Supporting effective hybrid working

Gordon McFarlane sets out five design principles to help ensure hybrid working can deliver effective services and a better experience for employees.

Popular with employees, hybrid working is becoming a permanent fixture of local government. As organisations work out how to deliver effective services through this model,there are three common tensions from colleagues in our HR community. These are: mismatched expectations around workplace presence and optimal use of buildings from some elected members, balancing the flexibility staff want with service delivery priorities and managing staff wellbeing and performance in a distributed workforce.

These tensions matter because they pose a material risk to the integrity of the services we deliver, and all impact on employee engagement at a time when competition for talent is tight.

While there is no right way to evolve a hybrid organisation, I believe incorporating five design principles will help ensure new ways of working can deliver effective services while creating a competitive employee experience.

The first is developing a shared mindset across the organisation that cultural change is key to effective hybrid working.

Lockdown showed that having the right kit enabled staff to work from home but didn't make up for impaired collaboration, relationships or wellbeing or disruption to work processes. Cultural change can only be effective if the people, IT and property elements are truly integrated.

Second, we need to frame communications in this context.

To work effectively, hybrid working requires a change of mindset for leaders and workers around performance management, collaboration within teams and across services, and staff wellbeing.

Tailoring solutions to different teams is a third imperative. One-size-fits-all solutions will not be effective because every team works differently, shaped by business needs and how they interact with other services. To get hybrid working ‘right' requires input from all stakeholders to tackle what is a multi-faceted challenge.

A fourth necessity is working with each team, including team members, managers and service delivery partners to map out what they need to work effectively. Here, you must balance the needs of the business, good working relationships, collaboration and the behaviours that drive effective ways of working, as well as location and technology. Staff are more likely to support a solution they have co-created, that as a result makes sense to them.

Finally, we must invest in reskilling managers to support and engage teams in dispersed locations. Working from home can be isolating for individuals and hard for managers to spot any dips in morale.

We need to build the knowledge, skills and behaviours they need to help their people thrive in a hybrid environment – support their wellbeing, build a community, manage performance, team dynamics, onboard new joiners, communication.

We must then learn how to improve by establishing channels for managers to share best practice across the organisation as well as learning from what has not worked.

Allied to this, we need to help staff take responsibility for developing their personal effectiveness in a hybrid environment.

Facilitated team sessions are an effective way to encourage staff to think about the knowledge, skills and behaviours they need to contribute as an effective team.

It focuses on the psychological aspects of being part of a community and staying connected while working in different locations.

None of this can happen without working with elected members as key stakeholders and providing them with the evidence they need to understand the business case for hybrid working – many of which are some of the perennial people issues faced by local authorities.

These include the ability to competitively recruit and retain staff, reduced sickness absence, greater productivity, better service continuity, carbon reduction contribution and lower building costs.

As a community we are already seeing the positive impact of well-implemented hybrid working on staff retention and recruitment.

We deliver services across complex ecosystems and as we evolve our understanding and practice, I am confident further gains can be achieved by extending these design principles across all teams and partners who are critical to service delivery.

Gordon McFarlane is PPMA president and assistant director at Leicestershire CC



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