Hybrid working has always existed, but its prevalence has been turbocharged by the pandemic and our subsequent remote working experiences. Now that companies are discussing their future working models, and what they might look like in the post-pandemic environment, one thing is clear – a full return to the office isn’t on the cards for most businesses, and employees are certainly not keen to go back 5 days a week.
In our recent Salary Guide, of the 400 comms professionals polled, only 6% of respondents want to work from home 100% of the time, and no one wants to be in the office five days a week. The need for social interaction remains. The most popular arrangement (33%) is to split the time, spending 3 days in the office and working remotely for the other 2 days. The reverse split – 3 days remote; 2 days in the office – is almost as favourable (32%) among professionals. More men, Millennials and Baby Boomers preferred this balance. Women and Generation X lean towards 3 days at home and 2 days in the office – no doubt due to childcare responsibilities and /or less time spent commuting.
Hybrid working, like flexible working in general, offers huge benefits for employers who take it seriously and deliver it well.
Employees want it – so offering it will help attract and retain a more diverse pool of talent. And doing so publicly will boost a company’s image, clearly signalling that they have a flexible culture built on trust.
We asked two agency leaders – Jos Simson from Tavistock and Louise Nicolson from Williams Nicolson – about their approach to hybrid working.
Jos Simson, Chief Executive of corporate and financial communications consultancy, Tavistock says that their team has been back in the office 2 days per week since the beginning of September. “Currently everyone is in Tuesday and Wednesday. We will increase this to three days in the office from October with the third day being at the individual’s choice.”
This model is working well for Tavistock employees, as Simson points out, “In lots of ways, we have seen much greater sharing of information between the teams. Before the pandemic, we had successfully reverted to 4 days in the office. This followed a significant IT upgrade where we invested in laptops and docking stations. It was clear from an early stage that colleagues welcomed the opportunity to work from home. We saw improved client documents when colleagues were at home and away from office background noise and related distractions.”
Aware of the strong desire among employees to work part of the week remotely, the leadership team at Tavistock knew that it made sense to continue to focus on output rather than being in the office for the sake of being seen. “We’ve done two internal surveys during the pandemic to understand the concerns of colleagues returning to the office. The overarching feedback was that over 60% of our team responded that they wanted to be in the office 2-3 days a week in the long-term.”
Louise Nicolson and Steffan Williams co-founded strategic communications and change management consultancy, Williams Nicolson, and incorporated hybrid working into their business plan.
“Williams Nicolson really took shape during lockdown,” Nicolson explains. This meant we planned our business with the future of work and data-led communications in mind. We didn’t need to retrofit new ways of working – we are doing it already. We’re built in the right shape. We launched as a hybrid three days in the office, two days from home.”
Nicolson believes that having core office days draws the team together. “It ensures those not-so-experienced members of the team learn by watching others; it means we get all the creative, unplanned moments that make a great culture. At home days tend to focus on different, more contemplative tasks. It’s working excellently; we wouldn’t work any other way.”
While the benefits are clear, hybrid working isn’t risk-free. As Simson sums it up: “There are lots of areas where an office environment wins every time. There is no substitute to hearing how colleagues are pitching in stories in an open plan office – particularly for the younger members of the team. Equally, holding internal training sessions is difficult and in-person meetings are much more preferable. Finally, as an agency one of our strongest currencies is our network of contacts. By not being in the office every day you run the risk of missing that invaluable ad-hoc coffee with a colleague or contact.”
As we head back to the office and trial this favoured hybrid model, it will be interesting to observe the leanings. The desire for the hybrid model is strong right now among corporate comms professionals, but not every agency is as progressive as Tavistock and Williams Nicolson. We sense that it’s here to stay, however, let’s give it a year and see how we all settle into it.
To read our full Salary Guide, click here.
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