By Brad Taylor, Director of People, OD and Workplace at the CIPD
Being in lockdown presented many people with the opportunity to undertake one of the biggest working from home experiments of all time. This had been talked about for so long and yet many organisations never quite achieved the right construct so that people could work effectively both from an office environment or from home with complete trust, autonomy and productivity.
The pandemic changed all of that. Suddenly the eyes of organisations and business leaders, who had perhaps been suspicious of remote working, were opened. Perhaps the timing was right. Technology such as laptops, tablets and smartphones have come a long way, as has video conferencing software and collaboration tools. Furthermore, this enforced experiment coincided with a growing desire for more flexible working from a larger proportion of the population.
For our own part at the CIPD, we had started to introduce such collaborative tools, and were anticipating a three-year transition where gradually people would become more fluent and comfortable using such technology. We were predominantly an office-based ‘sitting at the desk with your desktop PC and meeting in a meeting room’ type of organisation. Homeworking was something you did perhaps one day a week in order to get on top of the paperwork! One year later, and our people are comfortable using collaborative technology; working together to achieve outcomes through the use of video calls, instant messaging and working on shared documents and files.
In fact, as we surveyed our people after a few months of remote working to understand how they were adapting, it quickly became apparent that they were finding that they would like to do more remote working in the future, meaning we would need to prepare for a much more hybrid culture of working. Over 90% of our staff told us that they would like to work from home between one to three days per week.
This presents us with an exciting opportunity! Workplaces can become more than large areas with banks of desks and meeting rooms and the odd collaboration table, and instead offer a range of different work zones that suit different work methodologies. such as:
- areas to study quietly or focus on that important document
- collaboration tables with screens that enable groups of people to easily share ideas and project plans in a more relaxed way
- flexible meeting spaces where people can freely rearrange the furniture to create the space that works best for the outcome they’re trying to achieve
- touchdown tables where you can simply sit down with your laptop or tablet to bash through a few emails before going into a meeting
- the traditional desk where you can sit down and dock your device; either with your team colleagues or perhaps people who you don’t usually work with to foster new relationships across the organisation.
We're viewing hybrid working as an opportunity for the CIPD to role model what championing better work and working lives really looks like. Our aim should be to take the best of both worlds when we create hybrid working and leave behind the worst. The best of both means people feeling much more in control of their day. Perhaps that could mean being able to take the kids to school, look after family needs or save on wasted time from a frustrating commute. The best of both can also mean being able to access tools and workplace set-ups that aren’t readily available in the home office.
To do this well requires thoughtfully created workplaces designed with intent. Simply saying to people, ‘Go back into the office but can you please work in a more hybrid way in the future?’ just won’t work. People will gravitate back to the old ways of working and the associated frustrations. The key is to look at what works well; what is it that people naturally like doing and find useful in the ways that they collaborate and get things done? At the CIPD, we’ve seen that people like that they can both meet and see colleagues through video calls whilst at the same time using the chat facility. This means the main conversation can proceed without being disrupted but thoughts and ideas can be captured at the same time. We’ve seen that people feel more connected in this way; that everyone is an equal on the screen. Therefore, in a hybrid model where some people are physically together in a meeting room and others are working remotely, we believe it will be important that people still use their devices no matter where they are. We don’t want to revert back to six people crowded around one laptop in an office on a conference call!
This will require highly effective collaboration between the teams of HR, people development, OD, technology and workplace/facilities. Those teams need to help one another to understand what is possible. What technology is out there? How would people use that technology in combination with thoughtful workplace design as effectively as possible? It means dedicating time to providing people with insights, training, and consultation on how to use these tools and technology effectively in a hybrid environment. Furthermore, it means working effectively with line managers around the implementation of new ways of working and ensuring that effective feedback mechanisms are in place so that continuous improvement can occur.
We also need to be open to continual learning. We may not always get this right first time, and so we need our workforces to be open to adapting and communicating so that the group benefits from the collective wisdom. If done well we stand to see organisations become more productive, more desirable places to work and more relevant to the modern way of living.