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Hybrid as the ‘new’ flexible working

I’m not a fan of the ‘hybrid working’ label. To me – hybrid working – managing people where some are remote and some are in the office, is just an extension of flexible working.

Perhaps it’s an indictment of flexible working that most employers have not been doing it well, or at all in fact. Allowing someone to work from home on the odd occasion, or when a global pandemic calls for it, is not flexible working. Or maybe I’ve just been fortunate enough to work in flexible working environments where it has worked properly.

As a working mother of well over 20 years, I was always first to take advantage of any flexibility that my employers would give. As a local authority employee – flexibility came into the equation when we had new offices built, and there was going to be a reduced number of parking spaces – we set up a rotation where team members would regularly work from home. Things like ‘clear-desk’ policies so desks could be shared and home-working protocols were put in place.

Following this, a move to a forward-thinking housing association led myself and my senior HR colleagues to implement a flexible working policy that would work for all colleagues, regardless of job role, and which was, needless to say, ‘flexible’.

Flexible working is both when and where you work

Our definition of flexibility took on both aspects of time and place. Flexible working could be varying hours in terms of when you worked– depending on your job role, as well as flexible in terms of where, in terms of which location, you worked from. The where itself was fully flexible, meaning you could work out of any office you chose, your home, or any other location of your choosing. This was necessitated by our large geographical spread, offices in various counties, and employees in roles that spanned several offices. Additionally, a large part of our workforce were classed as ‘remote’ workers – meaning those that don’t come into an office to do their job, such as tradesmen or carers.

We created role profiles on a classic 2×2 matrix – job roles that could have time flexibility, place flexibility, both, or none. Within the time flexibility there were different levels – full time flexibility, partial eg core hours that needed to be covered, and none.

We paired the roles with examples and set about briefing managers. It was up to managers to then implement flexible working with their teams – and they would get to decide which flexibility profile was appropriate for the various job roles in their teams.

Getting managers on board

Some managers got on board with it straight away and couldn’t wait to roll it out with their teams. Others presented the usual reluctance: ‘How will I know if they’re doing their work if I can’t see them?’ and ‘I want them to be working when I’m working’. Hopefully these reactions have shifted somewhat post-lockdown working. The advantage of launching it this way is that those that weren’t used to managing teams flexibly weren’t forced into anything. But they could soon see other teams that were thriving, and they had subtle peer pressure from their fellow-managers, and sure enough, they moved towards a new way of working when they were ready.

Flexible performance management processes

We also created a performance management process that allowed for more regular check-ins, at a time and regularity of each manager’s choosing, with an online system to allow for recording of objectives and notes for discussion. This made it so it was incredibly easy to have a one to one, whilst individuals and their line managers were in separate locations. There was no forwarding to and from of documents – both could log in and update the one-to-one notes at any time. Managers could review progress against objectives that had been set, training needs could be noted, and when occasion warranted a fuller discussion, the behavioural framework could be used to assess performance.

Training to support change…

To support line managers, we made sure that not only did we launch and present the new policy, we backed it up with training. Mini training sessions on a swathe of related topics, delivering online webinars, communicating with remote teams, management by objectives, all served to support line managers in adapting their approach and style for flexible working. Each was a piece to the jigsaw puzzle, a step forward in the right direction. There’s no single step or big shift that enables behaviour change. People have to be willing, but you can lead the way…

 

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