Hybrid working is making the headlines and looks like it’s here to stay. Through this article I’ll share advice to help you think it through for your organisation.
I’ve also collated a list so you can discover what other companies are doing.
Hybrid working was the topic my All Things IC Inner Circle group explored during our monthly two-hour Mastermind yesterday.
I know it’s top of mind for many communicators, so the purpose of this article is to help you get organised.
I will write more on this topic in the future and it’s also the topic of an upcoming Candid Comms podcast episode.
Let’s start by busting some jargon.
What does hybrid working mean?
I shared this information with Vodafone Ireland back in September 2020 when they asked me to give a virtual keynote talk.
Hybrid is… a thing made by combining two different elements.
However, from the context of hybrid working in 2021, it’s more than that.
For that same keynote talk, I mapped out various scenarios that organisations could find themselves in in the future. AKA now.
Let’s look at the various scenarios our workforce could find themselves in now or in the near future:
- Working from home 100% of the time
- Working from home 50% of the time
- Working from home another percentage of the time
- Working in the office 100% of the time
- Frontline workers (so possibly not working from home at all)
- On sick leave
- Shift worker
- Flexible hours and location
- On maternity leave
- Furloughed or recently unfurloughed.
You’ll have your own list I’m sure and perhaps even more scenarios to add. It’s rarely just two combinations and at the moment we’re seeing multiple possibilities for colleagues.
Due to the nature of your business, the place of work for your colleagues may have remained unchanged over the past year e.g. if you’re in transport, essential workers, retail or healthcare.
So hybrid working means a combination of working patterns.
The notion of communicating with “all” employees as an audience is rarely accurate. But today, that list alone demonstrates why we need to get really intentional with our channels and truly understand the situations our employees are working in.
Action to take: look at your channels matrix. Is it fit for purpose? Do you need to make any changes to it to reflect the various employee groups, like those listed above?
Tip: If you don’t have a channels matrix, my Introduction to Internal Communication Channels Online Masterclass will guide you through creating your own.
New research via McKinsey & Company
McKinsey has just published some research looking at what employees are saying about the future of remote working. You can read their findings online.
The study is called Reimagine Work: Employee Survey and was conducted from December 2020 – January 2021. The sample size was 5043 full-time employees who work in corporate or government settings.
The results below show the split between on site, hybrid and remote working.
A total of 52% of workers ‘would prefer a more flexible working model’ post-pandemic.
According to their study, even high-level communication about post-COVID-19 working arrangements boosts employee well-being and productivity.
They state: “Organisations that convey more detailed, remote-relevant policies and approaches see greater increases. Employees who feel included in more detailed communication are nearly five times more likely to report increased productivity. Because communicating about the future can drive performance outcomes today, leaders should consider increasing the frequency of their employee updates—both to share what’s already decided and to communicate what is still uncertain.”
If you’re feeling behind, don’t worry, the McKinsey & Company research also found most organisations haven’t communicated their post-pandemic plans yet:
The research also found high levels of anxiety amongst employees who are waiting to discover what’s happening.
My advice? You need to start communicating what the future plans are. This article will help you.
McKinsey & Company state: “At organisations that are communicating vaguely, or not at all, about the future of post-pandemic work, nearly half of employees say it’s causing them concern or anxiety.
“Anxiety is known to decrease work performance, reduce job satisfaction, and negatively affect interpersonal relationships with colleagues, among other ills. For the global economy, the loss of productivity because of poor mental health—including anxiety—might be as high as $1 trillion per year.”
What are other companies doing?
List of companies and what they’re doing:
- PwC are heading to the office two to three days a week. Source: CityAM.
- Nationwide has told employees to work from anywhere. Source: BBC
- British Airways has a work from home plan. Source: BBC
- BP has told office staff to work from home two days a week. Source: Guardian.
- FTSE100 firms have flexible working plans in place. Source: Evening Standard
- Google is partially reopening offices. Source: CNBC.
- Goldman Sachs prepares for staff to return to the London office. Source: Guardian.
- Grant Thornton says most UK staff want to stay away from the office. Source: Financial Times.
Thinking about the office differently
If you have office/s in your organisation, what is their purpose? What was their purpose in 2019? What about 2020? What about 2021?
I’m certain it will have changed.
My own office, the All Things IC Hub (pictured below), was open for only eight weeks in 2020. It’s been closed since then and the only person to go there at the moment is me.
I work in there solo, creating content including the videos for my Online Masterclasses. The purpose of the site is on pause – it’s meant to be where Comms professionals gather face-to-face to learn with me.
I’m currently hosting virtual Team Masterclasses from there, with Comms teams around the globe speaking with me from wherever they are.
How are you describing your offices? What will their purpose be in the future?
Some of my clients are reimagining their offices to be collaboration spaces, full of hot desks and plenty of socially distanced spaces where people can socialise.
That’s not phrase we’d have used a few years back!
What’s the plan for your office?
Is it now going to be a collaboration space? What will that look and feel like for your employees? What layout will it have?
I’ve been advising a lot of All Things IC’s clients over the past six months on their comms strategies around the return to the office.
You need to be careful here. We’ve had headlines around “the return to work” here in the UK.
I’m typing this from the desk in my guest room. Once I go back to the Hub full time, it won’t be a “return to work” but a “return to my usual place of work” – not quite as snappy huh?
But it’s important we get the semantics right.
Clients of mine are exploring all sorts of scenarios, from using booking in sheets for employees to claim a hot desk, to having a desk concierge service on site to assign working areas.
Action to take: Work with your employee forums or champions and make decisions together.
If there’s not a cross-functional group of departments e.g. Facilities, HR, Comms and IT, working on this as a project, set it up today. You need to be in listening and decision making mode.
Harvard Business Review study
Further reading: If you want to read more stats, check out this Harvard Business Review study. It interviewed 1500 professionals who have worked remotely in the past year.
What’s it called?
Clients and Comms friends in my network are working on campaigns like:
- Future of Work
- Hybrid Working
- The new office
- Our new normal
- Flexible Working.
Do these sound familiar?
I recently Tweeted @AllThingsIC and invited Comms pros to ask me questions to cover in this article. Thank you to everyone who responded or sent me a DM.
Calling all IC pros… I’m writing a blog post on hybrid (multi-location and patterns) working & its impact on IC. What would you like me to cover?
— Rachel Miller, All Things IC (@AllthingsIC) February 24, 2021
Thank you to Nafisa Ali Shafiq @NafisaShafiq, who asked: “How do we keep our comms inclusive and what role does comms have in ensuring that staff working remotely in a hybrid model have similar opportunities to those who may opt out of this, and how can we make sure they aren’t disadvantaged & are kept informed like those in the office?”
There’s lots in there. To answer the inclusive question, I recommend listening to my latest Candid Comms podcast episode with Amrit Nijjar, Inclusion & Belonging Manager at Tarmac.
From a practical stance, I advise making sure there’s equal access to leaders and comms channels, so people working remotely or from home don’t feel penalised for not being able to attend in-person events.
When sharing photographs of your workforce, what are your internal stock photos like? Do you reflect all the different ways and locations your employees are now in (or will be in if you’ve not reopened your worksites yet).
If you’ve redesigned or spaced out your office, are your internal images reflecting the current reality?
One of the best ways to make sure we’re on track is to strengthen your two-way channels. In short, we need to listen more.
Do we know what employees are concerned about? What are the rumours? What is worrying them? Do they feel like they’re missing out? Why?
Be mindful of burnout, the McKinsey & Co study I mentioned earlier highlights this as a key area to be aware of.
Work is a thing you do, not a place you go
Back in 2015, I featured Comms pro Steve Murgatroyd writing about work being a thing you do, not a place you go. His recent Tweet is spot on!
Louise Sharf @nicksy200 and Johanna Joyce @JohannaJoyce_ Tweeted me to ask: “Challenges around communicating to home based or hybrid without encroaching on their non work space and time…apps, social etc all good but when preaching well-being what’s the right balance and how to communicate it?”
In terms of the balance, this is where listening to your employees comes in. Sometimes I find Comms teams think the balance is out, but employees don’t, and vice versa.
My friend Jenni Field from Redefining Communications highlighted the notion of the third space a few years back in her research into communicating with remote workers.
This phrase was coined by Sociologist Ray Oldenburg back in the 90s. The third space in companies are typically places like rest areas or canteens. See this article to find out more about the research.
I also recommend reading this article by SUEZ’s Naomi Jones: How to communicate with remote workers during the pandemic.
Kate’s point below: “Agree about making sure comms don’t encroach on non-work space and time – also how to make sure some communication isn’t screen-based” is an important one.
This relates to the third space and also goes back to your channels matrix. Make sure you have a strong mix between digital and traditional channels – do you need to put info on digital signage, or could it be posters? Does your event need to be a webinar or could it be a phone call?
I’ve created a model to help you focus on hybrid working and have a logical process to follow. I’ve shared details about it via my Candid Comms podcast. That episode will be published in a fortnight’s time.
It includes advice re: communicating in phrases, working well with leaders to guide them through this situation and creating a source of truth.
Mental health and wellbeing
To conclude this article, I’m going to encourage you to focus on your colleagues’ mental health and wellbeing. Regular readers of the All Things IC blog will know I regularly share this phrase: what happens inside is reflected outside.
When it comes to your teams’ mental health and wellbeing, that mindset is paramount.
What are they reflecting outside? What’s happening inside? Are you equipping your people managers to support their teams effectively?
That’s a whole other blog post. But a date for your diary is the upcoming Mental Health Week from 10-16 May 2021. The theme is nature. This website has all the info you need to know.
I hope you found this article useful, there’s a lot in here.
Do let me know how you get on, feel free to comment below or Tweet me @AllThingsIC.
If you’re stuck, why not book a Power Hour with me and I can work on your plans with you.
Thank you for stopping by
Post author: Rachel Miller.
First published on the All Things IC blog 8 April 2021.