Chantal Free, Executive Officer of Capita’s People Solutions, explains how our Re-imagining HR survey shows that, while organisations are motivated to transform their models of working post-Covid, not all may fully plan for the challenges that lie ahead.
I’ve seen many references to ‘returning to work’ post-pandemic, as if we have all been hibernating during one of the most challenging periods of our lives. Of course, that’s not the case. We know that businesses have fundamentally changed how they interact with customers, employees and stakeholders, and individuals have had to adapt how, where and when they work.
As we look ahead to how businesses will operate permanently post-pandemic, it’s interesting to see that 72% of respondents to our Re-imagining HR survey believe that their physical workplace will change for good. Changing ways of working isn’t just about location though. It requires us to adapt our whole operating model: how we communicate, how we use technology, how we use space and how we attract, retain and engage people. Businesses that believe the main brunt of change will be on where people work risk underplaying the huge cultural change.
Hybrid-working is a strategy not a tactic
Ultimately, one of the big strategic initiatives for businesses to land this year is hybrid working. 42% of respondents in our research said that their organisation was planning do so. The intent was similar across all industries surveyed, with the exception of education. To succeed, businesses can’t just look at this as a tactical move. It’s not as simple as issuing new contracts and changing office spaces to hot desks. Moving to a new organisational model must be seen as a fundamental change initiative that will have downstream implications on areas such as culture, structure and leadership, as well as career progression and inclusion. For example, how will leaders manage meetings where half of the attendees are in the room and the rest are on video call? How will they decide whether an employee is ready for promotion or needs support to improve their performance? How will they ensure that a laptop screen doesn’t become a barrier when handling difficult conversations?
Our research found that some HR professionals are already thinking about the negative knock-on consequences that can come from new ways of working. 34% said it would affect internal cohesion and 29% felt it would affect culture. There is a risk that companies downplay these factors and focus on tactics, rather that putting a comprehensive strategy in place.
Fortunately, half of respondents felt their organisation had the resilience to deal with future change. This resilience will be needed as people adjust to permanent new ways of working. To succeed, it’s important to focus on the benefits and ensure that leaders and employees are on board with the case for change. Better use of technology, greater agility and faster decision making are all aspects that can make their jobs easier. The ability to bring colleagues together remotely for a quick exchange of ideas is a huge step forward and something that was difficult to achieve in large offsite meetings that were taking three months to arrange. There is an opportunity for organisations to become less hierarchical, be able to involve a diverse range of voices and include people who are newer to the organisation. This can bring a richness of ideas that was perhaps lacking in a rigid hierarchical structure.
Making room to grow
More attention needs to be given to how mentoring, coaching and development will work in a hybrid model, so that new or less experienced colleagues can still grow by learning from more experienced ones. This is coupled with the need to ensure that businesses have the skills that are fit for the future. Our research found that 58% of businesses believe there is a long-term need to reskill/upskill their employees to thrive. Achieving this, while adopting new ways of working, requires intent coupled with a significant programme of change.
It’s important for businesses to act quickly and seize the opportunities that new ways of working can bring. Otherwise it won’t be long before the benefits start to be underplayed as people forget the learnings achieved during the pandemic and revert to type.