Hybrid working can bring many benefits for staff and employers.  Such arrangements offer structure and sociability on one hand, and independence and flexibility on the other. With employers now able to fully embrace hybrid working and new ways of operating, a clear and well communicated policy is essential. 

As Pick Everard looks forward to starting our new hybrid working arrangements from Monday August 9th, I take the opportunity to reflect on how we've developed our policy, managed the risks and supported staff with this all important next step on our journey.  

Defining hybrid working

In developing our policy, I've carefully considered our own definition of hybrid working and how this sits alongside the statutory right to request flexible working. It's been important to distinguish between the two.  With regards to hybrid arrangements, we recognised early on in our considerations that pre-covid we were already working in multiple locations - whether that be in the office, at home, out on site or in client offices.  We wanted to ensure that this was reflected in our policy, as well as any new locations we've since agreed upon.  This includes being abroad during short term trips or even when we're on the move in between external meetings and working in a coffeeshop. We've made it clear to our people that hybrid-working isn't just about home and the office.  It's about a range of places that we undertake work.  It's also about choice and working in the right environment for the task at hand or where we thrive most.  

Within the policy, we've also clarified that any permanent fixed changes to contracts, reduction in hours, permanent changes in location or other flexible working patterns that sit outside our hybrid policy will require a request under our flexible working policy.  Both policies have then been communicated at the same time so that staff can review their needs carefully. 

Right work, right place

We've adopted a strong sense of 'right work, right place' within our approach. Hybrid working is adding new layers of complexity in how we communicate and collaborate.  We've had to consider when it is right to meet in person and when a virtual meeting may be more appropriate.  Importantly, we've taken time to set some broad parameters around this so staff and line managers are able to use the guidance to reach their own decisions.  We recognise that creative work requiring collaboration will demand more time in the office so that our people can benefit from the exchange of ideas and discussion.  Likewise, report writing and work requiring long periods of concentration are much better suited to more quiet locations like home.  We've not been too prescriptive however as we know that everyone thrives in different environments.  

Throughout the pandemic we've found that productivity levels have been positive whilst we've largely been remote.  It's essential to now make the most of both worlds to maintain the productivity whilst taking the right opportunities to reconnect and share in person.  As well as this, within the policy, line managers are asked to consider individual circumstances, the demands of the role and how the team operate in general when considering what's right.

Our commitment to staff consultation 

Pick Everard made a commitment within our hybrid working policy to engage all staff on our Practice-wide hybrid working plans and to provide opportunities to share ideas, express views and address concerns.  Staff consultation and engagement is essential for innovative thinking on hybrid working.  It provides an opportunity to think more broadly about team options for hybrid working and personal preferences.  It also provides opportunity to manage expectations, and discuss the role of team cohesion and wellbeing in successful hybrid working. Some of our staff have surprised us by saying they'd like to return to their original patterns whilst others are embracing ad-hoc visits only.   I've also engaged our staff forum for 'flexibility & culture' to seek views on what else people may need and want from flexible arrangements in the business and how this in turn enriches what it's like to work here.   

Arrangements and expectations when working in the office

Staying safe, wellbeing, etiquette, and office layout have been top of the list for considerations for arrangements and expectations when working in the office.  Our policy sets out our commitment to providing safe and productive working measures, areas to hold virtual meetings and collaborative spaces. We've also designed a hybrid working toolkit to walk staff through the return to the office.  It covers advice and tips on their commute, diary management under a hybrid arrangement, managing anxieties and how to adjust to our new ways of working. Packed with links for further advice, we wanted staff to have an easy to access resource that helped them be better prepared.  We'll also be sharing snippets of advice throughout the first two weeks back as well as lunch n learns on maintaining personal resilience.   

Being Fair

A hybrid working policy must address any concerns regarding discrimination and fairness, so that managers are educated on the issue and the steps they can take to avoid any bias towards staff. The Pick Everard People & Culture team have provided guidance on dignity at work as well as reviewed all of our agreed hybrid working arrangements to ensure consistency and reasonable decisions have been made across the board.  

As a business, we're reviewing the needs of our disabled workers to ensure they are supported in having a positive hybrid working experience and any reasonable adjustments they may require in this new way of working. 

All staff are also aware of where they can raise concerns to, confidentially.  I am acutely aware of the different views staff have on this next big change.  Some of our staff will be ready to embrace hybrid-working with confidence, whilst others will be much more cautious.  We have routes open for hearing and addressing any discontent, supported by regular communication.

Outside of the policy, my final piece of advice is to consider what you can do to encourage staff to reconnect.  We've been encouraging team gatherings over the last few weeks, whether that be for walks in the park or picnics and games.  Staff have been encouraged to 'drop in' to re-familiarise with the office environment. We've also created a timetable of events to help staff reconnect in their first two weeks of hybrid working through safe and healthy elevenses, lunch n learns and netwalking. We hope all of this will support a successful start to our new arrangements and this next important milestone for Pick Everard.  

Elizabeth Hardwick-Smith

Group People & Culture Director at Pick Everard