The role of the office has been under severe scrutiny since the beginning of lockdown in 2020, when half of the world’s population were ordered to stay home by their governments.

Many businesses have been pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness of their colleagues during this extended period of remote working. Now, as restrictions lift, they face the challenge of redefining the role of the office and striking a balance of flexibility for staff while maintaining a strong organisational culture.

In this webinar, David Sole (Managing Partner) and Colin Daniel (Partner) discuss various approaches to hybrid working, as well as reflecting on key challenges for leaders, through the lens of the Dimensions framework.

They outlined four different hybrid working models that are currently being offered to employees:

  • The at-will model enables employees to choose their own work arrangements on any given day, blending ‘work from home’ and ‘office work’ to suit them and their circumstances
  • The split-week model splits the working week between the office and home on a more structured basis. For example, working from home two days and working in the office the remaining three. This enables teams to come together on a more frequent basis and provides more structure to the working week
  • The shift work model invites staff to alternate working from home and working morning or evening shifts on site. This is proving more challenging for employees, particularly those who have to put in place childcare arrangements
  • Week-by-week sees employees alternating working from home and working in the office on a week-by-week basis.

While these flexible approaches reduce costs, maintain a focus on productivity and encourage more trusting relationships between organisation and employee, they are not without flaw. A flexible approach may seem more inclusive, however the opportunity for individuals to become isolated and part of an ‘out-crowd’ by staying at home, are also greater. When working at home, individuals’ home and family cultures may start to play a more dominant role and it may prove more challenging for leaders to be visible role models to their colleagues. Concerns around customer experience and expectations were also raised as important considerations.

Most pulse surveys see 2-3 days in the office as the most popular preference for individuals but the uncertainty over hybrid working models is still a cause for concern among employees. Some of these concerns were explored through the lens of the School’s five Dimensions of Leadership:

  • Managing Up
    • Conversations and activity around career development may be harder to manage in a more irregular working environment, with possibly even less face-to-face contact than usual. Stakeholder mapping is therefore key to ensuring that you are able to develop the right relationships and gain sponsorship at senior levels in the organisation. It is also important to set clear expectations and accountability in a new working environment, helping your boss understand how they can support you to be at your best
  • Managing Down
    • The sense of belonging is a fundamental human need and so, inclusion is a key quality in leaders in organisations. Ensuring that individuals feel included will require attention, particularly in partly formed teams and you will need to dial up your social awareness as emotional intelligence becomes critical
  • Managing Out
    • As restrictions lift, how will the customer experience evolve? Hybrid working will undoubtedly lead to more face-to-face meetings, but smart organisations will be very focused on how they interact with their customers and clients, not only to take advantage of the cost efficiencies, but also making it an optimum solution for the client. Employer brand is equally important. Purpose-led organisations who adopt the most appealing hybrid working models should benefit, as well as attract the best people, wherever they are
  • Managing In
    • The focus on mental health and burnout has sharpened through the pandemic. It is essential that conversations around mental and emotional wellbeing do not stop as organisations establish new working rhythms, particularly as the potential for individual isolation increases
  • Managing Across
    • In many respects, the opportunity for spontaneous creativity and collaboration diminished during remote working. Rebuilding trust in teams and across peer groups should be prioritised, in order to enable transparency and constructive conflict.

Leaders must be thoughtful and adaptable. You cannot rely on what has served you well during the last 12 months being enough to work in the coming months and years

David Sole OBE