Juggling the hybrid – working effectively and flexibly in 2022

It is undeniable that the pandemic has seen a phenomenal escalation in home working. Even at the very start of the first lockdown the Office of National Statistics were reporting that up to 46% of workers were carrying out some work from home (almost 60% for those living in London).  Legislation in March 2020 mandated organisations to quickly pivot and embrace the work from home model – new tools and processes were implemented and there was no choice in the matter.  We all shared hints and tips on how to best manage this and endless jokes about crashing out of zoom calls.  And organisations started to realise that home working really could be productive, even closing physical locations assuming that less office space would be needed when we came through the other side…

So more than 2 years on – what now?

The CIPD report on Hybrid and Flexible working practices April 2022 provides for interesting reading.  Some key takeaways from this updated report are:

  • Requests for homeworking are increasing – as are policies to support this – including many day 1 requests;
  • Over 50% of employees have flexible working arrangements (a new acronym being coined ‘FWA’);
  • There’s a direct link between staff satisfaction and flexible working arrangements;
  • Many different models are being offered by organisations including working from home on a regular basis (46%), part-time working (38%), flexitime (37%), full-time homeworking (25%) and job-sharing (18%);
  • Without flexibility some employees will look elsewhere for job opportunities (4%-9%).

And what is incredibly significant is that organisations are actively looking to implement a range of measures to continue to support hybrid or homeworking in the future – most notably a greater investment in the quality of technology (54%), a change of organisational policy to promote more remote working (53%), and more online guidance for line managers in managing and supporting homeworking (52%).

BAU for the B2E Team – 2020 – 2021

Here at B2E we are well versed in the benefits and indeed pitfalls of the working from home culture having long had a focus on working flexibly.  Indeed, we have always been a remote team with regular touch points at our London offices – so for us the Covid restrictions did not bring the drastic changes that other organisations and teams faced.   Over the years this way of working has allowed us to hire and retain excellent staff nationwide who may have at times required a more flexible approach to working hours and location. We try hard to generate a close cohesive team environment – working from home as a member of this team at B2E can be a lot of fun!  

During the complete lockdown period, we worked to support our clients, consultants and our B2E community in their disparate home offices, for example we developed a programme of Webinars with community members such as Simon Rickman and Priscille Livenais sharing their strategies for making success of home working, building remote teams and serving clients effectively.  We saw our client’s requirements change.  Whilst clients typically expected their B2E consultants to be based at the offices with some limited hybrid models, since 2020 hiring remote or hybrid workers became the new norm which massively benefited our community of consultants who could now access a far wider range of consulting projects.

Changes on Consulting Projects

However, since Autumn 2021, we have also seen a gradual deviation away from the 100% remote working model which characterised the Covid pandemic as managers and business leaders see the benefits of regular structured in-person meetings.  We are much more likely to find clients stipulating a certain number of required days at a client site.  Indeed, from our experience, the more flexible the consultant, the better choice of opportunities available to them.  Our advice to consultants would be to remain open to starting out with a certain pattern where there may be more office working and then over time when established routines in place and you become more known to the client, there will be more opportunities to flex.  Basically, don’t rule out an opportunity because its hybrid rather than 100% from home.

Our guidance for managing the hybrid

But it’s still important to get the balance and working style right for those times when we are working from home.  Impact is vital when working as consultant for shorter periods of time.  We do have some top tips drawn from our personal experiences, as well as those from our experienced consultants, that mean you get the best from both time in the office and the period away from your client base:

1. Sort your space and technology

For longer term home working it’s unlikely the side of the kitchen breakfast bar will cut it – hybrid doesn’t mean half-hearted!  Where possible you need a clearly defined, quiet and organised space which is set up with the proper office equipment and chair to do your job effectively. Depending on how paperless your project is, you may require storage for your work materials (as there is no longer the office pedestal to cram with paperwork.) A proper feeling of entering and leaving the workspace at the start and end of the day is much more preferable where available.  Some of our consultants even report moving around different spaces in their homes to compartmentalise the day and mirror the different spaces they may have worked in during office days.

Naturally, mobile technology is the saviour of the home worker and helps you to mimic some of that in-office team culture — investigate the best price packages for loading up your superfast Broadband, your instant messaging tools, home printer, phone line (if you need one) and check your mobile phone signal does work from where you plan to base yourself. There are also plenty of Apps for mobile over Wifi if your local signal is poor.

2. Time management and setting targets

Depending on the client, you will likely be given a lot of autonomy when you work from home — it’s possible that there won’t be a daily check-in with your manager, so you need to set your own daily, weekly, monthly schedule to ensure that you meet your short and long term goals. Look for opportunities to set up informal status check-ins with your colleagues to keep you on track – we find it’s best to over communicate when you start in a new role until you get into a rhythm.   In the longer term, don’t forget about your self-development and training plans. 

3. Diaries

With hybrid working you need to be more conscious of others’ availability and time and have the foresight to book meetings.  Certain tools allow more open sharing of calendars which can make it easier than the back and forth of “is this a convenient time for you? …” Such calendar sharing is even possible with external suppliers who can share high level availability depending on the software used.

Similarly, think carefully about the days that your team members, colleagues or managers are most likely to be in the office in order to align your hybrid office days and to maximise that f2f time.  Don’t forget inclusion in this – the part time colleagues or those with caring responsibilities… think carefully about timings.  Be prepared for a busy day, meetings and socials etc which can be a bit of a shock after homeworking.  There’s also no point being so rigid in your office-based day that you are sat there teamsing everyone else still sat in their home locations!  

And effective diary planning is paramount if you need to book train tickets… the best deals are had with advanced booking, so get organised.  The best offers are for advanced train booking or investigate the new flexi-ticket options.  Many offices also now have desk booking systems in place, so you need to be proactive and get those booked too.

4. Find other homeworkers and get social

The biggest shock for me as a homeworker was the realisation that it can be very lonely at times, so you need to be proactive about seeking out other contacts for face-to-face interaction or more casual interactions with your remote colleagues. For face to face contact we’d recommend finding out if any of your colleagues happen to be in the same area and meet for an occasional coffee? Alternatively, there may be some shared serviced office provision that you may want to research for a regular go to if home working is particularly quiet…or noisy! For a more casual online chat here at B2E we have a specific feed for those more fun/ human topics… box set recommendations, fun weekend activities, family news etc. that water cooler chat we’re missing that makes us laugh and brightens the day. And of course, if there are opportunities to come into your client office for non-work events try to factor them in – to maintain visibility and that all important human social contact with your colleagues.

5. Get exercise and sunlight

In a traditional office commute, there is the walk to and from the office location, a breath of air to grab a sandwich at lunchtime and maybe a gym session built in somewhere en-route too. When working at home, the benefits of a 15 second commute can also mean you also forget to go outside! Think about the time you did used to commute at the start of the day. can you factor that back in for a vigorous walk?  Remember to factor in regular bursts of fresh air outside as part of your breaks (and take the opportunity to enjoy your home surroundings) — you need sunlight exposure to boost your levels of vitamin D which is vital to enable the body to absorb calcium and phosphate from your diet. And don’t forget that regular exercise too — it will keep you more alert for work, ensure you don’t feel claustrophobic at home as well as help your waistline — there is a lot of evidence now that we need to sit down less, which can be tricky for those of us who are working from home.

6. Manage the food

Maybe this reveals too much about me personally, but it’s easy to become a snacker when you are homeworking — only you know what the trigger foods are, but do ensure that you have healthy options at home and do try to have a proper lunch. Grazing at the desk is very tempting, but I personally find formal mealtimes a useful break point during the day as well as more likely to result in healthier choices. There is a famous curly-haired nutrition and fitness chap who likes to use the phrase “Prepare like a boss” in terms of healthy meal prep and he’s probably right.

7. Don’t blur home and work

When you are working at home, it is not Netflix time or childcare time or washing sorting time…. And similarly, when you are not working you need to avoid the temptation to constantly check in to the home office which is never offline and within a few steps easy reach. Blurring work and other activities could be a sign that you are avoiding the things that really need to be done. Set the goals and timings for the work time and the home time to maintain the separation.  At the end of your work day, shut the machine, put it away and go to a different space.  Also think about whether you really want access to work emails on your home phone.

8. Creating a mentally healthy hybrid workplace

Significantly, we have recently had mental health awareness week in the UK… this is also an incredibly important consideration when we might not be seeing colleagues every day.  For those in management roles, Mind.org.uk suggests offering some additional training to line managers around mental health and wellbeing to help them rise to the challenge.  

Whether you are a consultant working on your own from home or a manager with a disparate team, when things are tough there may not immediately appear to be anyone close to lean on. Remember, rough patches at work or occasions when circumstances at home are making things more challenging happen and should be raised. Send that email or pick up the phone and discuss any concerns. Communication is key and the first step. It is important to look after yourself.

And finally: Review and re-review. If your work set up is not working, consider different options and find the balance that’s right for both you and your employer. Working from home should be a positive experience. Enjoy it.

A collaborative piece written by Julie Crawford, Kathryn Zambrano and Nicola Smith