How do you make changes to hybrid working?

In recent months, we’ve seen a number of companies changing their stance on hybrid working, and it hasn’t always been successful. When CommBank sought to have workers return to in-office work 50 per cent of the time, a union took it to the employer watchdog. At Randwick Council in Sydney, similar changes led to an employee response that was labelled a ‘revolt’.

It really is an area where it pays to tread carefully. Ongoing employee dissatisfaction can be incredibly damaging. Either the impacted employees resign, leaving you with roles to fill in a challenging recruitment market, or they stay but remain disengaged – and the latter can be even worse for your business.

So how do you approach making changes to hybrid working? There is no right answer and every business needs to do what is right for its culture, clients and operations. But there are some things you can consider to ensure you make the best possible moves.

#1 Understand the rewards … and the risks  

Start with your ‘rewards’. What do you want to achieve by making changes to your hybrid working structure? If hybrid is not working to deliver the commercial results you need or it’s having a widespread negative impact on your culture, it’s likely a no-brainer.

But in most cases, it’s more nuanced than that – so decide what you are solving first and be clear on how changes to hybrid working will achieve it.

It’s also important to understand the risks. Do you have any key employees who are likely to leave as a result of the changes? What impact will it have on your business if these at-risk employees leave? How soon can you fill the roles and how long will it take for you to return to normal operations?

And beyond your existing employees, it’s critical to understand how important hybrid working is to candidates in your industry, because the changes you make now can impact your talent attraction into the future.

The answers to these questions don’t have to define your next move, but it’s important to be aware of them.

If you decide to go ahead, the next step is to put a structure around the change.

#2 Approach it with a change management mindset

Working from home wasn’t a choice in 2020 and many struggled with the change. But it has since become the accepted status quo for workers in many industries. So modifications you make now will involve a change management process, and it may be a more significant one than you anticipate. Here are some strategies to get started.

– Make it a collaborative approach. Engage your people in the process, don’t just tell them what will happen or you risk creating an ‘us and them’ mentality, which can quickly become adversarial.

– Set a timeline. Don’t expect change to happen immediately. Your employees have likely made changes to their working habits, lifestyles and even their values since 2020, so give them time to adjust to a new arrangement. (Remember that they originally adjusted to working from home during COVID to continue delivering for your business.)

– Communicate expectations clearly and align them with your goals. For example, if you’re aiming to improve collaboration, ensure you have a framework that will see collaborators in the office at the same time, rather than simply a percentage of their hours.

#3 Be prepared that it may not work for everyone

No matter how well you manage the change process, it’s likely that you will have some unhappy employees. And while you can work with them to help them through the process, it’s likely that some will opt out. So, ensure you have a strategy to fill gaps and be prepared to start recruiting as and when the need arises.