Hybrid working ‘must address diverse needs and concerns’

Out-Law News | 23 Feb 2021 | 12:00 am |

Kate Dodd tells HRNews how the hybrid working model is a difficult balancing exercise
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  • Transcript

    Is your business considering a hybrid working model, combining remote and in-office working? If so, how do get the balance right, attracting and retaining talent but lowering costs by closing office spaces. The office space provider IWG predicts hybrid working is here to stay. CEO Mark Dixon is quoted in the London Evening Standard explaining how Covid-19 has 'accelerated the shift to a new way of working'. The FTSE 250 listed firm is literally banking on it – it is revamping its business model to focus on a 'mix-and-match' of home and office working by offering its facilities to more companies looking to reduce their reliance on their own properties. People Management reports a study showing that job postings for remote roles have tripled during lockdown – mostly in marketing and IT – but Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, warns that whilst hybrid working is here to stay employers need to recognise those employees who can't work from home, for whatever reason, and ensure those people are offered a wide range of flexible working arrangements such as flexitime, compressed hours, term-time working and job sharing. 

    McKinsey has studied the hybrid model in the US, with lessons for the UK. Their report 'Reimaging the post pandemic workforce' says success depends on addressing two primary factors: the type of work your employees tend to do and the physical spaces they need to do that work. They conclude that very few companies should adopt a fully virtual model and those that do are likely to operate in specific industries such as outsourced call centres, IT and the like. Why is that? They give two reasons. First people need to physically meet and interact to create social cohesion and make business work. Secondly, staff need to be able to meet colleagues regularly for their own wellbeing. So, the risk is, if you're not offering that, they'll not join your business. 

    The FT ran an article on this in October called 'How to make the hybrid workforce model work' which spelt out a clear role for HR which is getting absolute clarity about job roles to decide which tasks are best suited to home such as writing a report or the office such as brainstorming. 

    So let's get a view on this because one of the lessons coming across from McKinsey is that getting the balance right isn't easy and the risk is, given the pandemic with so much remote working, the scales have tilted too far that way. Kate Dodd is a diversity consultant – she joined me by video-link from Manchester to discuss this:

    Kate Dodd: "It's really interesting isn't it because I think for so many people, and for so many businesses, where there wasn't any flexibility, where working from home was not seen to be the done thing, and there was a lack of trust. Then, of course, the pandemic has provided a really good opportunity for people to demonstrate that they can be really effective from home and it has given a lot of people the option and, hopefully going forward, the idea of a better work life balance, that they will get more choice. As you say, though, I think the longer this pandemic goes on, the more we are actually risking going too far the other way and that the voices of those people who are desperate to get back into the office are not necessarily being heard. The thing that worries me, Joe, is that plans are being made, leases are being given up, not renewed etcetera, and those people are not being consulted in the way that they should be, and that's going to cause a problem for those businesses in the future."

    Joe Glavina: "No doubt businesses will say well look, there has been a pandemic, we have to cut costs and closing expensive office space is necessary and, in fairness, there's a strong case for that."

    Kate Dodd: "Yes, I mean there is a strong case and actually, you know, already I think lots of businesses were saying, look, on a Friday, we're pretty empty so why are we paying for all this office space? I do think there are savings to be made but I think it has to be done within reason and we're hearing of companies who are saying, right, no one's coming back, or you have to have a valid reason to come back into the office every time you want to come in. I've heard of businesses already starting to transform their offices, give up space and create only collaborative meeting spaces, people not being able to have desks to go and work there, and I think there has to be a balance somewhere in the middle. There should be savings to be made, there is no point having offices sitting empty, but also, of course, there has to be the opportunity for people who want to, to come in and work in office spaces, and to have that energy, the collaboration, that opportunity to learn, to be supervised, to be involved in things, to be included. All of that sense of belonging, really, for some people does rely on them being in the office and my worry is that sometimes the people making the decisions are the more senior, the more experienced, people who don't really have as many downsides. So maybe they have a longer commute, they may live further out of the cities, they may not need supervision, they don't need somebody else, they're not relying on somebody to promote them or give them work or be seen etcetera, and they're not necessarily ensuring that those voices of those people who are earlier in their careers who do want to be in the office, or need to be in the office, are being heard."

    Joe Glavina: "I have two daughters in their twenties and they both want to be in an office for most of the time at least, mixing with other people. Naturally younger people seem to want that more. Age does seem to be a factor."

    Kate Dodd: "I think it is, and I think it's a question of generational diversity to some extent. I'm actually somebody who isn't young, sadly, but I very much want to be in the office and I don't like working from home. There will be some people who don't fit into the mould in terms of generational thinking and there will be some young people who love being at home or don't want to be in the office but I think for HR directors it's about making sure that they are co-opting people onto their thinking, younger people, a variety of people, talking to people who live in city centres and saying to them, you know, what do you want? What do you see? I think at the moment, there is a real risk of group-think on this and, of course, by group-think, I mean, two or three people saying this is a great idea. There is also something going on with this pandemic where I think all of us predict the future based on what we want it to be. So I find myself saying it'll be fine, we'll all be able to go away on summer holidays, because I want to go out on some holiday, there is that element of no one knows what's going to happen so we all like to see the future based on our own preferences. So I think a real clear and easy takeaway is for HR to maybe co-opt a variety of people, making sure there are some people who are early stage in their careers, graduates and newcomers into the business, not just graduate and young people, but people who are new into the business who want to find their feet and to create those networks, as well as apprentices, trainees, all the rest of it. Let's make sure there's some really good diversity involved in those decision making processes."

    We mentioned earlier the McKinsey report 'Reimaging the postpandemic workforce'. If you are currently planning a hybrid workforce model we do recommend you have a look at that report – we have put a link to it in the transcript of this programme.