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Doing things differently can be scary, but it can also make us ask important questions about what ‘normal’ means, who it works for and who it doesn’t.
A survey out last week from the Chartered Management Institute and the Work Foundation found that many managers retain a bias in favour of the office and that there is a disconnect between them and employees when it comes to hybrid working. It’s not surprising because hybrid working means a shift is required in the way managers manage and it’s easier to stick with what you know, particularly when there are so many other things to deal with, such as skills shortages.
But the two are related and longer term uncertainty – in terms of the climate, health issues and the economy generally – means that hybrid and remote working are likely to be here to stay.
So it’s not any kind of smart strategy to think everything can just return to ‘normal’ and that normal is the best way of working anyway. But ‘normal’ is what we know and doing things that are new are difficult and sometimes scary. Plus when you do something new, you sometimes make mistakes. That’s okay. That’s how we learn, but the politicisation of ‘back to normal’ means it can be harder to make those mistakes, even if we need to.
At a workshop on Friday employers talked about how hybrid working is being rolled out in different organisations. One employer, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, spoke of its 40/40 approach – 40% of staff are working in the office 40% of the week. It sounds complicated, but it seems to be working. Launched in September, it seeks to address employees’ desire for more remote working. They can choose how they work it, for instance, some people do three days in the office every two weeks. It just provides people with a framework and allows them greater flexibility in their day.
They can come into the office at any point between 7am and 7pm. The main thing it forces people to do is to rethink what the office is for. It’s no good coming into the office to sit in a room doing Zoom calls all day. The FSCS says the office is for connectivity, creativity, collaboration and celebration. It has put on a series of events that meet the celebration theme. People are encouraged to use their time in the office for the things that they can’t do at home, for instance, managers can have impromptu face to face chats with employees.
I’ve worked in a hybrid way in the past and that has really focused the mind – every time I would go to the office I would have a series of chats and interviews lined up and maybe the odd event. Some weeks I would go in more often if there were more events. Home time would be reserved for writing, thinking, online functional calls and the like. It worked well. The important thing is to think about how and where different aspects of your work work best.
One issue is ensuring flexible working reaches all employees, not just those who can work from home. At another event last week, one employer had addressed this by offering employees the ability to request blocks of flexible paid leave of up to three hours. Managers can turn down a request, but it must be for a genuine business reason. The policy has been popular and, crucially, is backed up by training for managers. Will it lead to people abusing the system? Does the current system lead to people abusing the system because they cannot get the time off to do the small things that would make all the difference? Does it lead to people dropping out? Does it discourage people from applying in the first place? Is trust something that motivates people more than it encourages abuse? These are all questions that need to be taken into consideration. Much of the experimentation with what works is in the early stages, but the important thing is that people are asking the questions about what works best and are interesting in finding out the answers.