Employers must be careful not to create a ‘one-size fits all’ policy for hybrid working, according to academic research that finds developing hybrid working regimes will be fraught with trade-offs between individuals, teams and departments.
The Leeds University Business School report recommends that HR include employees in the process of designing their hybrid working policies if they want them to be successful, but warns that organisations “will never design a perfect arrangement that suits everyone”.
Its survey of 759 UK office workers found that a third have no dedicated workplace at home and only 6% have received some training in holding or attending hybrid meetings.
Almost three-quarters prefer to work in the office at least once a week and 30% would like access to a “third space”, such as a co-working office. Just 18% say their offices have been adapted specifically to support hybrid working.
Through interviews with workers and industry workshops, the researchers were able to identify five types of hybrid working:
- Timeless hybrids – those who have high levels of control over when they work their hours
- Fixed hybrids – those who have little or any control over the hours or location they work in, with these set by their organisation or manager
- Free hybrids – those who have control over when they access different workspaces and when they work their hours
- Nomadic hybrids – those who have control over where but not when they work
- Balanced hybrids – those who have some choice over where and when they work, within specified boundaries.
Dr Matthew Davis, lead author of the report and associate professor in prganisational psychology at Leeds University Business School, said: “An effective hybrid workplace is more than a HR policy or office design issue. It is a socio-technical problem, essentially affecting all aspects of work and requiring knock-on changes to IT, work processes, organisational goals and culture to be successful.
“The key to successful hybrid working is good management – clear and demonstrable objectives and outputs, active communication and feedback whether remote or in-person working.”
The report also finds that an “us and them” culture has emerged through hybrid working – those who are able to work flexibly or from home, and those whose roles or managers prevent them from doing so. It says this can be addressed through localised policies, job redesign and provision of other types of flexibility within roles.
There is also a consistent tension between “me and we” when discussing hybrid working, the report claims, with employees keen to retain the autonomy they enjoyed during the pandemic over accepting greater office working or coordinated schedules.
“This requires managers to clearly articulate the purpose and benefit of office working and to
press that ′me does not always beat we‘,” the report says.
It outlines several tips for designing a hybrid working policy:
- Be clear on the purpose, value and reasons for office working
- Define what a good outcome would be
- Map the system and what needs to change to support hybrid working
- Articulate the constraints and minimum expectations
- Don’t rush to create rules and allow localised rules to develop
- Engage with staff, as they can often help spot practical issues
- Be prepared to lose people
- Ensure that the office is still an “experience” and whether a minimum number of staff is needed to achieve this
- Train people in team working, communication and hybrid working management styles
- Be honest about the trade-offs for individuals and groups.