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5 ways to create an effective hybrid working strategy, according to business leaders

From open communication to a democratic approach, here's how to build a hybrid working strategy that works for you and your business.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor
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While many professionals spend a significant proportion of their working week at home, other companies have told staff it's time to go back to the office.

For most bosses and their staff, the new normal is a balance of working from home and spending time at HQ. So, what's a successful way to establish a hybrid working strategy, especially if your boss demands you spend more time in the office? Five business leaders gave us their advice.

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1. Build a communication channel

Caroline Carruthers, CEO at consultant Carruthers and Jackson, said an effective hybrid working strategy requires give and take from managers and staff.

"Keep listening to people. We're figuring this stuff out as we go along," she told ZDNET.

Carruthers recognizes the benefits of having people in the office: "The team environment is better, communication is better."

However, she also recognizes many professional lives in the post-COVID age have been built around an agile and flexible approach.

"The first thing we did was ask people what it meant for them and what their red lines were," she said.

Of course, not every company will be as flexible. Carruthers suggested pushing back if your manager demands you go to the office.

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"If you've got a boss who wants you in five days a week, I'd ask, 'Why?' Success is about establishing communication," she said.  

"Now that there are more hybrid or flexible approaches to work, our research suggests companies with more restrictive approaches will struggle to recruit. So, push back."

2. Create flexible guidelines

Craig Donald, CIO at The Football Association (The FA), is another business leader who said it's tough when managers issue a return-to-the-office decree.

"It's difficult because when you look at the coverage of those companies that are mandating more time in the office, there's very little they say, at least publicly, beyond 'Our company culture requires it,'" he said.

"I think the empathetic way to deal with that demand is to ask questions. It's to say, 'Why do you feel we need to be in the office to get the best out of us?' Try to find a way to have a dialogue."

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Donald said The FA has avoided those challenges by establishing a clear strategy.

"We've stated that we are a hybrid organization. We have some guidelines on what that means -- it's not hard and fast, and teams can adjust," he told ZDNET.

"So, within my team, we are in the office two to three days a week. But we don't police it rigorously. And there are variations. Some people are in four to five days, others are in two. We keep it open and focus on ensuring the work gets done."

Donald said empathetic conversations begin when issues become apparent -- and that's a strategy that works in his organization.

"Is the communication happening? Are we seeing any failures from that lack of communication? And if we're seeing that, that's where the conversation starts."

3. Develop a great place to work

Nic Granger, director of corporate and CFO at North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), said her organization gives people the freedom to make choices within an established framework.

"We ask people to do 40% of their time in an office over a quarter. It's two days a week, but we haven't dictated the two days a week," she told ZDNET. 

"So, we'll have some people that will do chunks of time over three months. And we have some colleagues who go in two days a week. But we have left it up to the individuals and teams to decide how everything works."

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Granger said NSTA's hybrid strategy is part of a wider approach to work. The executive team ensures that being seen as a great workplace is always a top 10 annual priority.

"We deliver through our people, so apart from using specific partners on technology projects, we don't bring in huge numbers of consultancies," she said.  

"If you have people on your team who don't enjoy working for your organization, they won't stay long. Create a great place to work and live those values."

4. Listen to your colleagues

Like most business leaders, Nigel Richardson, SVP & CIO Europe at PepsiCo, said his company's approach to hybrid working emerged as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.

PepsiCo now supports a mix of working styles. While some employees work in factories or sell products on the road, other professionals spend a significant proportion of their time at home.

For these professionals, the company has a strategy. "Our view is you should be in the office around three days a week," Richardson told ZDNET.

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"Of course, there's flexibility around that, but that's what we aim for. And certainly, for me, spending time face-to-face is great. Virtual works, but I miss the human connection. So, we aim for around three days a week in the office, and it seems to work pretty well."

Richardson understands some companies and their employees will struggle to find a middle ground between time in the office and at home.

In these situations, he encourages everyone to communicate.

"It's all about active listening and having a conversation, not just listening to respond. Try to understand the other person's point of view and then try to find a compromise," said Richardson.

"As a manager, you might discover your employee has a good reason why they need to be in the office less and then you can try to find a sensible solution. Listening and communicating is the best advice I can give."

5. Take a democratic approach

Dan Eddie, director of customer service at UK health solutions provider Simplyhealth, said hybrid working is engrained into how his company operates.

About 60 people work in the company's head office in Andover in southern England. These individuals go to the office between one and three days a week. But the majority of the business, like Eddie, works from home.

"This is the preferred way of working," he told ZDNET. "It's a very democratic decision. The business has decided it wants to work this way and likes working this way."

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Eddie said his company dedicates resources to measuring engagement and productivity. As many as 84% of customer complaints are resolved within three days, which is way above average industry rates of 46%.

He said these strong results are being delivered by a hybrid workforce, which proves the approach works for Simplyhealth.

"Anybody that says, 'Oh, you've got to get them back in the office,' is wrong. Listening and talking -- and then allowing a degree of flexibility, both at an individual and collective level -- will get you the right results," he said.

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