Approaches to navigating the blended working environment
Roseanna Cross, Business Operations
and Jill Walsh, School Manager
Covid-19 has presented challenges not only in how we work but also how we undertake our lives; whether this is due to adapting to working remotely, juggling home-schooling with work, or keeping our remote teams connected with each other and with the wider organisation while still retaining a good balance between work and life.
When the pandemic necessitated a swift move to remote working, we all sought ways to work effectively in a remote setting and enable our teams to keep connected and maintain their productivity. In many instances the whole team might have been working remotely and so in the same mode of working. This has now become more complicated with the move to hybrid or blended working, where some people are working at home and some in the office. The challenge is to strike a balance between keeping the positive aspects of the flexibility we’ve grown to appreciate as well as making sure we continue to include everyone and get the best out of us all, whether working at home or in the office. Here we offer some ideas for making the most of blended working.
What is the ‘right’ balance of in-person working and online working? This is the question that we will all be looking to solve, and everyone’s opinion will differ. A ‘one size fits all’ approach won’t be possible with many of us looking to try out options and adapt as we go along. Many teams may be considering trialling a rota where everyone does set days per week in the office and the rest of the week at home. Maybe you don’t even have sufficient office space anymore for everyone to be in the office at the same time?
Working in the office may be different from being at home, with more interruptions, so the ideal would be to focus the time in the office on activities which cannot be done at home, such as interacting in person, or more casual interactions that are difficult to replicate online. Whilst quieter, closer working might be best for non-office-based days. That is if you are able to ‘batch’ your work activities in this way!
For those with heavy meeting loads, there is a need to consider options for blended meetings in your workplace and have processes in place to evaluate how they work compared with online only or in person only meetings. Perhaps some meetings – e.g. reviewing spreadsheets together – actually work better online? Whereas others which focus on working through complex issues might operate more easily face to face?
Where whole team meetings are needed there are considerations to be made around venues which ensure everyone is comfortable with enough space for everyone to work in one room, or are you keeping these meetings online or blended so that all can participate even when not in the office? What is the frequency of the whole team in person meet ups? Do you feel that everyone is getting the connections and interactions they need across the whole team and have you asked them? Have you thought about online tools like Miro or Padlet to encourage everyone to share ideas whether at home or in the office? Are you thinking about how to get smaller groups within teams the chance to collaborate in person when they are in the office?
Online meetings when working in the office – maybe you want to use your office days to see other colleagues in person. But how does this fit in with online meetings you have scheduled that day? Can team members have access to headphones or are there opportunities to create more private spaces for online meetings, with equipment for blended meeting formats.
Expectations from users e.g. academic staff and students about the team’s in person availability – a big benefit of working on-site is that the team can communicate in person with colleagues. But do users expect you to be constantly available in person when you are in the office for general queries that might be better answered electronically? Are you encouraging users to still use online meeting formats as the main contact point? What do users feel about this? How does this square with giving people the opportunity to focus on collaborative work when in the office rather than deal with routine queries that they could deal with online? Is there an expectation that staff should still be based in the office all the time?
Manager interactions with the team – if staff are only coming into the office for a few days a week, and they are on set days, this means that some team members will not see each other in person on a regular basis. If the manager is also doing set days, then they may see some team members more than others. Have you considered how to make everyone in the team feel included when working in a hybrid mode? How can we support all staff to have wide networks, both within the department and across the wider organisation?
Space – have you got any plans to reimagine your workplaces? Do we need a different type of office layout to encourage collaboration between team members and the wider staffing when they are working in the office? What about separate areas for online meetings? Will you introduce hot-desking to make better use of space and to mix up colleagues to collaborate together? Do you need to develop protocols for using the space? Are you still using desktops, or have you moved to laptops and docking stations to enable people to work flexibly from wherever they are based?
Were there any working practices from online working that you need to retain as we move into a hybrid working environment as they work better? Are there any things that you do not want to re-introduce from the previous office culture? How will you enable this?
Finally, and most importantly, for all managers and leaders navigating this new work format, there is the question of employee wellbeing and how we continue to create an environment and management practises which allow us to notice how our colleagues are, enable them to have a work/life balance, and ensure we have regular check in times to support each other, as well as moments for more social interactions. Considerations such as core hours e.g. 10-12 and 2-4, which we can all work around, so that we all know when people might be available (and not available!) might be needed here. As we all rise to the challenge of the new ways of working, we would love to hear about whether you have tried out any of the ideas in this article, as well as other tips and tricks for what is working well for you and your teams.
Join the discussion! – Scroll to bottom for comments
Also in this issue of Development Monthly