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Insights from local authorities on hybrid working

We’ve gathered some insights from three local authorities about how they’re overcoming challenges, and skilling up teams, to design and deliver a hybrid working model.

By Melissa Buntine, Principal Consultant

2020 really was a remarkable year, which saw more change in the context of how work is done than the last few decades. More people worked from home than ever before, with many long-held objections disappearing overnight as organisations were forced to adapt to a remote working model.

And while no one would suggest that the circumstances were ideal – an emergency response to a global crisis is not the best way to implement new working practices – there is no question that it has caused a rethink in how people work. In particular, it has created and accelerated a move towards a hybrid model. We’re facing an opportunity to create an exciting new way of working – but we need to get it right.

I recently co-hosted a session for a group of local authorities, in which we explored the risks and opportunities around hybrid working, and heard insights from three Timewise Accredited Partners about how they are approaching it. Here are the highlights.

Opportunities created by hybrid working

Our attendees noted a number of benefits that hybrid working can bring, when implemented carefully:

  • The ability to support people to work in the right place for the right task.
  • Improved perception of your organisation by staff, potential recruits and stakeholders.
  • Increased potential for talent attraction and retention by offering the flexibility people want.
  • An uplift in staff wellbeing by giving people more freedom to adapt work around their lives.
  • The chance to revaluate real estate requirements and rethink what the office is used for.

Potential risks of a hybrid model

However, as the pandemic showed, there are some potential issues that local authorities need to avoid when designing and delivering hybrid working:

  • A blurring of the edges between the start and finish of the day, with some people working 1-2 hours more per day during lockdown.
  • Not all roles within local authorities can be made flexible in the same way, which makes fairness and consistency harder to achieve.
  • The potential for a split between flex haves and have-nots, and an influence gap between those who are in the office more frequently and those who are more often at home.
  • The risk of remote working being seen as the only way to flex, at the expense of part-time and other non-remote patterns.

Examples of good practice

Our speakers also explored some of the issues in more detail, suggesting solutions based on their own experience:

Ways to avoid a two-tier workforce

‘’There is flex in every role and it is about control and input. You may not be able to offer everyone home working, but you can still offer additional support.’’

  • Make inclusive leadership a priority , considering the impact of workplace changes on different groups, and on people with different responsibilities. This is more important than ever against the backdrop of Black Lives Matter and the varying impact of Covid-19.
  • Look at your employees’ roles, and seek to allocate increased flexibility for all, even if home working is not possible.
  • Put in place a system for two-way communication to bridge the gap between managers and those on the frontline.
  • Use technology in an inclusive way. For example, if some meeting attendees are not physically present, encourage all participants to join remotely, to avoid those in the room getting more airtime.

Educating and empowering middle management

‘’We are designing and delivering a new way of working that is not based on HR coming up with what is best, but on a future designed by staff for staff.’’ 

  • While leadership buy-in is vital, that of line managers is also pivotal, as they will be implementing plans and working with those who are at the frontline of service delivery.
  • Encourage this by setting up informal forums or manager-led events to understand their challenges, get their input into the best ways to engage with their services and employees, and work through solutions.
  • Provide training on how to manage remote and hybrid teams, such as how to deliver effective remote check-ins, and how to communicate with hybrid teams.
  • Offer coaching and 121 support where needed.
  • Create a Manager’s Charter setting out expectations of how managers should support their teams, with a focus on regular communication.

‘’Encourage great managers to codify what they do well and pass it across in peer to peer learning.”

Using communication to support hybrid working

  • Effective comms is a critical part of engaging staff at all levels and winning hearts and minds.
  • Intertwining OD with internal comms and employee experience teams can support a coherent strategy.
  • Using pulse surveys can help leaders understand the employee experience and explore what they need.
  • Case studies, including from senior leaders, are a powerful way of showing what is acceptable and possible.
  • Create and communicate a focus on wellbeing to support staff during a time of transition; examples include regular well-being bulletins, podcasts, webinars and having well-being hubs and champions.
  • Think about client communication too, and match the format to the individual; for example, autistic clients may actually prefer remote meetings.

Using office and home space more effectively

‘’Transitioning back to where we were before is a wasted opportunity.’’

  • Even if people are working in the office less frequently, they will still seek peer support and need spaces for collaboration.
  • Use the space you have more creatively, creating areas that suit specific purposes. Examples include community spaces for staff to meet clients and residents, and satellite drop-in spaces for ad-hoc use.
  • Don’t wait until staff are back in the office to get started – identify spaces that can be used differently now, and talk to teams before they return, to avoid old spaces being reoccupied.
  • Make sure those who are working from home have the tools they need to work efficiently – from providing tech training, and creating an agile working hub on your intranet, to funding the purchase of chairs, desks and monitors.

To finish, here are some final words of advice from our Partners for other local authorities:

“Experiment. Get senior managers on board, then involve people in testing and trying things out, rather than just implementing top-down change without collaboration.”

“Remember to mentor key groups (such as BAME employees or those with health conditions) to support inclusivity, and to understand and close any gaps in provision or experience.”

“Enable consistency by providing extra support to teams which are less adept at flexible working.”

If you would like to know more about becoming a Timewise Partner, please contact melissa.buntine@timewise.co.uk.

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