Is your business really ‘hybrid ready’? Five key topics to think about right now

Putting the right processes, protocols and plans in place could be the difference between retaining your best people and losing them, writes leadership coach Oona Collins

Putting the right processes, protocols and plans in place now could be the difference between retaining your best people and losing them, writes leadership coach Oona Collins

September seems to be the month that many companies have decided to activate their hybrid action plan. For most businesses, this will represent a significant culture shift.

Whilst it may feel disruptive, we shouldn’t underestimate the opportunity we have been presented with, says Oona Collins

Whilst it may feel disruptive, we shouldn’t underestimate the opportunity we have been presented with. It is rare that we are afforded the chance to completely reassess and reset how our businesses work, or have the chance to reprogramme a company culture. You have a chance to do what your IT department would describe as “shut down and reboot” – and we have all learned that our machines are more responsive and work better after that staple fix.

The big question is; is your business really hybrid ready? Putting the right processes, protocols and plans in place now could be the difference between retaining your best people and losing them.

Lots has already been said about how to implement the practical side of hybrid working, so instead I want to focus on some of the key elements that put your people first. Places and spaces can adapt easily, humans and their emotions are a lot more complex.

Here are five key topics to think about when looking at your own hybrid working plans:

1. Personalise your plan

Even within a sector like property, that often feels insular, every business is different and there is not going to be a one-size fits all plan for hybrid working. Not only does every business function differ, but every team member will have their own individual needs too.

The founders of a growing property management company have a long-established culture of commitment, driven by their values of understanding their teams’needs.

Despite this, when reviewing their hybrid planwith staff, they discovered issues that they hadn’t factored in. For example, they hadn’t considered the number of staff who were still anxious about busy public transport and the impact this would have, not just on having them in the office, but on their ability to make regular site and client visits.

For them they introduced flexible working hours into the plan, so that on the days they were expected to be in the office, they are able to travel at quieter times.

Another commercial agency has a team member who lives with and cares for aging and vulnerable parents – her role is not client-facing and they recognise she needs some extra time before re-joining her colleagues in the office.

2. Make on-boarding a memorable experience

A recent survey of graduate intake among property agencies found that all the big firms were planning to take on significantly more university leavers this year. Most were also planning to move their graduates to hybrid working once they had finished an induction period.

More than ever, graduates and leaders need rich on-boarding experiences that help remote workers integrate with the company and become productive team members.

On-boarding is all about connection. A recent Gallup employee engagement study found that the most valuable aspect of the on-boarding experience was the human element – meeting people, forming social ties and learning from their colleagues. Employees want relationships that make them feel supported included and respected. They value candid feedback and clear communication, particularly from leaders and managers.

The best leaders I know block out time in their diary for new employees

The best leaders I know block out time in their diary for new employees. They invest time with them on their first day, explaining the culture and, if possible, will have lunch with them at the end of their first week to check in and get feedback. A buddy system gives new recruits someone to ask the questions they don’t want to ask their manager. This investment builds trust and commitment and can accelerate performance.

3. Set out your core behaviours

Every business has a set of non-negotiable core behaviours that they expect employees to stick to. Core behaviours that lead to success are a key part of a company’s culture, but they are not always verbally communicated and can lead to disappointment and confusion.

A CEO of a growing entrepreneurial residential agency decided that he had to let go of one of his new business leaders because they couldn’t agree on a core behaviour around client communication, that he felt was critical to the company’s brand and core values on which the business was built. He now makes sure that these are written up in the company handbook and reinforced during induction.

Clarity of non-negotiables enables people to navigate their own career paths so they succeed.

4. Lead by example

Managing a team through remote working during the pandemic has not been easy and leaders now have a whole new set of critical skills, such as listening and empathy. As we move into a hybrid way of working, the way we lead is going to be more important than ever.

Team members will need to see that the messages being conveyed to them by the company are also being reinforced by the actions of their managers.

One anxiety people have about embracing a hybrid model is wondering whether or not they will be disadvantaged by spending more time working from home than their colleagues.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that between 2012 and 2020, people who worked from home were on average 38 per cent less likely to have received a bonus compared to those who never worked from home, and less than half as likely to be promoted or receive training.

If your company is telling people it is okay to work from home, but every conference call is filled with managers in the office, this will reinforce the belief that to progress their careers, they need to be at home less and in the office more

If your company is telling people it is okay to work from home, but every conference call is filled with managers in the office, this will reinforce the belief that to progress their careers, they need to be at home less and in the office more.

A female MD in the leisure and hospitality industry is aware of this and makes sure she chairs weekly team meetings remotely from home with her in-office and remote teams.  She has also found it is easier to chair remote team meetings as she is not drawn into side conversations with the people in the room that can tend to leave people online out.

5. Show your team members you value them

It may sound like a cliche, but it really is the thought that counts. The pandemic has changed what we value from life and countless surveys have shown that employees are increasingly placing their mental health and wellbeing at the top of their priority list.

It doesn’t take much to bring people back to a place where they feel valued

It doesn’t take much to bring people back to a place where they feel valued and where they feel that their employer has given thought to their health, safety and career progression.

Little touches will make all the difference. I heard this week of a company that placed balloons on the chairs of their team members who were coming back into the office for the first time and provided them with complimentary lunch vouchers. For a relatively small outlay and effort, that gesture of appreciation has bought loyalty and commitment – something that is hard to gain but far too easy to lose.

I noticed that the media – and some companies – are talking about a ‘return to work’, which implies that we haven’t been working these last 18 months. What they really mean is a ‘return to the office’.  For most people home-working has meant working harder than ever before – which reinforces the importance of how you communicate your plans to your team…and what they hear.

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