Flexible or hybrid working is suddenly mainstream. We’re even debating whether home working is a fundamental workers’ right. Our Purple-branded companies have been remote-working for 13 years – so, here’s our take on how to make a successful hybrid workplace in just 3 steps.
Here at Purple, we have been remote-working for 13 years. We operate both an IT company Purple® Computing and a new coworking and meeting room facility Purple Office in Poundbury, near Dorchester, Dorset.
A recent national debate in the UK Parliament and the media spawned this article, which was talking about the long-term right of workers to work from home.
Ultimately, an initial hard-line bill in Parliament to attempt to make home working the required default position for employers did not pass. Nonetheless, it seems inevitable that hybrid / flexible / home working is here to stay. Workers have had a taste of hybrid working and many cannot face the daily commute back to the office, where they feel they have been equally productive – if not more so – in a remote working environment.
In this article, we wanted to share some of our expertise and experience, helping businesses target the 3 key areas that will make your hybrid working environment a success or failure.
What Is Hybrid Working?
Hybrid (or flexible) working describes a working week where a typical employee spends:
- A proportion of their time in the traditional, physical workplace – such as an office or factory
- The remaining time wherever they choose – such as at home, a public space like a coffee shop, or a coworking office space
The COVID-19 pandemic shone a light on the practicalities, benefits and downsides of hybrid working. Many businesses adapted rapidly to flexible working in order to maintain productive output at a time when workers were prevented from attending their usual workplaces.
What Are The Pros and Cons Of Hybrid Working?
Hybrid (flexible) working had already been adopted by many businesses, with the pros and cons widely reported:
- Fewer office distractions, leading to improved focus and productivity
- No wasted time in commuting, leading to a better work-life balance
- Physical and mental health benefits for certain workers, leading to fewer absences
- Fewer and (sometimes) less-effective collaboration options
- Difficult for managers to measure productive output in some roles
- Lack of social contact can result in mental health detriment in certain workers
What Does My Business Need For Hybrid Working?
It can be a daunting task trying to work out how to switch from a traditional to a hybrid workplace.
To break the task into more manageable pieces, we think there are 3 key topics to consider to make hybrid working a success in your organisation.
- Working Environment
We believe that carful consideration of the above topics can help all businesses reap the rewards of flexible working (at least, in industries where remote working is fundamentally possible), while also avoiding the commonly reported problems and downsides associated with it.
1: Working Environment
First off, you need to consider how your existing office space fits into a hybrid setup. You must also consider the working environment of your employees.
Your Old Office
If you already have an office, consider what this will look like if only a fraction of your team are in each day?
Many of our clients report that their old office is no longer a nice place to be, often feeling vacated, abandoned and in one case “like it’s been burgled”, where desks have been stripped of everything and colleagues have taken their work home.
Some hybrid businesses like to maintain 1 day per week when everybody tries to get into the office, others prefer to give staff total flexibility with something like a 60/40 split between home and office throughout the week. Either way, your office space utilisation is very low and a more cost-effective and relevant workspace solution may need to be found.
Workers’ Home Offices
The other consideration with hybrid working is that although employees may express a desire to work from home, their home environment is not always suitable for a number of reasons:
- Sharing a small residence with a partner or roommate who also works at home
- Unprofessional setting and backdrop for video calls with clients and co-workers
- Young children being looked after at home, resulting in (sometimes significant!) background noise
- General home distractions such as jobs around the house or the temptation of favourite hobbies / pastimes
To solve the challenges above on both the business and employee side, many organisations are choosing to cancel their office leases and reinvest the money saved into flexible workspace options.
Coworking (sometimes called hotdesking) facilities like we have here at Purple Office in Poundbury, near Dorchester, not only provide a professional environment for workers, it’s also possible to hire out the whole space for team days and departmental meetings, according to your required schedule.
A coworking package can be negotiated so that you have the team-time you need and a space to hold your meetings, without any of the associated overhead of managing that space, such as cleaning, consumables, security and IT maintenance. Furthermore, the business might choose to fund (or subsidise) staff to use coworking facilities close to their home. This provides home workers with a professional space to get away from home for a few hours, but maintaining many of the benefits of remote working and mitigating the downsides.
Workers can benefit from social contact, which also opens up networking opportunities to your business by spreading your representatives across a wider area, who are then mixing with other like-minded organisations and their workers. Many coworking spaces will also offer Virtual Office services, allowing your business to cast a wider net by using and promoting itself at a variety of different locations with a professional ‘virtual’ business address across many towns and cities in your region – not just your local town.
The net result of using flexible workspace is usually that your organisation spends equal to (or often less) than its current office lease and associated overheads. In return, you may not get the same quantity of “available office time” for your staff as if you leased a dedicated office, but the quality of the space you are buying is often substantially higher in terms of its overall net benefits. Why spend the same money on a chronically under-utilised and often burdensome office space, when you could invest the same or possibly less money on flexible co-working options for your staff, bringing all the associated benefits, while also clearing many of the classic hurdles associated with home working.
Next, we need to talk about IT and, more broadly, communications in general and how to mitigate some of the challenges of liaising with colleagues.
Direct contact with colleagues in a traditional office is often a double-edged sword. Some workers love being in the office and having social contact with their colleagues. In some cases however, a subset of these workers can be equally prone to distraction by social contact on-tap. On the other hand, social contact is vital for many such workers’ mental health and creativity.
Expanding further on the idea of personality types, it’s not uncommon to find relatively more introverted workers who prefer the quiet and familiarity of their home environment. They do not need or crave gossip, chat or high levels of social engagement. They operate better when left to get their heads down and focus the task at hand. They may not need the creative stimulus of group discussion, nor may they need the implicit pressure and motivation of their boss “looking over their shoulder” in order to perform. Some workers, by contrast, will openly admit to needing that same pressure to work effectively, much like some people prefer to work to a deadline.
The point is that every worker is different and it’s the responsibility of the business to ensure all types of social interaction can continue to happen in a hybrid workplace.
At its most basic level, your workers need to be able to get one another’s attention quickly to ask for help or input. Instant messaging is usually the tool for this. Platforms such as Slack and Microsoft Teams help staff to chat by text message from their computer, both socially and productively, but most importantly it allows quick comments and thoughts to be exchanged in a similar way to popping your head up and speaking to a colleague across the room.
Asking quick questions, checking in on project status or just asking how their weekend was are perfect for instant messaging, and this should be a cornerstone of your hybrid workplace communications strategy.
Many workers are more comfortable instant messaging than speaking on the phone. Messaging also has the added benefit of being able to communicate on your own timeline, rather than having to accept constant, random distractions mid-task, or being faced with the socially-awkward situation of simply having to ask somebody to go away and talk to you later (especially if you’re on a deadline).
Productive communication is the term we use for collaborative efforts towards your finished output, such as team or departmental meetings, working together on documents, proposals, projects and so forth. It also extends to which communication channels you use to speak to your customers or clients, and how those conversations can be easily tracked, actioned and handed off seamlessly between colleagues.
This is where traditional person-to-person verbal communication and presentation comes into play, as discussions quickly become too complex to discuss between colleagues in text messages. You must also consider your customer-facing communications which might happen by email, phone, social media or other sales channels.
An excellent phone system is usually the starting point, where you can present to your customers a local, trustworthy geographic number to get in touch with your business. Staff are also given their own extension numbers for internal communications, and have the ability to broadcast their status (offline, busy, available etc)..
Many business owners do not realise that the link between physical premises, phone lines and geographic numbers has been completely severed. With the right phone system, all of your remote staff can make and receive calls from any phone number your business owns, in addition to being able to market local (often more trustworthy) phone numbers to customers in every town and city that you operate in.
Furthermore, phone systems no longer require a huge switching box in your office comms room, nor do they require complex networking configuration. Many phone systems are cloud-based, meaning that remote workers and office workers are equally able to make and receive calls on the company phone network, anywhere they have internet access. Staff can even use an app on their own smartphone, the business doesn’t have to provide them with physical phone hardware any more. With the right phone system, it’s easy for staff to communicate with each other from anywhere with internet, including co-working spaces, coffee shops, holiday cottages and even other countries.
With basic phone communication taken care of, businesses will supplement this with Microsoft Teams, Slack, WebEx, Zoom and other similar video conferencing and presentation tools. These, in the simplest possible terms, expand the phone system to include visual presentations, the ability to see each other and to pick up on social cues when working together as a group.
Finally we need to consider in-person communication. Some situations unavoidably warrant having a one-to-one with a peer or manager, maybe a sensitive, difficult or personal topic of conversation that needs to be addressed. Naturally, this is difficult in a purely remote-working environment, and you cannot always assume that a video call is possible to be conducted in absolute privacy for either party.
In these situations, you need to meet in private. But if your office is now under-utilised, that meeting can suddenly become a lot more conspicuous! This is also non-neutral territory, which may not be ideal in the event of a workplace dispute or a disciplinary situation.
It’s also possible that for complex projects, or in certain industries, there is simply no way to produce the desired output without hands-on, face-to-face meetings between colleagues.
As in item #1, flexible coworking spaces can offer a solution to situations where staff have to meet in person. If you have staff located near to each other, but relatively distant from a head office or headquarters, a local hot-desking or co-working facility can be a much more time-efficient way to bring the right workers together in the right places to deliver productive output. The same may be true of bringing your team to meet your client in a location close to the decision-makers but not necessarily close to either party’s HQ.
If you’re faced with more sensitive or potentially volatile meetings, you may find they can be calmed and made more constructive by choosing a neutral space (such as a coworking facility) to meet away from either party’s home or main office.
Finally, using co-working spaces can be an efficient and productive means of franchising or branching out to new areas as you steer your existing business towards hybrid working. It is entirely possible to build a diverse team of workers, in terms of geography, demographics and skills, by hiring across a much wider area. You can use local co-working facilities as meeting hubs to bring the right people together, in whichever combination is required, to meet the goals of your project. Who says you need a permanent office in every location you serve?
Finally, your journey to becoming a hybrid workplace has to cover Accountability. Often cited as a major downside of remote working, objectively measuring the output of individual workers is seen as a challenge on the road to hybrid working.
Clearly the first task is to evaluate the software, systems and processes you have in place currently to produce the output that leads to revenue in your organisation. Those same systems are going to need to work even when your workers are not necessarily all in the same place. In many cases this is not a problem and you have only to speak to your IT service provider, in other cases you may need to change or adjust your systems to make these systems available when outside the office.
At Purple Office we have an IT drop-in session every 2 weeks on a Thursday, where you can meet with one of our in-house IT experts to evaluate your current situation and advise what might need to change in order to ease the journey toward becoming a hybrid workplace.
After you have reviewed which of your systems, processes and software can be made to work in a hybrid workplace, you must give some thought to objectively measuring worker output.
Traditionally, business leaders have felt that they can only get the best from their staff if they all come to work together in a single place. We have learned that this is not always the case, in fact it is often the exception.
The old-fashioned manager’s biggest concern is that workers will find it easier to hide inefficiency if they are not being scrutinised continually by a senior staff member. The reality is that no worker (or manager!) is able to be optimally productive throughout the hours of 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday. Everybody has peaks and troughs in their performance throughout the day, week and month.
The key for business owners is to establish what is an acceptable average output in a given role, taking into account the salary and value of that role’s output, over a given period of time. The business must then ensure their systems objectively measure and report on individual worker performance against that benchmark. This mitigates the fear of a so-called “two tier” hybrid workforce, where some staff work at home and others work in the office, yet both are held to different standards. So long as everybody is measured against the same yardstick, business owners have the exact tools they need to evaluate performance, irrespective of where their staff work from. In short, we believe it is the responsibility of the organisation, less so the worker, to help everyone reap the benefits from remote working.
Additionally, in our experience, the worker who does not excel when working remotely is usually the same who also requires frequent management in the office to maintain productivity. Yes, your traditional office environment mitigates this problem by providing constant oversight by a manager, but should your managers really have to be spending time driving unmotivated workers? We think not, and we believe that improving business IT systems to objectively measure output and performance helps decision making in both the traditional and hybrid workplace. But, objectively measured accountability that much more important if your business is switching to remote working more generally.
We hope this provides organisational leaders and business owners a simple but effective framework to make hybrid working (creating a flexible workplace) a successful reality. Ensuring you have robust solutions to each of the 3 key steps above will help to reap the many rewards of remote work. The hybrid workplace may even save your business some money in the long term by offloading old-fashioned, inefficient and under-utilised office space, in favour of a combination of home working and co-working facilities which are managed for you, and scale to meet your needs over time.
Here at Purple Office we have everything you need for your modern business to thrive.
- Ultra-fast WiFi
- Meeting facilities
- Co-working, social interaction and networking opportunities
- Quiet, focussed work spaces away from the distractions of home
- Complimentary tea, coffee and printing
- Virtual Office facility (use of our business address)
- …and many more
Drop by for a visit or browse the rest of our website for more details about our services.
Get In Touch
If you want to find out more about coworking or steering your business towards hybrid, flexible working, feel free to get in touch for a friendly chat. Or, you can drop in to Purple Office next time you’re in the area.