During the pandemic, working online has become the new normal faster than we all expected. Digital strategies organisations had mapped out for the coming years had to be realised in a short period of time. This new situation required a whole new set of skills from everyone in every organisation. But with more and more COVID-19 restrictions being lifted due to the increasing numbers of vaccinations, it’s now time to start thinking about work post-COVID.
As PwC, we are currently supporting ABN AMRO in their journey towards Hybrid Working. This has provided valuable learnings not only for the bank, but also for us. How will we work together? How will we divide our time between home and office? What skills and technology do we need? In this blog, PwC experts Debby Jannink, Vanessa van de Wiel, and Roger Metelerkamp explain how to successfully realise the benefits of hybrid working, with a primary focus on knowledge workers. They also discuss how to overcome the challenges of hybrid working. At the end of the blog, Annemarie Matze-Mennes, ABN AMRO Program Lead Hybrid Working, shares some of her thoughts on the course of this transition.
The shift towards hybrid working is an opportunity to rethink the workplace and the organisational culture: better work-life balance, less commute stress, better carbon footprint, location independence. Next to that, it seems that if teams will not offer the option of hybrid working in the future, this might lead to less employee engagement, lower well-being, and more outflow of team members.
In addition to the opportunities of hybrid working, it’s also important to be aware of possible challenges. We have identified the following challenges for our clients and from our own experience: How will we evaluate people's performance in an objective way, if some of them will be in the office and some of them will stay at home more often? How do we make sure we are inclusive, making everyone feel part of the team when only part of the team is together during the week? How will people grow and learn from each other in a hybrid setting? These challenges can’t be mitigated by rules only, they must also be addressed through culture and behaviours, both existing and new.
It’s overwhelming to all of us, those back-to-back meeting schedules, and no time to think more broadly or just take a break. Start a simple analysis of your own calendar and set some ground rules. Use different colours for each activity; meetings, creative tasks, detail-oriented tasks, informal catch ups, preparation time. Analyse the current situation and determine what you want to change.
Some ground rules such as 40 per cent meetings, 10 per cent catch-up time, 40 per cent detailed-oriented tasks and 10 per cent inspiration time can help you to take control of your own time. Another solution that could help is to schedule time in between meetings, so that you have time to stretch your legs or grab something to drink. If applicable to your line of work, try to cluster specific types of meetings per day. This makes it easier to focus on certain topics and allows you to adjust your physical location to suit your day.
Nothing social will be automatic, it will be a constant challenge to strengthen and sustain team cohesion in hybrid working models. Leaders will need to foster and nurture the team cohesion when people are working in multiple places. But where to start?
The people we see and interact with the most are the people we tend to get closest to. We experience their ups and downs. We know what’s going on in their lives and we understand where they’re coming from. How will leaders deal with this? How are goals set, managed, and assessed when the work is done without the manager physically present? How can managers evaluate people’s performance fairly when they’re not in the same location as their employees?
It’s important that leaders acknowledge personal biases. A dialogue about this is your starting point. It’s the leader's task to set clear goals and expectations for the rest of the organisation. It may be necessary to set new goals, expectations and KPIs with employees in a hybrid setting. In addition to that, use at least four sources to collect feedback so that you evaluate as objectively as possible. Organise regular check-in moments with direct reports to reflect. Finally, discuss evaluations of direct reports with leaders and peers, analyse evaluations and discuss potential anomalies.
Company policies, practices, working norms, collaboration technologies and more will need to change. This is a learning journey for all of us! The organisation needs to make sure that a learning management system is in place so that people have access to a wide variety of training. Companies need to invest in these tools to stay relevant and engage employees. An example of the kind of tools that are now gaining in importance, are employee experience platforms that combine communications, knowledge, learning, resources, and insights. In addition, it’s crucial to have physical areas where people can meet, learn, and get inspired by other colleagues.
Hybrid working is a concept that is new to all of us and offers a long-term perspective, but with the need for continuous learning. There will not be a one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges associated with hybrid working. However, we can learn from each other, if we remain interested in each other's preferences and ensure that we engage in frequent dialogues with colleagues. Don’t be afraid to experiment and fail as this will give you the best insights into what works best for your organisation. This way, people have less resistance, knowing it’s a trial that will be evaluated properly to assess whether it’s there to stay.
‘I am proud of the steps we have taken so far that have changed people's mindset about hybrid working. At ABN AMRO, 85 per cent of employees find hybrid working attractive. Two years ago, we would not have believed the development we have made today. As soon as we kick-off Hybrid Working, I find it really important to show the necessity of seeing colleagues face-to-face. Social cohesion is less present in today’s fully digital work. However, it is of enormous value for innovation, good results and a pleasant working culture. I see this journey as a great adventure, where we will continue to experiment, learn, and adjust. I am really looking forward to the moment when hybrid work will start!’
Annemarie Matze-Mennes, Program Lead Hybrid Working at ABN AMRO