Three, two, win? How to adapt to hybrid home and office working | Working from home

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Working 3:2, what a way to make a living – but a new way that may take a little getting used to, according to experts.

As coronavirus restrictions lift, many companies whose staff have worked from home for 18 months are asking those workers to dust off their bras and smart trousers and return to the office part-time.

While the majority of people will be given little choice about where they work (the proportion of people working from home more than doubled in 2020, but was still only a quarter, according to the Office for National Statistics), many companies that have used remote working are now expecting staff to work more flexibly.

Recent research from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) found that about half of managers expected staff to be in the office two to three days a week, while 48% of managers feared team members could quit if they could no longer work remotely.

As employees face the prospect of the new 3:2 working diet, what are the best ways for companies and their workers to ensure they can step with confidence into this brave new world?

Welcome to the revolution

Experts agree there is no one-size-fits-all model for hybrid working. While some companies are insisting on a set number of days a week in the office, or even full-time if you work for Goldman Sachs, others such as Tui are stipulating a minimum of one day a month.

Ann Francke, the chief executive of the CMI, argues that the most successful models will be the most flexible ones. “Command and control isn’t the way we work now, the pandemic has knocked presenteeism on its head. Work should be output-focused – about what you do, not where you do it,” she says.

Employees facing a set number of days – and able to choose them – should consider their home commitments, says Dr Heejung Chung, an expert in flexible working and reader in sociology at the University of Kent. “Fitting your schedule into your work-life balance demands will enhance performance outcomes,” she says.

Workers may want to consider whether their partner will be in the office on certain days, and whether a quieter house to work in might be preferable, says Kristal McNamara, the founder of WorkWell Bristol, a flexible and hybrid working management consultancy. “It’s all about planning,” she says, and that includes planning who is going to put the washing on now that it can’t be fitted around a Zoom call. “If one of you is physically at work more often, you still need to plan for the fact that looking after the house is a joint responsibility.”

Companies may want to consider creating social activities that do not involve Friday night drinks, which already exclude many workers, says Louise Ware, the COO of Fyxer, a fully remote company that recently asked all employees to share their best photos of summer and vote for their favourite. “We had massive engagement – you get to see a snapshot of someone else’s life and get to know everybody, but it’s also really low-energy, takes little time and is inclusive.”

Make flexible fair

Jo Burkill, of the flexible working specialists Timewise, says companies have to be very conscious of the risk of creating a “two-tier” hybrid system if days are not fixed, with managers and wannabe leaders going into the office while those with caring responsibilities, disabilities or anxieties are shut out at home.

“If we don’t find a way to make sure part-time workers – the majority of whom are women – are considered, we really do face a real risk of losing a whole generation of talent,” Burkill says.

Amy Butterworth, a consultant at Timewise, adds that companies should ensure that people dialling in to meetings are invited, visible and given time to speak. “It’s about awareness and at every step thinking how am I making sure that everyone is involved.”

If you want more time at home but don’t want your career to stall, there are simple ways to stay in the line of sight, says Francke, such as turning on your camera and increasing written communications outlining what you are doing and where, as well as flagging your achievements.

Time to get organised

Chaotic workers are going to have to raise their organisational game for hybrid working, says Prof Cary Cooper, president of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. “If you’re not a good organiser of yourself and your time, you’re in trouble,” he says.

Tech solutions such as open diaries, workplace booking systems such as Condeco or desk-organising software such as GoBright will help, says McNamara. “Nobody should be having to email an administrator to change a spreadsheet when their plans change,” she says.

Get in the zone

Recent CMI research found that two-thirds of workers had some anxiety about returning to the office. “Recognising that people have different levels of readiness and giving them space to talk is very important,” says Francke.

Cooper argues that giving workforces greater flexibility will improve mental health and productivity. According to the Health and Safety Executive, stress, depression and anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related sickness and 55% of all sick days in 2019-20. “The evidence, globally, is clear: if employers and employees agree to flexible working you have higher job satisfaction, less sickness absence days and higher productivity where you can measure it,” he says.

In the hybrid world, a worker’s most important asset will be a good manager, he adds. “If you have a manager with empathy and social interpersonal skills, it will work.”

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