Culture Insights Leadership 6th July 2020

NatWest Business Hub features David Bentley

Hybrid work structures, the new normal? CEO and Founder David Bentley gives insights to NatWest Business Hub on how to lead, nurture, and guide a hybrid workforce through a post-coronavirus business environment. 

Can you tell me what you had in place before the coronavirus in terms of flexible working?

Prior to the pandemic, the majority of our staff were based in the office during ‘normal’ working hours – with some of them frequently present on customer sites across the UK. In addition, a small number of employees worked from home for a proportion of the week – either due to family commitments or their distance from the office.

Why did you set up that system and was it working for you?

It was, essentially, a historic system – the general 9-5 model had been in place since the business started 11 years ago. It worked for us then, but now we face a new normal!

Has the coronavirus changed your outlook about who needs to be in the office going forwards?

Yes, definitely. I always think that a crisis is the ‘midwife of change’. Within days of the coronavirus situation, we had to alter our entire operating model in order to ensure business continuity.

The number of Zoom calls carried out has been greatly accelerated, and we’re also using Microsoft Teams. If people want to do business, they will find a way to build a rapport quickly – and in a virtual manner.

I’ve learnt that if we continue to focus on aligning ourselves to our customers in the manner of a true partnership – and are always offering value – it really doesn’t matter where we are working from. There will certainly be a lot less travel in the future and more use of the technological tools we have access to. The pandemic has forced digital transformation at an exponential rate.

Do you think a kind of hybrid office is an answer, with some people working from home and some in the office? (hopefully yes!)

Yes, absolutely!

What would be the advantages of this?

Environmentally, it is much better for the planet, and less travel time means an enhanced work-life balance. A hybrid model is more likely to satisfy both health and government regulations – and poses less of a risk to your employees.

It also takes into consideration family commitment issues that the Covid-19 crisis has caused, with schools remaining closed to many pupils, or parents who are concerned at the thought of sending their children back in.

If I were a business owner who was new to all this and was thinking of trying to create some kind of hybrid workplace once the pandemic had passed, what would I need to put in place to make sure that everyone gets what they want – those that work in the office and those that work at home?

The key elements for me are around structure, choice, culture and the right technology to foster collaboration. This is a time for trust – and an understanding that what we are working towards will be achieved.

If anything, remote working – with collaborative software and regular check-ins – gives us more visibility than ever as leaders, but I feel it’s important to maintain a culture that does not promote the need to shout loud about what we’re doing. Similarly, virtual working sees normal office hours flexed around what works for the individual’s circumstances.

Everything you have invested in employing the right people will pay dividends when you look to move towards a hybrid structure. Your employees are empowered to make autonomous decisions, have clear guidelines, and are self-motivated and happy. Your organisational culture must support this through shared values and regular communication and feedback.

Your virtual environment needs to be secure, work well, and embrace the available technological tools. It needs as much thought around how your team will interact with it as your physical office environment. Regular team-building and informal catchups – alongside business meetings – are essential. Listening is also important to ensure that a virtual workplace is as fit for purpose as possible – and provides emotional safety, energy, structure, and opportunity.

Operationally, there must be a continual feedback loop of welfare checks, project milestones, business continuity, and care – to ensure that wherever people work from, the team can flourish together.

And what does management want from this kind of working arrangement?

Being present at your desk in the office has never been the measure of a successful employee – what they deliver to your business should be the key performance indicator.

If you can create a hybrid environment that adds value to your customer’s operations – and delivers on your bottom line – then that has to be considered a management success.

Rigidly sticking to old processes of operations won’t cut it in this new world.  It’s a really big change for many established hierarchies – with a level of honesty and trust that requires true belief in your people.

What are some of the obvious potential pitfalls of a hybrid office?

What has been most apparent in this pandemic is that people actually crave human connection and that’s what they miss the most.

Many of our staff are keen to see their colleagues again and share chats over lunch – as well as participate in some of the other relationship-building exercises that go on.  You now have to work hard at creating these virtual opportunities in different ways – and understand what each team member does to prevent them from working in silos.

Open communication – and the opportunity to share successes and difficulties – will help ensure that everyone feels part of the team.

This article first appeared here

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