoming mainstream and permanent. Lily Asumadu, Employment Law and HR Consultant at NatWest’s Mentor service, provides key insights.

10 steps to supporting a happy hybrid workforce

1. Have a clear communication strategy

Make the messages as focused and concise as possible. Employers need a plan of what they actually intend to communicate. When communication becomes unclear, we lose engagement and participation. Employers must ensure managers are prepared for the new system of working. This will speed up their knowledge in terms of being confident and able to respond to an employee’s queries.

2. Focus on employee well-being

Well-being means different things to different people. For some employees, it comes from being in the office most of the time – working away from the office to them might seem like lone working. For others, well-being comes from being at home, where they feel more productive and less distracted. For a third group, a mix of office and home will suit them best. From the manager’s point of view, the key is to understand how individual employees feel about hybrid working and hold discussions on what would suit both parties. Supporting employees with hybrid working not only enhances employees’ work-life balance but, most importantly, boosts their mental well-being.

3. Check-in regularly

Sometimes, a casual passing comment from manager to employee, such as “how are you?” can lead to insights. An employee might say “it was so hot today, it’s making me feel unwell and there’s so much to do”. That gives us two insights. First, it tells us the work environment might not be conducive and second, there’s something about workload for us to pick up on. A potential problem with hybrid working is that these casual conversations are reduced, or do not happen at all; the take-out for managers is to ensure they still happen through regular dialogue with employees.

When communication becomes unclear, we lose engagement and participation. Employers must ensure managers are prepared for the new system of working

Lily Asumadu
Employment Law and HR Consultant at NatWest Mentor

4. Cement trust

Trust comes from managers knowing what to do and communicating that knowledge clearly. Understanding that face-to-face and remote working are fundamentally different, will help employers upskill and see what needs addressing. Bear in mind that the pandemic is still with us. Employers should adapt quickly to the changing needs of employees (where practicable). It reinforces [a message] in the employee’s mind that this is an employer with a duty of care towards their workers.

5. Balance productivity versus workload

Assess how effective each employee is when working from different areas. That might be at home, in the office, in a shared workspace or hot-desking. Ensure colleagues don’t struggle with workload in another staff member’s absence. Think twice when something urgent comes up. There might be a situation where two employees are not in the office one morning – who can pick this up? Assert if the task can wait for the absent employee to return to pick up the task, or whether it can be done remotely – don’t pass on additional workloads to employees present at work just because they happen to be available.

6. Encourage regular meetings 

Working from home can lead to feelings of alienation for some staff, even if they are broadly happy to be working from home most of the time. The frequency or periodic face-to-face meetings will depend on the individual organisation and their business requirements. There might be a rota in place and certain days to meet might not suit all. It is important employers find points of agreement and are prepared to be flexible and reasonable. A smaller organisation might be able to get everyone together on the same day, once a week where feasible. For employers considering face-to-face meetings, government guidelines should be followed.

7. Rethink the geography

How well are your staff set up to work from home? A key consideration for SMEs is the requirement to invest in equipment that enhances effective homeworking. Staff need to be provided with adequate systems to work with. Inadequate systems lead to frustration, which equals stress, and subsequently an impact on the well-being of the hybrid workforce. So, when you run a health-and-safety assessment for working from home, think about effectiveness as well. Bear in mind also that the onus is on both parties to ensure they’re working safely. The employer needs to run checks, but the employee needs to point out their particular needs and concerns.

8. Be adaptable

An organisation builds a reputation for trust if it responds quickly to employees’ issues. That doesn’t mean having to provide answers instantly, it just means being responsive. If an employee has a set-up where they work from home Tuesday and Thursday, and perhaps for childcare reasons they want to change to Monday and Wednesday, the request shouldn’t disappear down an administrative black hole; the organisation should be able to respond promptly. Where answers aren’t readily available, provide a realistic timetable for that response.

9. Know the new definitions

There’s a difference between flexible working and hybrid working; make sure managers are confident about terminology. Hybrid working is a form of flexible working. The difference between the two is that there is no legal right for employees to request hybrid working; unlike with flexible working, where employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous service have a right to make such a request.

10. Do things differently

The sturdy bridge is one that bounces as people walk over it – a brittle one will snap. Find out what your organisation needs to do differently in order to make hybrid working effective, productive and successful for both parties. Introducing team-building exercises, for example, can be good here. Once systems have been agreed review them regularly – don’t set things in stone.

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