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The new normal: how to manage a hybrid working model in your practice

Jul 1, 2021 | Tips

The topic of ‘hybrid working’ had been bandied about for years, with seemingly little progress being made in real terms. But because of huge social upheaval over the past year, finally a meaningful discussion can be had around it that isn’t just lip service or wishful thinking.

It’s no secret that the pandemic forced the hand of practices and firms around the globe to submit to remote work practices. For the most part, this was a booming success, as many future focused proponents had anticipated.

The question is no longer ‘should we?’ instigate hybrid working but ‘how do we manage this effectively?’. Now there needs to be serious changes to our mindset, business model, practices, and methodologies.

The hybrid working model

The hybrid working model consists of location flexible working arrangements which combine onsite and offsite work. This may come about due to mutual agreement, or a more robust set of expectations laid out by the management of a firm or practice.

Consider the capacity and track record of your employees during periods of strict lockdown to decide whether an individual or team displayed strong performance and work ethic during off site work and respond accordingly.

Many models will entail the requirement of one to three days in the office combined with location flexible days throughout the working week.

The benefits of such an arrangement are clear:

  • Employees generally want this kind of flexibility which leads to happier, less stressed, and more productive teams.
  • This frees up office space and allows firms to reduce space and on-site costs which lowers overheads.
  • By combining offsite with onsite work, you can still keep a high level of control over output monitoring, culture and all the benefits that come with face-to-face communication and meetings.

Setting expectations and new management models

While KRAs, KPIs, targets and output expectations will remain the same, you’ll still need to reimagine expectations of your staff.

Perhaps you need them in the office on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Maybe you’ll be a touch more flexible and allow people to choose their days.

Will you require Monday task setting meetings in house or through video conferencing? How will you go about scheduling and undertaking meetings? What platforms and software will you be using?

The best way to go about this is to set out a new agreement with your staff so there’s no ambiguity over which areas are flexible, and which are non-negotiable expectations of their role. Flexibility has its limits.

Home office set-up and safety

How will you ensure your employees have adequate arrangements at home to perform their tasks while ensuring employee safety and health?

One such avenue is to firmly lay out the required home set-up. Set expectations (based on expertise) around desks, chairs, and spaces.

Require your team to send in a photo of their home set-up to ensure it conforms to adequate expectations. It’s unacceptable if your employees are working from the floor or stooped over a coffee table.

Data access, software, and equipment

In addition to the physical home set-up expectations, you’ll need to continually monitor how well you have catered to the needs of their roles in terms of tools, data access, and equipment.

  • Does every member of your team have an adequate laptop or device?
  • Do you consistently monitor and ensure virus protection and password management?
  • Do your staff have cloud access to all the software they’ll need?
  • How will you manage device loss?
  • Do you need VPNs or other privacy ensuring tools to deal with unprotected Wi-Fi access?
  • Does everyone have access to secure remote data and file storage?

Keep on top of this with regular surveys and reviews.

New communication frameworks

This is one area where flexibility must be curtailed. You need to firmly layout all aspects of how and where your team will communicate.

With the increasing absence of ad-hoc ‘shoulder tapping’ conversations in the office, communication is one area where increased structure is required.

Set rigorous meeting schedules. Dictate platforms and solutions you’ll use. Make sure you check in regularly. If you allow communication to splinter and fade (or become optional), your output, team cohesion and ability to monitor productivity will suffer.

Ensuring team culture does not fade

Aside from the more pragmatic aspects of hybrid working, your business culture and social cohesion could likely suffer from the tyranny of distance. As an integral aspect of any firm or practice, preserving your team culture should be a primary concern.

While casual lunches, after work drinks, social banter and ad-hoc bonding will be reduced with this model, there are ways to compensate. One sure fire way to keep the team culture humming is to have teams work together in the office on the same days.

Perhaps you can entice your workers with a free round of drinks before knock-off? Maybe you schedule semi-regular offsite activities or strategy sessions? Do you have a chat channel dedicated to humour, banter, and story sharing? Can you tempt people to come into the office for extra days with a free lunch?

While hybrid working is likely already in place within your firm, poor performance (whether from a team or management) should not be allowed to propagate. Continual monitoring, rejigging, and reimagining will be integral to a well-managed hybrid working practice. While it may have been initially ad-hoc and rushed due to the necessity of pandemic restrictions, a more structured and professional approach should now be in place.

To find out more about APS software, visit www.aps-software.com.

APS is a division of Reckon, an ASX listed company. We develop the software used by the best Accounting Firms in Australia and New Zealand to run their business’ and advise their clients.