Workplace behaviour expert shares advice on how to overcome the most common challenges
When COVID-19 hit Australia, workers everywhere struggled to get used to the isolation and disruption that came from working at home. One year later, most workers are now accustomed to its benefits. Now that lockdown has become a distant memory for most, organisations across a wide range of industries have adopted a hybrid work model – one that gives workers the flexibility to balance working from home and working from the office. But this new way forward has not been without challenge, said workplace behaviour expert and author of Work From Anywhere, Alison Hill.
The shift to remote working
Heading up behaviour and motivation strategy company Pragmatic Thinking with her behavioural scientist husband Dan, Hill employs her background in psychology to work with big corporates around development and change. She said at the start of last year, their then team of 17 staff were hit with the same experience of COVID that their clients faced – the need to work remotely.
“Alongside what we were seeing in our clients, we were also living and breathing it with our team,” she said. “We were very much a staunch, culture first, connect with people, come into the office business and needed to readjust our own belief and think about how work can be done and what work looks like.”
She became interested in the hybrid work model through both the needs of the company’s own team and the trend that was starting to emerge globally.
The challenges of a hybrid model
In addition to fear of the unknown, collaboration has proven a major challenge for companies trying to strike the right hybrid model. Hill said this wasn’t happening as effectively or efficiently in a virtual environment for many organisations which had the potential to create a barrier to innovation and “ideation”- the creation of new ideas.
Connection to culture also proved a challenge for companies who adopted a hybrid model, despite the benefits that working from home brought.
“The research and the data shows that productivity was actually almost higher across people working from home last year,” she said.
While the lack of office-based distractions and the ability for each individual to choose the way they want to work has increased productivity, the restrictions around connecting as a team for birthday celebrations, coffee catch ups and ad hoc conversations have meant many staff have struggled to stay connected.
“That’s not happening as organically, it requires a lot more conscious effort, connection and scheduling in order to address those challenges in a hybrid workplace,” she said.
Tips for setting up a hybrid work model
Hill offered the following three tips to overcome these challenges and set up an effective hybrid work model.
Have a belief that a hybrid model is worth striving for
It is important to believe in the merits of the hybrid model as something that can increase productivity without compromising connectivity of staff – and as something that the best in your team want.
“If that’s not there then every hurdle is going to be another reason to get everyone back to the office,” said Hill.
Read next: How to help your team thrive at work
Create a hybrid model framework
To create a framework for effective hybrid work, Hill recommends starting with an understanding of performance and the type of work that needs to be done in an organisation. Culture should then be considered, followed by an understanding of autonomy. This includes an assessment of how individuals work their best, the types of roles they have, how often they need to be available to serve clients and how often they need to come together with other staff members.
“That framework of performance, culture and autonomy helps to then build the conversation around ‘how does hybrid work for this team?’,” said Hill. “It might be different to the team next door or in a different division because they need to come together once a week, whereas they’ll be a team that needs to come together once every two months based on the kind of work they do.”
Have a strong feedback capability
It’s important to regularly check in with staff to see what is working and what is not, said Hill. Since this can be more challenging when staff are working remotely, it is critical to “dial up” those human skills around feedback. While there are plenty of survey formats employers could use, Hill cautioned against having an overly quantitative approach.
“I come from the belief that you can get all the data in the world but often that data is only as valuable as the conversations we’re having out the other end of it, otherwise you end up surveying people and nothing happens, then you survey them again in three months’ time,” she said.
Virtual coffee catch ups and ad hoc phone calls can be an effective way to check in with staff members, as can team meetings where you discuss how the team is working together rather than just the tasks that need to be done, she said.