As hybrid work becomes the ‘new normal’, how best to approach it is THE topic of conversation right now for businesses. With the easing of Covid restrictions and return to workplaces, this is dominating the thoughts of HR and business leaders. So, what should ‘hybrid work’ look like, what do employees want and what do organisations need?
We look at hybrid work examples from some of the world’s highest profile companies and seek out the views of a handful of our respected HR and organisational development leaders at ETS clients.
Finding common ground on hybrid
Let’s first acknowledge that what ‘hybrid work’ looks like may be very different from one sector or company to the next. The exercise that each organisation needs to go through is to define it for themselves, based on what will best serve their people and their business.
However, a considerable obstacle to doing this is the differences in what workers want. This point is illustrated by a Harvard Business School study from a few months back, which revealed:
- 81% of workers don’t want to return to their workplace full time
- 3 out of 5 workers say they would enjoy the hybrid office-home lifestyle
- One quarter say they’d like to work remotely full time
- 18% say they wouldn’t mind returning to workplaces full time.
Perhaps the key takeaway here is that there’s no unanimity. There is a disconnect, and that’s ok. Next there must be dialogue between employer and employee on how best to move forward. But it’s important not to rush this process or indeed to fixate too much on nailing down policy details like number of days ‘in office’. Speed is far less crucial here than following a proper process and involving employees – through focus groups, employee surveys or other collaborative forums.
What are big companies doing with hybrid work?
The popular narrative appears to be that bosses and employers are pushing the agenda to get people back in offices most of the time, and with limited flexibility for working remotely. And that, on the other side, employees are resistant to this and want to remain homeworking as much as possible. The truth, in most cases, is probably somewhere in between. While it is also true that there are some marked differences in the stance being taken by different organisations. Here are a few notable examples –
CEO Sundar Pichai unveiled a hybrid work policy back in March, acknowledging that: “The future of work is flexibility… The changes above are a starting point to help us do our very best work and have fun doing it.”
Sounds every bit as progressive as you’d expect from a company like Google. However, the devil is in the detail and not everything has been met with universal approval by their employees.
The headlines were that, for most Googlers, they would spend three days in an office, and two days elsewhere each week. The prescriptive nature has caused some controversy, but we are told it is down to the need for in-office time to focus on collaboration – a key aspect of Google’s DNA.
Elsewhere they revealed that Googlers could benefit from ‘Work-from-anywhere weeks’ whereby they can temporarily work from a location other than their main office for up to 4 weeks per year (with manager approval). And that formal applications would also be needed for full time remote work.
Apple is another global tech heavyweight who raised eyebrows and, seemingly, the ire of plenty of their people by stating their intention for hybrid work to feature fixed ‘in office’ days for all workers. The hybrid approach being taken was released in a letter sent to all Apple employees from CEO Tim Cook. It set out plans to have people back in the office on set days (Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays). And, with manager approval, they can work remotely on Wednesdays and Fridays. They also announced that Apple employees could work from anywhere for up to two weeks per year.
There has been criticism of the inflexibility of this as an approach, with some employees openly challenging it and proposing revisions, most notably for remote and location-flexible work decisions to be autonomous for a team to decide upon.
PepsiCo has opted for an altogether more flexible stance about where and when their people work. As part of their new “Work that Works” plan, office locations will no longer be the primary location for where work gets done. Moreover, PepsiCo employees around the world will decide together with their managers which days they’ll be in the office and when they’ll be remote.
“There are no limitations. There is no number of days you need to be in the office or a number of days you can be remote,” said Sergio Ezama, PepsiCo’s chief talent officer and chief human resources officer, Global Functions and Groups.
This is an organisation embracing the benefits of hybrid work and who want to give their employees the autonomy and empowerment to choose where they need to be and when in order to deliver the best work.
Ocado Group, the tech firm behind the UK online grocer, has also made headlines with its stance on flexible work. They are taking an arguably more measured approach, with Ocado Group chief people officer, Claire Ainscough, saying that they were encouraging employees to return to the office but that they also wanted to offer “a balance and choice” in response to requests from staff.
Among updates to their working policy, they announced that staff can choose to work abroad remotely for up to one month a year answering a call from some staff with families abroad who don’t want to use up all their annual leave spending time with them.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the nature of their products, Cisco is ‘all in’ on hybrid working for its people having just announced a “no return to office” policy that lets individual employees and their managers decide how and where each will work.
Jeetu Patel, EVP of security and collaboration at Cisco, explained:
“We believe, definitively, the future of work will be hybrid where people will want to exercise choice… This choice will include what days of the week and even hours that they work, and it may mean coming into an office every day, a couple days, or not at all.”
What are ETS clients saying about hybrid work?
South East Water
Sian Jenkins, Head of Human Resources at South East Water, comments:
“We are looking to enable a longer-term hybrid working model. It is unlikely it will be a one size fits all approach as the water industry has many diverse roles with different needs. And each criteria [for fixed, fluid or field roles] will elicit a different working proposal from us in the future.”
“We have instigated a desk booking system, an online site check-in/check-out process to enhance our approach to working flexibly and we are leaving it to each department to determine their attendance approach depending on the needs of their business. However, for all fluid roles, it is unlikely that returning to the office 5 days a week is a future model. The challenge we have set ourselves is how to give those fixed and field roles an element of flexibility in their daily tasks. In addition, we want to retain the culture and collaborative working style that our business needs.”
Christine George, Global VP of Human Resources at Dywidag, said:
“We fully support remote work and in fact, I just put out a Remote Work Policy that encourages remote work if the role allows for it.”
Sharron Harvey, EVP & Head of HR at Gatehouse Bank commented:
“We will personally be working in a hybrid model moving forward. Some form of flexible working is here to stay as we have successfully kept the economy afloat working under lockdown restrictions during the last 18 months. I think people will leave current employers who do not offer some form of flexible working to find one that will. Needs and attitudes towards work have changed and savvy employers will capitalise on it to ensure business results and their status as an employer of choice.”
Despite the devastation wreaked by the pandemic, an undeniable silver lining is that it has forced the hybrid/work from anywhere agenda into the spotlight. But in plotting the course ahead, there is huge scope for friction and division (and attrition), as well as for opportunity and prosperity.
Business leaders must encourage open lines of communication and invite proper dialogue with their people – both at an organisational and local level, and by formal (i.e. employee survey and pulse checks) and informal channels (i.e. fireside chats).
There are some hugely important questions for organisations to ask (and answer), but these aren’t necessarily things like “how many days should we be in the office?” Rather, it may be better to think of things like:
- Which type of work is better done in-person than virtually?
- How will our meetings work best?
- How do we avoid having a two-tier system whereby office and home-based employees are treated or perceived to be valued differently?
As the next chapter takes shape, it will be crucial to take time and marry up the needs of employees and organisation when defining the long-term working model. This may mean greater uncertainty in the short term, but it is just too important to not get right. And only by doing so can we all realise the significant benefits promised by a hybrid approach to working.