Flexible/hybrid work arrangements bring about benefits such as faster decision-making, increased productivity, and higher employee satisfaction. However, this is only possible if they are well managed, share experts from Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP).

The massive work-from-home experiment brought about by the Circuit Breaker and social distancing measures has forced organisations to rethink how and where work can be done. Many are planning to have a new work model that is ‘hybrid’ in the post-pandemic world. According to RGF International Recruitment, 61% of Singapore employers intend to continue flexible work beyond the pandemic, with 65% considering it a key factor for work-life harmony. A survey conducted by The Straits Times also found that eight in 10 workers prefer flexible working arrangements, while one in 10 prefers to return to the office full-time.

Beyond our shores, the ‘hybrid’ trend is even more dominant. A whopping 88% of workers in Asia Pacific want the flexibility to choose whether to work from home or office while 82% of global companies intend to retain a hybrid workforce even after the pandemic, and nearly half (47%) will allow employees to work remotely full-time.

What are ‘hybrid’ work models?

A hybrid work model need not be binary i.e. employees work either from home or office; it can also be a combination of both depending on factors such as industry, nature of work, and organisation size. Some organisations have or are planning to have fixed office days for face-to-face meetings or employee onboarding. Others have split teams or staggered schedules, and some even allow employees complete flexibility in choosing their work location.

The banking sector in Singapore, for instance, is introducing flexi-work as a permanent feature beyond the COVID-19 pandemic but the hybrid model adopted by each bank varies. For instance, UOB has instituted a two-day work-from-home policy, allowing employees to manage their work based on the space where they can be most effective. Similarly, DBS provides the option to work remotely up to 40% of the time and will launch a Living Lab which blends physical and virtual workspace configurations to facilitate discussions and cross-team collaborations.

On the other hand, HSBC offers three work arrangements based on job roles; office workers are permanently office-based due to compliance reasons or the need to be client-facing, flexible office workers are primarily office-based and may work from home one to two days per week, while flexible home workers have a fixed schedule that is at least 50% work-from-home.

Leaders in the tech industry are also adopting similar home-office work ratios. Technology giant Google has announced a flexible workweek pilot where employees will spend at least three days in the office on 'collaboration days' and work from home the rest of the week.

Such work arrangements bring about benefits such as faster decision-making, increased productivity, and higher employee satisfaction. However, this is only possible if they are well managed.

Here are some key success factors to help you build a sustainable hybrid work model.

Redesign processes and infrastructure

Hybrid work models require clarity about job roles to determine which tasks are best suited to be done remotely or in the office. Some considerations for organisations include:

  • Do employees really need to check in and out of office for work?
  • Can certain work processes be modified or redesigned to allow remote working and hybrid teams?
  • Does your organisation have the necessary digital and physical infrastructure to support a hybrid work arrangement?

While technology (e.g. cloud storage and collaboration applications) is a great enabler, it allows employees to access critical resources while working remotely and teams to continue co-creating solutions despite being physically divided. However, technology alone is insufficient for a hybrid model to work unless employees are reskilled and equipped to use the tools and technology to aid their work and be trained to be conscious of data security while accessing classified information remotely. Hence, technology and digital upskilling need to go hand-in-hand.

Other than IT infrastructure, the physical layout of the office may also be reworked to accommodate onsite workers to participate in both physical and virtual meetings. This may mean creating smaller meeting rooms and huddle spaces equipped with room booking system.

Build trust at work

In addition to changing the ‘hard elements’ to enable implementation, ‘soft elements’ also need to be transformed to reinforce and sustain a successful hybrid workforce. Employers and managers need to consider:

  • What are the norms, rules, and expectations around work?
  • Are employees’ work outcomes or the number of hours clocked more important?

To avoid flexibility backlash, a culture that hinges on trust and results-orientation is required.

Managers as a key facilitator of a hybrid work model need to be trained on how to manage such teams. For instance, how to empower employees, delegate work and set clear expectations, and provide the necessary support and guidance to deliver results. Some managers may have the tendency to engage in micromanaging behaviours such as constant tracking of online activity or work hours as they feel they lack control over remote employees or even office employees. However, such gestures can cause undue pressure and cultivate a counter-productive culture of presenteeism.

Instead, managers need to learn to believe that their employees are putting in their best even when they are not under close physical supervision and focus on work deliverables. One effective way to supervise employees would be to schedule a regular one-to-one or group check-ins to get work updates.

To aid managers in better supervising a hybrid team and cultivate a trust culture, organisations can:

  • Establish a clear hybrid work arrangement policy that can be adapted from an existing telecommuting policy regarding working hours and behavioural expectations during work hours, and communicate this clearly to all employees.
  • Adopt an appraisal system that is fair and objective, with measurable standards for evaluating job performance (e.g. project outcomes and task completion).

Create an inclusive work environment

With employees working in different locations and possibly at different times, managers are critical in ensuring that no one gets left behind. Besides conducting regular check-ins on work progress, managers should provide safe platforms for two-way communication to allow all employees to raise issues or contribute their views, taking into account individual preferences for the mode of communication.

Certain hybrid work models may also create subgroups of employees, with those working from home and those in office forming their own cliques. This could potentially lead to an 'us' vs 'them' mentality which could be harmful to workplace morale. Social relationships and an employee’s sense of belonging may also deteriorate if they feel excluded.

Good managers will create environments that foster inclusiveness, strengthen employee relationships, and bridge the physical divide between those working remotely and those working onsite. Conscious efforts would be required to create opportunities for both remote and onsite employees to interact. For instance, provide cross-team collaborations and organise team bonding activities such as virtual happy hours, coffee catch-ups, and brown bag sessions.

There is no one-size-fits-all hybrid work model. To implement a sustainable hybrid work arrangement, organisations need to first establish the objective of adopting such an arrangement (e.g. to attract and retain talent), assess the organisation’s and employees’ needs (e.g. through surveys), and identify a suitable model. Be sure to also pilot this model with a proportion of employees and make adjustments along the way before rolling it out to the whole organisation.

Visit tafep.sg for more tips on work-life implementation.

Photo / 123RF

Human Resources Online is on Telegram! Follow us @humanresourcesonline or click here for all the latest weekly HR and manpower news from around the region.