As the government loosens COVID-19 restrictions and more employees in Hong Kong return to the office, it seems the hybrid working model is here to stay. Within many organisations, the workforce remains still remains split between office-based colleagues and staff working remotely – a hybrid arrangement that is new to most businesses. Sandra Henke, Group Head of People & Culture at recruitment specialist Hays, explains how companies can make it work, ensuring employees remain happy, productive and safe.
How can companies plan for this new era of work?
First and foremost, the health and safety of all workers needs to be at the forefront of all decisions made in relation to the workplace. Second to this are other factors for human resources (HR) departments to consider, such as the increased importance of inclusivity when not all workers are based in the office, and promoting collective ownership to make sure there is a communal responsibility toward ensuring the health of all employees.
Any advice for maintaining team cohesion under these circumstances?
Just because you can't see someone doesn't mean they aren’t part of the team. Ensure communication channels are open so employees are able to voice their concerns. Encourage participation so employees, no matter where they are based, are taking part in company and team activities.
Aim for regular weekly team catch-ups, and not all strictly work related; having fun and sharing success helps to build bonds. Remind your team that every employee has a role to play in sustaining the company’s culture in the next era of work. Continue to use technology to keep in contact, and make sure there is a sharing of good news and success stories from across the team and business.
What if some staff struggle to adjust?
Returning employees will have had different experiences while in lockdown, each facing different challenges such as childcare commitments or limited space to work. Many employees will also have concerns about returning to the workplace or continuing to work from home, all of which could have a considerable effect on their mental health and wellbeing.
The negative effect of the pandemic on individuals has the potential to manifest itself over time. So, consider how you are staying in touch with people and ensure you are providing them with the opportunity to be vulnerable. This will become increasingly difficult when you aren’t seeing your employees on a regular basis. It is important organisations exercise their duty of care, particularly for people who are struggling.
Who is responsible for preparing the physical space?
As offices reopen, it is the responsibility of employers to ensure their people are as safe as possible and that all the necessary measures are in place around social distancing, health and hygiene. However, collective responsibility among employees is also essential.
A safe workplace requires every person in your organisation to share responsibility. The notion of all being in it together becomes very real when we each contribute through our own behaviour. It needs to be emphasised that every individual has their part to play in creating an environment that brings everyone together safely, be that remotely or physically.
What do you see as the main challenges?
Organisations will need to ensure their people managers are equipped to deal with the new era of work – this means implementing training programmes that can prepare them with the necessary tools to manage a hybrid workforce. Existing training will also need to be reviewed to ensure it is sufficient in equipping your workforce with the skills they will need for the new era of work.
Remote training needs to be treated completely differently to training that is delivered on-site in a single room. You will have to work harder to keep people’s attention, so consider making it easier to digest by breaking the training up into segments. Adapt the training you already have to complement this new era of work and ensure you are focusing on the necessary skills, which may be currently lacking. For instance, if you are using more technology than usual, make sure your people know how to use it.
So there’s still a lot to learn?
This is a learning curve for all of us. There’s possibly not a leader in the world who doesn't look back through the pandemic and think, “I could have done that better”. At the end of the day, we're all human and we're all figuring a lot of this stuff out as we go.
Hybrid working could become permanent in the new world of work, with the model becoming the norm, so the sooner HR departments tackle these issues the better.