By Simone Lockhart

For business leaders, now is the time to prepare for the workplace of tomorrow. When the dust settles from 2020, the stark reality is that there will be an irreversible move to hybrid working structures.

But what does a hybrid structure really entail? Are we as leaders ready to face the new challenges of ensuring the right balance for our businesses, and importantly, our people?

A recent Institute of Directors survey of about 1,000 companies found 74 per cent will continue to offer remote working options, with more than 50% saying they intended to reduce their long-term use of physical workspaces. This demonstrates a real commitment to making the hybrid approach the standard.

Other reports show 90% of employees would like to continue with some element of working from home and over 40% of organisations recorded an upturn in productivity from their remote employees.

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So it’s all good, right?

As we venture into a hybrid model, one of the biggest challenges will be keeping our employees aligned to our brand and culture. In fact, the question should really be, does that need to change to realign with the new reality? Most people choose who they want to work for – and who they stay with – based on culture, management style and that sense of belonging. Is the previous culture still fit for purpose?

How do those who were once co-located maintain their sense of “teamship”? Managers need the training and tools to keep their teams working as one, so people can learn informally from each other, see where they slot into the wider team and feel that true sense of belonging. That can be hard to do when working separately. And for new team members there is the added complexity of coming in cold to an established unit.

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The use of online communication tools skyrocketed during lockdown, but they’ll never be able to fully replace physical interactions. The hybrid model needs to consider where and when physical meet-ups can take place. There were plenty of companies successfully living the hybrid model prior to coronavirus – they are worth looking at.

All of this also impacts how we continue to build strong client relationships. How do you keep your propositions personal in a more virtual world? The key will be getting the right blend of online and in-person interactions. Utilising informal meeting spaces inside and outside of offices will allow those physical connections and relationships to grow.

As we plan for 2021, not only do we need a specific strategy for hybrid working, we also need to overlay its impact on all aspects of our business, including: our organisational structure; our people and their training and development; sales and marketing; and our technology, property plans, and everything in between.

Simone Lockhart is group commercial director of the Taranata Group