Hybrid Working: A Board Challenge

  • Alan Hewitt
  • Published: January 7, 2021
Hybrid Working: A Board Challenge

2020 will go down in history as being unlike any other year in living memory. We haven’t seen an event with such a dramatic impact on virtually every aspect of both our private and working lives since the last world war.

The global pandemic has seen changes in working practices accelerate at a pace not seen previously. We have adopted new ways of working that have, in many cases, been made just to survive. The restrictions imposed in most countries have caused a dramatic move towards home/remote working – resulting in changes in how we communicate and work together.

Initially, it was believed that this move actually improved productivity and effectiveness and may be the model for the future. Changes that would historically have been made over years with pilot schemes followed by phased rollouts have happened almost overnight. As we know, from painful experience, changes made in haste can often start to fail as time goes on and the new systems come under stress and full analysis.

This article from Ernst & Young in early September of 2020 starts to look at some of the pitfalls (or at least areas for consideration with this new way of working):

https://www.ey.com/en_be/covid-19/why-remote-working-will-be-the-new-normal-even-after-covid-19

In September, Forbes started to highlight that maybe a move to only home/remote working wasn’t the real long term solution. Would a mixed office/home solution be more appropriate?

https://www.forbes.com/sites/grantfreeland/2020/09/08/will-the-32-hybrid-workplace-of-home-and-office-become-the-new-norm-for-business/?sh=77fe4b3e50fb

More recently we’ve started to see the phrase “hybrid working” appear in articles.

Here’s Alex Chisholm’s (UK Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary) take on it:

“He expects COVID-19 to embed working from home for at least part of the week – even when the pandemic is over.

Chisholm, who is also chief operating officer of the civil service, told MPs on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee that he did not expect to see an increase in the number of civil servants who worked from home exclusively, but believed that a new balance between office and homeworking would be found.”

It might be interesting to look up the dictionary definition of the word “hybrid” to see if it is an appropriate phrase for us to be using.

From the Cambridge dictionary:

hybrid

noun [C ]

a plant or animal that has been produced from two different types of plant or animal, especially to get better characteristics

“Hybrid” is now being used beyond just plants and animals, as can be seen with the introduction of “hybrid cars,” but it is the final few words from the definition that caught my eye: “especially to get better characteristics.”

Now this seems to me to be exactly what we are looking for – a better long term solution.

We were forced into a new and somewhat alien way of working, but maybe a hybrid model is the way forward? This provides the potential opportunity for reducing the future costs of office space along with its associated charges. In addition, the opportunity to reduce commuting travel costs for employees would also be welcomed.

As previously mentioned, we were almost forced into making tactical changes to survive the current pandemic. But there is clearly some merit in keeping some of those changes in the long run, or at least a variant of them.

As we usher in 2021 and the beginning of the end of the pandemic, companies and their boards now need to seriously consider which model they believe will best serve their organisation for the future. It will be a major challenge to make the right  decisions that will work for – and support – the business over the next few years.

One of those challenges are the legal issues that will need to be addressed should, as seems likely, we continue with remote or hybrid working.

This article outlines some areas that will need consideration including:

Legal Issues with Remote Teams:

  1. Privacy and Security 
  2. Payroll  
  3. Health and Safety 
  4. Hiring & Interviews 

It also goes on to suggest that while the legal considerations of allowing employees to work from home are important, there are also a number of other things to think about. These include:

1. Work/life Balance: Here are some tips to maintain a work/life balance for your employees. Maintaining work/life balance is crucial as it not only impacts the quality of work, but it also reduces staff turnover.

2. Insurance Policy: While employees are working from home, employers are still responsible for any injury that occurs during the course of their work. It is important to make sure that insurance policies are up to date for businesses.

3. Tax Considerations: The ATO has introduced a new working-from-home tax shortcut. They have implemented a simplified method of calculating additional expenses incurred while working from home.

4. Collaboration and Communication: Managing a remote workforce can be a big challenge for businesses. To combat this, there are some useful collaboration tools such as Monday, Asana, or Slack, to name a few. 

But are there other models that companies and boards should be investigating?

Last May 2020, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said companies should consider implementing four-day workweeks in order to boost employee productivity, provide workers with better work/life balance, and encourage domestic tourism to make up for a pandemic-induced lack of foreign visitors.

Late last year, employees of consumer goods multinational Unilever in New Zealand began working four days a week — and were paid for five — in a year long trial:

The move is an “experiment” to see if shortening the workweek by one day can “bring material change in the way [employees] work,” Unilever New Zealand managing director Nick Bangs said in a statement. He added: “We believe the old ways of working are outdated and no longer fit for purpose.”

COVID-19 has brought in its wake unprecedented changes in the way that we live our lives and perform work. Some of those changes will stay, and some will alter over time. Companies have the opportunity to make the right changes and decisions for their organisations.

How will your company and board approach this fascinating challenge?