How to make the right decisions about hybrid working

Hybrid working

Written by Zoe Amar FCIM , Founder and Director, Zoe Amar Digital.

Recently I’ve been thinking about when to have that first real life work meeting. When should I do it, what’s the safest way to have it and how am I going to find the time inbetween Zooms?

This is one of the many decisions we will all have to navigate as we transition to hybrid working. A blend of face to face and digital sounds like a very desirable solution as we edge our way out of lockdown, yet it prompts as many questions as it does answers.  And there are other, bigger issues to work through, which many of the charities we work with have been talking about recently. How do you decide when to focus on face to face versus online, how much choice should you offer and how can you make sure that doing things in both ways doesn’t create more siloes?

These are some of the questions we’re exploring through the survey to build The Charity Digital Skills Report. If you’re from a charity or nonprofit organisation we’re keen to hear how your use of digital has changed over the last year and what your plans for the future are so that we can build a picture of trends across the sector. Ahead of the results I wanted to find out how charities are approaching the future of work and what this means for their business models. 

 

Use hybrid to raise your game

Hybrid shouldn’t be choice for the sake of choice. It’s an opportunity to rethink how doing things face to face and digitally can create better outcomes. 

For Anita Kerwin-Nye,  Executive Director of Strategy, Engagement and Commercial at YHA, the pandemic has led her team to evaluate many aspects of how they work. Digital offers efficiencies such as reducing travel budgets and growing online training and its helped them increase diversity, recruiting staff from a wider range of geographical areas and creating new virtual volunteering roles that supported the Duke of Edinburgh Award and wider social action. 

Kerwin-Nye says organisations must put the needs of the people they serve at the heart of developing hybrid approaches. During lockdown her colleagues had to ramp up their use of digital to deal with thousands of requests for refunds, holiday moves and queries from YHA hostels’ customers. Kerwin-Nye says, ‘As we review learning from last year we will be putting in place a 3 year programme of work to further develop user experience that combines digital and phone support with the face to face user experience that is our core reason for being.’ 

Deciding when to offer digital or more traditional solutions needs to be informed by user research.  It’s a question of access and also which channels people will find most reassuring. Some of YHA’s members and customers may not use digital and Kerwin-Nye and her colleagues want to offer a range of options to make their services inclusive but also so they can better serve the people they work with. ‘Some families and groups are more nervous about coming to YHA or have specific access requests and want to talk to someone,’ points out Kerwin-Nye. ‘For some that will include digital approaches including webchats but for others it will always be by phone.’

 

Inclusion is a must

As we’ve seen in several recent news stories employees are becoming more vocal about speaking out against the companies they work for. In April a third of Basecamp’s employees decided to leave after their CEO banned political discussions. 

Stories like these are yet another sign that the balance of power between employers and employees has shifted. This is a key consideration for hybrid working. Leaders need to make inclusion a priority when initiating new ways of working, ensuring that groups and individuals don’t end up disadvantaged.  If they get this wrong then it could lead to reputational blowback. When assessing the risks of a return to work we need to give as much thought to making our offices safe as to where and how we are asking people to work. 

What makes this hard is that offering employees complete choice can create additional overheads. I am all for choice,  but to resource it should employers pay for office chairs and superfast broadband both in homes and in offices?  

During the pandemic work has changed from being place based to a collective endeavour centred on shared values and purpose. As we shift to hybrid working leaders will need to be aware of their preferences and biases and how these could influence where employees work. For example, are people coming into the office because the CEO likes it, or because they are genuinely more productive there? What’s going to create a better outcome? 

Done right, hybrid working offers the chance for all employees to be heard, if leaders give them the space to speak up. Paru Naik, Director at the MS Trust, has seen this in action in her workplace. Her organisation has introduced walk and talk meetings and garden pub meet ups and encouraged employees to post about their experiences on their health and  wellbeing teams board online. Naik says that is, ‘where I have discovered a new emerging voice – those who are usually too shy to speak.’ 

 

Test, learn and improve

Eugenie Harvey, CEO of The Funding Network, shifted their live crowdfunding events online once lockdown started. She and her team were delighted that this opened up a whole new audience across the UK. Attendance increased by 71% and they saw a 67% increase in funds raised at flagship events. 

Harvey and her team are planning a gradual move to hybrid events by March 2022 and will be testing elements of this beforehand. She plans to take it slow so that neither the face to face nor online audience feels like the poor relation. ‘The last thing we want is to move to hybrid too soon and risk offering a disappointing experience, ‘she says. ‘We’ll take our time and get it right, while maintaining the momentum that the move to virtual events has created.’ 

As part of the move to hybrid Harvey and her colleagues want to keep doing what they’ve been able to do better. The efficiency of meeting on Zoom means they’ve been able to double the time they spend supporting the small charities who pitch at their events, which Harvey feels has contributed to the increase in fundraising. She intends to continue this after the pandemic. 

All of this shows how learning from the adaptations you’ve made during the pandemic and testing different ways of going hybrid will be vital to its success. 

 

What next?

Going hybrid offers lots of exciting opportunities, as well as risks which need to be managed. It’s a chance for us all to reinvent how we work and how we can better serve the people we support. Their needs are likely to change several times over the next year so we must be ready to adapt. Hybrid is a journey, not a destination.


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