Hybrid working is evolving – and some companies are ahead of the game

Emergence from the Covid crisis has been a journey to hybrid. But, explains Chris Preston, some businesses have already moved beyond this

In the transition from crisis to post-lockdown, the debate this past few months has centred on hybrid working. The office and/or home has been the million-dollar question. 

However, this solution just isn’t cutting it for some companies. We have spoken to HR executives at more than 150 companies during the past three months to understand the pandemic’s impact on their organisations and how it has influenced their plans for the future. The findings are in our new report, Poly-working: the evolution of hybrid working.

And what we have found is that companies such as Pfizer have already moved beyond hybrid working as we know it to focus more keenly on what works for the individual employee in the wider sense. For these companies, the pandemic, as devastating as it has been, accelerated a move to or consolidated a management style underpinned by trust, flexibility and autonomy.

As one senior executive at Pfizer told us: “We have a culture that puts colleague health and wellness first. We work extremely hard, but we’re empowered and trusted to get our work done in a time and way that suits us personally. My manager focuses on the outcome – not the hours I work. And of course, the reality is that when you empower and trust people, they give you more.”

It’s why the future of work must now dial up a new set of metrics, skills and attitudes, in my view, that brings to life organisational pillars such as purpose, leadership, performance, wellbeing and engagement. These are all components of what we describe as the ‘poly-working’ world.

New terminology is required to understand what’s happening. Hybrid working is a two-dimensional phrase; you are in the office sometimes, and at home others. But we are moving to a working landscape that’s so much more complex. It’s not about blending the two locations, it’s about creating approaches that enable individuals to construct a professional life that’s wrapped around them. We call it ‘poly’ because, quite simply, there will be many, many variations of a working pattern. 

The trick for organisations isn’t to manage these, it’s to focus on helping people own the impact of their approach – creating stronger levels of alignment, trust and autonomy to do the right thing for the organisation and its customers, while also working in a way that’s right for the individual.

In our survey, we found greater autonomy and support was being implemented over more stringent controls and surveillance technology as a means for managing people and performance. Some 50 per cent said they would give their employees greater autonomy and support.

We asked our HR leads for the most important qualities their leaders would require to manage the path to an effective transition to the ‘next phase of work’ for their company. In order, these qualities were trustworthy (59 per cent); empathetic and supportive (58 per cent); and resilient (52 per cent). 

And only 16 per cent% would consider surveillance technology, such as mouse monitoring software, to help manage the performance of a remote workforce. If you buy surveillance technology for your workforce, the cost will be the trust of your employee base. And once that’s spent, good luck getting it back.

On the challenge of managing a dispersed workforce, more than one company has admitted to us that they’re in gridlock. The lockdown and resultant home working was far less complex than they are currently facing. One leader told us that they are “throwing out the rule book” on remote working because it was being re-written daily. Instead, they’ve simply said to their people “do what’s right for you, the team and the customer”.

Hybrid working for companies like Pfizer has evolved. For them, it’s about striking that winning balance between what’s right for the individual employee, for the team and for the customer. We believe they are leading the way to a poly-working world.

Chris Preston is director and co-founder of The Culture Builders