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Hybrid working is here to stay. Here’s how we’re making it work

Since March, Fox Agency has been cooped up at home. No surprises there – we all need to do our bit to combat the P-word.

After the initial cabin fever had passed and we became accustomed to our cosy new norm, we were able to enter the office on a limited, socially distanced basis from July. It wasn’t the same as before, but it felt great. Who knew Sainsbury’s meal deals could feel novel?

While our newfound freedom has been snatched away for the time being, a new, flexible, hybrid approach to working, in which we divide our 9-5 between the office, home – wherever – is universally popular.

We’re not alone. 77% of UK employees think it’s the best way forward according to 2020 Adecco Group research. If enough employers take heed, hybrid working is set to be the standard once we’ve got our jabs, grown bored of ironically infringing on each other’s personal space, and stopped shaking any hands that’ll have us.

So how do you make hybrid working go off without a hitch? We’ve had a few months to mull it over, and this is what Fox Agency recommends.

Ask your staff what they think

The office-based 9-5 wasn’t perfect by any stretch. In 2018, a YouGov survey found that only 16% of people were happy with it, with the rest opting for a wide range of working patterns. Inertia was already underway: the number of people working from home had already almost doubled between 2008 and 2019.

Yet, it’s important not to simply launch into hybrid working. To create a fair approach that works for all, you must discover why your staff want to partly work from home.

At Fox Agency, this meant surveying staff to ascertain what, exactly, they liked and disliked about hybrid working, thereby giving us a solidly insightful foundation upon which to plan reasonable adaptations throughout the business.

In the responses, many said they appreciated the increased independence and flexibility – the ability to beaver away at ‘quiet work’ at home, as opposed to amidst the bustle of the office, earbuds-in. Others appreciated spending less time commuting, noting how it aided their focus and gave them more time to relax outside of office hours.

On the other hand, plenty of people said how much they missed being around and working with their colleagues. Others, while glad they had their own spacious, private, and well-equipped remote workspaces, couldn’t help putting themselves in the shoes of those less fortunate. Many yearned for a change of scenery.

It was interesting, it was insightful, and every invaluable comment is being fed into the agency’s hybrid working policy to make sure it works for all.

Accept that rigid solutions don’t exist

With any big change, it’s important to realise that transformation is an iterative process of trial and error. The same goes for hybrid working – for all businesses, even the most progressive organisations that had started saying sayonara to the office pre-Covid.

We have all had to adapt to the current workplace reality. Processes have been tested, working patterns honed, and schedules challenged, and throughout it’s become blindingly apparent that hybrid working does not suit rigid processes and patterns.

That means it’s a good idea to:

  • Have more, shorter virtual meetings throughout the week, during ‘core business hours’ – 11-4pm, for example
  • Give visibility of deadlines with plenty of time to spare to allow staff to adjust their schedules
  • Let staff who want to work in the office all the time do so – parents with young children, or colleagues without slick internet or private office spaces are unlikely to be champing at the bit to work from home three days a week…
  • Create time for the entire team to meet up in person, thereby allowing healthy collaboration and the ability to socialise.

As Ben Fox, our Director of Client Services and Strategy puts it, “Be mindful that what’s right for one person may not suit somebody else at all – everybody has different home set-ups and family responsibilities.

“Hybrid for you could be very different to hybrid for somebody else.”

Promote a positive hybrid workplace dynamic

Hybrid working must be about forging compromises that incorporate the flexibility and independence of working from home with the social, organisational, and cultural benefits of working from the office. It’s all about perfecting your model.

That’s because if your team is separate most of the time or only interacting with a select number of their colleagues, in-groups and out-groups will form. In research from 2013, this was found to harm cohesion, creating an ‘us vs them’ mentality.

We’re not keen on seeing Fox Agency go all Lord of the Flies, so have made sure to account for the key susceptibility factors noted in the research:

  • Limited synchronous availability – (for the benefit of readers without PhDs) this means being available to chat when others are; everyone being online during ‘core hours’, and a proper call booking system are both good ways to guarantee this
  • Conflicting goals and responsibilities – this is why it’s important everyone is working to the same end, with clearly defined roles, able to independently flex their expertise
  • Uneven communication channels – make sure silos are few and only used when absolutely necessary, there are plenty of spaces for group communication, and all employees are kept abreast of changes occurring within teams and the wider company.

Working from home requires a dedicated workspace

When asked, staff member after staff member stressed how important having their own home office space was to home-working success. As I’ve already noted, this isn’t possible for everyone, but it’s a crucial step for any hybrid worker as it stops one’s home and work lives from melding into a harmful whole.

It’s simple: if your lounge or bedroom turns into your workplace, lines get blurred and it can be difficult to switch off – your relationships might suffer as a result. Conversely, if you’re constantly being interrupted by children, partners, or housemates, your concentration will nosedive.

David Clare, Fox Agency’s Head of Content, has been working from home for over five years. He says the most important improvement he ever made was getting his own space: “If there is any way you can create a ‘space’, do it. A spare room works. A summer house in the garden can be insulated and electrified. If you’re lucky enough to have an outbuilding, then you’ve won the WFH lottery – get that bad boy furnished!

“Essentially, own your space.”

Get a dog

Being locked down for months affords one a unique perspective; a chance to think about what really matters. For Fox’s Senior Operations Manager, Nat Noble, that meant accomplishing her lifelong dream of getting a dog, taking advantage of the extra time (and pairs of hands) to welcome a young pup into her family.

“I’m hybrid all the way for work-life balance” notes Nat, “and if you need to be in the office for collaboration, no problem”. The team agrees – just as long as Nat brings along the good boy himself.

Fox Agency has gone hybrid. If that sounds like your bag and you’re a smart, get-things-done kind of cookie, check out our careers page and get in touch.