How to manage a hybrid workplace

With fairness and flexibility, a hybrid workplace can work for everyone
by Sophie Mackenzie


With more than 80% of financial services firms in the UK planning to implement a hybrid working policy (according to a Bloomberg article), managers and HR professionals are having to find new ways of structuring workforces and leading teams. Some organisations, such as Goldman Sachs, are bucking the trend by insisting that all staff return to the office – but workers in the sector have overwhelmingly  expressed their preference for home-working or a hybrid model, according to a Finextra report on a survey of 1,400 UK financial services employees across banking, capital markets and insurance carried out by Accenture.

The shift to hybrid working presents organisations with what a McKinsey article describes as a “once in a generation” opportunity to reimagine the way we work, akin to the Industrial Revolution or the advent of the digital age. “The return to the workplace is a chance to create a new, more effective operating model that works for companies and people navigating a world of increasing uncertainty,” write the authors.

But a hybrid workforce presents challenges for managers, chief among them ensuring that fairness – both actual and perceived – is maintained, writes sociologist Tracy Brower in an article for Forbes. She also identifies “maintaining strong cultures, morale and camaraderie among team members” as a challenge. Similarly, managers should be wary of allowing an “us versus them” undercurrent to develop among colleagues, warns psychologist and business strategist Liane Davey in a Harvard Business Review article.

Making hybrid workSuccessfully maintaining company and team culture is key to the success of a hybrid working model, according to a Hays report, Managing hybrid teams in a new era of work, published in August 2021. The report sets out strategies managers can follow to reinforce culture and recognise and reward team members:

  • Ask your team to pinpoint the cultural signs or activities that they really value, that make them feel part of a team and perform at their best, so that they are feeding back into your organisational culture and helping to shape and sustain it.
  • It’s about connection as well as celebration. Set up opportunities for regular, informal communication such as holding virtual team coffee breaks and lunch dates.
  • During team meetings – virtual or otherwise – in addition to summarising and celebrating successes from the week, ask team members to identify other instances during the week where they observed good work from other team members which may have gone unnoticed. This will help ensure that your workers feel ‘seen’, wherever they may be.

Hybrid working also presents a ‘proximity bias’ challenge, points out Harvard Business School professor Linda Hill in the Harvard Business Review article, highlighting the incorrect assumption that “people in the office are more productive than those who are not”. To counteract this, she suggests establishing the basic ground rule that all team meetings take place over video conferencing, even though some people may be together in the office.

Get flexible“Leaders of hybrid workplaces need to focus on creating resilient, sustainable teams that are equally – if not more – productive than a fully office-based team,” writes Chris Shannon, CEO of information technology and services group Fotech in an HR Director article. “Embracing flexibility and actively promoting a good work/life balance may seem counterintuitive, but they will reap rewards in terms of engagement, productivity and results, as well as supporting good mental wellbeing.”

At the same time, robust policy and procedures should be put in place to ensure effective hybrid working, according to a July 2021 CIPD guide. It recommends that organisations consider how their hybrid working policy intersects with existing flexible working policies, including:

  • Setting out who (or which role type) is eligible for hybrid working.
  • Explaining how to request hybrid working.
  • Clarifying roles and responsibilities for hybrid workers and people managers.
  • How hybrid working intersects with other forms of flexible working.
  • Reviewing other related policies including, for example, expenses, IT usage, homeworking and data protection.

Fortunately, many of the challenges of hybrid working can be addressed by managers taking a back-to-basics approach, as an EY guide, How to make hybrid working a success in your organisation, points out. “In a hybrid world, it will remain challenging for leaders to notice the subtle signs [of ebbing engagement] and gauge the overall team morale. Luckily, handling this challenge is nothing new, it’s just a case of dialling up the leadership basics of communication, purpose and goal setting,” the authors say.

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Published: 30 Sep 2021
  • Training, Competence and Culture
  • Soft Skills
  • hybrid work
  • remote working
  • flexible working
  • Covid-19

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