Flexibility and Focus: Embracing Hybrid Work Models – PODCAST

In this episode, explore the evolution of hybrid work models, including challenges, leadership strategies, and cultural shifts shaping the blend of remote and in-office work.

Group of business people talking to remote colleagues over video link.

Flexibility and Focus: Embracing Hybrid Work Models – PODCAST

In this episode, explore the evolution of hybrid work models, including challenges, leadership strategies, and cultural shifts shaping the blend of remote and in-office work.

Group of business people talking to remote colleagues over video link.

Meet the author

Sophie Brazell- Ng

Managing Consultant

Sarah Partridge

Founder & Director of The Change Academy

Dr Kristina Curtis

Behaviour Change Expert | Consultant | Lecturer | Researcher

In this episode of Nevermind the Pain Points, join host Sophie Brazell-Ng and guest experts Sarah Partridge and Dr. Kristina Curtis for an insightful discussion about hybrid work models. Tune in for insights on what hybrid working means for leadership, employee retention, office culture, and creating a balanced, productive work environment.

Listen here or read on for an edited transcript.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Welcome back guys, to podcast number two. I’m here again with Sarah and Kristina, and this time we’re going to be talking about hybrid ways of working. So as a quick introduction, my name is Sophie Brazell Ng, I’m one of the consultants here at Clarasys specialising in our people and change practice. Sarah?

Sarah Partridge: Hello, I am Sarah Partridge. I’m the Founder and Director of The Change Academy, which is a consultancy primarily focused on leadership development and working with organisations to help them deliver their strategy as well.

Kristina Curtis: And I’m Dr. Kristina Curtis and I’m Founder of Applied Behaviour Change, which is a boutique behavioural science consultancy, really aimed at helping organisations leverage the latest in behaviour change research and evidence, to help them develop more impactful change initiatives and products.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Amazing. Well, welcome both again for the third time. 

Sarah Partridge: Lovely to be here.

Kristina Curtis: Great to be here. 

Defining Hybrid Work: The Blend of Remote and Office Culture

Sophie Brazell-Ng: So this time we’re going to be talking about hybrid ways of working. And we know this is a hot topic. It’s been a hot topic since the pandemic, really. It’s where that term has first really come in and been used quite a lot in the zeitgeist.

We are going to be exploring what we mean by hybrid working, some of those challenges, and then looking at some strategies that we have seen or we think could work. And I think something we wanted to really stress is we don’t have all the answers, and I don’t think anybody really does have all the answers.

So we’re just going to be exploring it and seeing what opinions we have. Before we go into the topic, let’s just look at our definition of what hybrid means. 

Kristina Curtis: Yes, I think hybrid really refers to a model where employees split their time between working in a physical office and working remotely, which is typically from home. Yeah, and it’s slightly different to flexible working, I guess, which refers more to a work arrangement where employees have more sort of control over where, when and how they work. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Yeah, I think that’s something that I really want to start off with this definition is, I’ve seen a lot of companies and also a lot of literature use hybrid to mean a couple of different things, and interchangeable with flexible working and remote working.

I think the way that we are going to be talking about this is that hybrid is a blend of working remotely, whether that be at home or in a different location, and some time in the office. Flexible working is something that’s a little bit more working at different times to suit your needs. And then remote working is actually pure remote, so you are not coming into the office.

And again, it is an interesting one that we use a number of different terminologies, or I’ve seen loads of places use a number of different terminologies to explain the same thing. But the fact that there isn’t actually one singular definition I think is actually sometimes part of the problem, and we don’t have all the same language to talk about this.

Hybrid Work Strategies: Balancing Challenges and Innovation

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Let’s dive into some of the challenges then. I think we get a lot of questions about this at Clarasys. A lot of our clients say, how do we approach this? We’re really struggling with employee retention. We’re really, really struggling with employee engagement. We don’t know how to design our business model.

And I guess I’m kind of talking about a couple of the challenges then, but it has a real, real impact on the way that we’re working, the way that we’re spending our nine to five. Kristina, I know that you’ve had a look at a lot of research. around some of the challenges that some organisations are having?

Kristina Curtis: Yeah, sure. Well, I mean, despite the fact that some research indicates that now fewer managers now believe that presenteeism and long working hours are essential to career progression within organisations, they still may have some valued reasons for actually wanting people back in the office at certain times.

And one of the key reasons is around collaboration and innovation. So organisations believe that, you know, having more of these, these kind of face-to-face interactions foster better collaboration and also innovation. While maybe the virtual communication tools have improved, we know this, there’s still this perception that these in person interactions, these in person meetings can lead to more spontaneous idea generation and that kind of creative problem solving.

And actually this is backed up by some research by Kane and Colleagues who found that these kind of serendipitous ties with colleagues that are actually fostered in these face-to-face environments are really critically important to innovation and knowledge sharing in an organisation. So, being in the office allows this to happen.

And relying on this kind of virtual collaboration to initiate particularly new projects, they found was actually an order of magnitude more difficult in terms of the challenges and stresses with that. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: I can definitely attest to that. When you’re starting off a new team, particularly if you’ve not worked together.

That being in person, that natural kind of, that energy, that spark that you get is so difficult to recreate virtually. 

Kristina Curtis: Exactly. And a lot of the physical cues are missed, you know, from a virtual interaction. That’s so important really when you’re kind of trying to build a rapport with someone in a relationship, when you’re sort of initiating a project. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Absolutely. And I do actually, it’s interesting to say that I wonder if it’s in the same, probably an interesting bit to have a look at is whether it’s felt in the same way for those teams who’ve been working together previously, and they’re starting a new project, but they have that experience, or it’s actually completely new individuals working together.

Building and Sustaining Company Culture Remotely

Kristina Curtis: Yeah. And the second real challenge is around company culture. So, maintaining and building a company culture can be challenging in a fully sort of remote or even hybrid work environment because some organisations value the kind of shared physical space as a way, really to reinforce the culture, the values, and the identity of an organisation.

And again, this is kind of backed up by some research. There’s been research by the UK Parliament, the sort of the post briefings that in person time can be useful to sustain this organisational culture and also particularly when it becomes around inductions of new staff or on the job learning kind of thing maintaining these connections between staff and managers is really really key and actually younger colleagues also received sort of less mentoring typically and coaching during sort of these remote periods and if people don’t get any feedback that they need to develop as more mature leaders, then this kind of could, this deficiency could negatively affect their career sort of down the path over time.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Again, also, Kristina, you were talking a little bit there or touching upon new joiners and training and priority closeness to kind of leadership. I think that’s a really interesting point, with hybrid ways of working. We learn a lot from other people, by reading kind of their body language, their emotions.

We learn a lot about the work that we’re doing and, and also how to model behaviours. You know, what is acceptable? For this company, what’s the right way to do things? And again, I think we’re seeing a lot of people or a lot of companies really struggle with that initial onboarding, that training, particularly new staff who’ve not worked in a corporate or hybrid environment before. And then also, you know, how does that leadership respond to that? 

Leadership and Coaching in Hybrid Work Settings

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Sarah, I know leadership and coaching is your absolute bubble and bag. Have you got any thoughts on hybrid ways of working? 

Sarah Partridge: Yeah, I mean, I think there’s, there’s actually so many challenges with it as well as, you know, real benefits and positives. I think from a cultural perspective, one of the foundations of culture is behaviour.

So how are people behaving around here in this environment? And obviously, if there isn’t much opportunity for face-to-face interaction, then it’s very difficult to understand the behavioural and cultural norms. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: You mirror, don’t you? 

Sarah Partridge: You mirror, especially when you’re talking about new joiners. You know, if you’re only seeing people from the shoulders up, even just things like, you know, what’s the dress code around here is difficult to understand.

If people have cameras off in a meeting, again, really, really difficult for people to connect and interact. So I think there’s some real 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Do you even know if they’re listening or participating? 

Sarah Partridge: And I was part of an interesting conversation. The other day where we were talking about cameras on or cameras off, and someone was talking about the fact that, you know, there may be individuals who don’t feel as confident to turn their camera on.

And I kind of understand that perspective, but also I was thinking about it in terms of like, if you come into a meeting in person. So say you’re expected to be in a meeting as part of your job, you know, would you sit in that meeting with a bag on your head? Right? I know that’s a really like ridiculous analogy, but it’s kind of, you know, the same thing.

It’s like, if you’re in a virtual meeting and there’s a group of you. To not have your camera on is almost like sitting in a meeting with a bag on your head. When 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: When you put it like that, it actually makes it a lot harder to, to have a meeting. I can’t imagine actually sitting, having a physical meeting in that space.

It’s more distracting. 

Sarah Partridge: Absolutely. So I think there’s, there’s some real challenges there where, you know, culturally, sometimes it is acceptable and it’s okay to not have your camera on. And maybe there are sometimes valid reasons for that, right? You know, when you’re working from home, you can’t always have your camera on because there might be something going on in the background that you don’t want everyone to share, but it’s just an interesting concept.

I think other challenges that come up for me, but I think that the challenges are probably more from an employer’s perspective rather than employee’s perspective, because I think that there’s some really big considerations, right so for example, you may be a large organisation that paid a lot of money for beautiful, big office space in the centre of London, right?

Kristina Curtis: As we’re in now. 

Sarah Partridge: As we’re in now, absolutely. We go into lockdown and then obviously gradually we’re returning back to work and you know, we’re trying to adopt a hybrid model, but what does that mean for our overheads? What does that mean for our costs? What does that mean when two percent of our workforce are in on Monday and a Friday, and 98 percent are in a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. You know, so there’s a lot of logistical things that I think, you know, businesses are trying to navigate. And the other thing that we’re seeing as well is that some organisations are mandating the back to work. So like, if you look at when Elon Musk took over, Twitter, it’s like five days a week back in the office. But then the other businesses I was reading the other day about, I think it was Goldman Sachs said to their employees in 2023, you have to be back in the office three days a week. And people just didn’t go. People wouldn’t go back. So the employers are mandating come back, but the employees are going, well, actually, no, I’m not going to do that because that doesn’t work for me.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Rage against the…

Sarah Partridge: Well, I think when Apple did it, they had a forum of employees, which I think was called like Apple Together or something like that. And they did actually protest against the mandate, and Tim Cook at the time sort of said, okay, well, let’s change it to two days a week then. So it’s this constant sort of dialogue between what employees feel they need and what employers want them to do.

So I think there’s a real tension there and it’s still happening. As you said at the beginning, we don’t yet have all the answers. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: It’s actually a really interesting tension, I think. During COVID we had a much greater attention on employee wellbeing and the dial, sometimes I think we’re a little bit dialled up, sometimes we, we’ve got, still got quite a lot to learn, but it’s interesting now that employees feel like they have much more of a voice and much more of a voice now in terms of when they are coming into the office, which is against, as you say, some of the employers.

You know, we need to make the best use of our buildings. We need to come in. We want you to be in the office and to be present. And again, I think it does depend on the type of work that you’re going to be, you’re needing to do. But there is that friction point, particularly now as employees think, you know, actually I can do my work elsewhere.

I think I can do it better elsewhere. And it’s better for my employee experience. And I’m going to use that to try and kind of, get my way a little bit.

Sarah Partridge: Absolutely. And even when you look at, you know, a lot of job ads these days, right when you know, companies who are recruiting, I’d say 90 percent of job adverts have the word hybrid on them.

Kristina Curtis: Yeah. 

Sarah Partridge: You don’t see anything that says fully in person. It’s everything’s hybrid because I think businesses are realising what you’ve just said, Sophie, in terms if we want to attract and retain the best talent, we need to offer our people some kind of a hybrid arrangement. 

The Employee Perspective: Wellbeing and Productivity in Hybrid Settings

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Yeah, I think that’s one of the biggest questions that we also get at Clarasys is how do we retain our talent in this hybrid setting. For companies that have mandated return to the office for whatever reasons. And I think we’re predominantly more talking about kind of like white collar industry or knowledge work. Employers didn’t kind of give me that reason why. And if you can’t, I’m off somewhere else that does offer me that more flexible life and that work arrangement that I want. I don’t know, Kristina, have you got any ideas on kind of employee retainer? 

Kristina Curtis: Yeah, so I mean, if we look at the employee level in terms of the sort of pros and cons of remote working, we start with the kind of physical impact of remote working. For some people that have disabilities, then a potential factor that’s influencing them working from home is a preference for working from home, obviously, because it makes things easier for them.

But what we’re also seeing if we think about some of the negative impacts, certainly on our bodies as it were, the kind of intensification we’re seeing of screen time from working from home. There’s been some research that’s shown it’s actually resulted in increased eye strain, visual impairment, headaches, fatigue, and all sorts of musculoskeletal problems as well as fatigue.

So again, it’s a kind of pros and cons of a kind of physical impact that of working from home. In terms of, I guess, productivity and finances from an employee perspective, for some people remote working has decreased the money spent on commuting. which is great. And having this sort of time. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Which can be really expensive.

Kristina Curtis: It’s very expensive, yeah. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Particularly as quite a lot of trains don’t work. 

Kristina Curtis: Yeah, getting cancelled. And of course then this remote working can increase productivity by reducing the time that you actually spend on your daily commute. But if you look at the negative side of that, there’s also some research to show that remote working could actually intensify this work.

And Chan and Colleagues carried out some research that showed actually the daily commute between work and home provided many employers with that opportunity to actually psychologically detach from their non-work and work domains. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Yeah, I like to do my cryptic crossword on the way home. 

Kristina Curtis: Bit of Wordle along the way back.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Although I do worry about people being able to see how slowly I solve it. 

Kristina Curtis: And remote working could also then increase the cost of utility bills and increase actually unpaid working hours. So there is kind of pros and cons. And interesting looking at sort of impact on social interactions. Again, there’s mixed evidence of the benefits of this.

So, some research has shown that particularly sort of around COVID time that remote working has reinforced this kind of traditional division of labour between men and women. And that was quite widespread during the pandemic. But then some other researchers looked at care responsibilities and actually those that have children and other care duties such as elderly parents.

Evidence suggests that actually that women with caring commitments have increased their economic activity over the pandemic and now beyond because of having this increased flexibility and options to work from home. So again, you can see this kind of mixed evidence for this, but I know from my own experience, I thought I was more productive with, you know, having two young children and being able to do the school trip back and forth.

So yeah, I think everyone will have different experiences of this. 

Sarah Partridge: Yeah. I really resonate with that and that research because as a, you know, a woman in business myself. Although the pandemic was hideous for everyone to kind of go through, actually, I saw some real benefits for my own career in the sense that those mindsets and attitudes towards working from home and flexible and hybrid working had changed so much.

Because initially when I was a senior leader in a large corporate organisation, you know, the message that I was getting was either you work full time, five days in the office if you want to have a leadership role, or you can work three days a week in a more of an admin role. You know, it wasn’t like you can bring your skills, knowledge, and intellect to this company and we’ll allow you to do that in a flexible and hybrid way so that you can also feel like you’re being a mum.

It was like, you either do this or you don’t do it. It was very much all or nothing attitude. And that, that’s something that I’ve always really struggled with because, you know, as a woman, both things are so important to me. My career is hugely important to me, but my family is hugely important to me. And it’s like, I always felt like I was having to compromise on one or the other.

Whereas since we’ve kind of emerged into this new normal, actually what’s happened is it’s, it’s allowed me. much more opportunity to work in London. For example, I live an hour’s commute away from London and I’ve never pursued opportunities to work in London because it just wouldn’t work around my family life.

But now I have that opportunity because I can work with London based businesses, but it’s, I don’t have to be there every day. So what I’m seeing for myself and some of my friends and colleagues who are in similar positions to me is that there’s this whole new world of opportunity for women to work in businesses in central London or in major cities where they would never have considered it before.

And that for me is just one of the biggest benefits of what we’re doing now. And it’s just, it just means so much to women like me. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: I completely agree. And I think it relates back to the point you were making about employee retention, but I also think talent acquisition and retention as well. Because we’ve had this nine to five working environment that we’ve sort of forced upon ourselves for no real reason of knowing actually whether or not it works or not.

I think it was just an industry factory led thing in the Victorian area. That doesn’t necessarily mean everyone’s life’s fit a nine to five is say there’s kids, there’s people who work better at different times, there’s people with disabilities, there’s people with completely different needs, and I think a nine to five environment has potentially shut ourselves out from having really great access to talent.

But what it does mean is that employers need to think differently about the roles that they design, how they advertise them, the expectations of coming to the office, and the way that they run their business. Which is actually a challenge again that I think is quite prevalent and we’ve been talking to a couple of companies about is that really as part of the nine to five structure, we’ve really only explored traditional business models.

And I think hybrid or some people call it the future ways of working. I think previously that might’ve even been under Agile. We’re trying really different business models to kind of work with that. And I think that’s something that companies should actually look to experiment with, that does require some big and bold changes and some pilots and some pivots.

Office designers, we were talking about role design, technology requirements, how, what’s your business model? Can you design your teams and work in the same way? There’s, there’s huge things within that culture. Communications. So I think there’s a big, big space in there for companies to think differently about how they do their work.

So there’s no longer a friction between the employee needs and the business needs. There’s a bit of a meet in the middle, which ultimately is going to drive much better revenue for a lot of places. 

Kristina Curtis: And I think if they can, you know, co-design as much as possible, I’m always, I’m always coming back to my participatory research methods, but co-designing the hybrid working model.

So having some way to actually get some sort of formal as well as informal voice mechanisms. So pulse surveys, but also those informal chats about kind of the work life balance as well that managers can be having with their employees, but really getting the input on what’s working well and what isn’t working so well.

And also thinking that, you know, people aren’t all the same, so that you can’t really have this one size fits all approach. And we know, you know, there’s some research around some of the negative mental health impacts of working from home. So it doesn’t suit everybody. Some people actually feel more isolated, have more social anxiety and are becoming more reclusive. So those ones that we perhaps need to be careful with and have a tailored intervention. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: A greater awareness. 

Kristina Curtis: Yeah, exactly. And it’s again, you know, generally single people and people living alone are more likely to experience these negative impacts from working from home compared to people that are, you know, working with families.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: I’m wondering Sarah, is that? Obviously, as our, as our coach here, have you seen that as a bit of a difference from those you might be coaching more hybrid, in the office? Has that kind of changed the nature of your work a little? 

Sarah Partridge: From a coaching capacity, you mean, in terms of the way that I work with people? 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Or maybe some of the challenges that they’re actually coming to you with?

Sarah Partridge: Yeah, I mean, I think that, you know, Kristina talked a little bit before about, you know, the boundary between work and home, you know, and obviously on the commute, it’s almost like I think that you know, some of the things that come out in coaching conversations are that feeling of having to be on 24/7.

So it’s like, you know, there’s no end of the work day. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: My phone’s going off, I can pick it up. 

Sarah Partridge: Exactly. You know, and particularly people who are in more operational type roles where the business is operating 24/7, they feel the need to be on 24/7. And I think that the prevalence of that has increased since you know, flexible and hybrid working because they’ll sort of be working from home and then it’s like dinner time but they’ll still have their laptop or they’ll be accessible by mobile and then like there isn’t that kind of hard line of stop.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: You’re not setting good expectations from other people. There are, you’re like, Oh, why didn’t they reply? And actually you’re like, well, I’ve been working for 12 hours. Yeah. 

Sarah Partridge: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that the problem is, is that if particularly if you have a leader who behaves in that way, so say for example, I was having a coaching conversation with someone the other day where they were talking about going on holiday.

And they said, Oh, you know, so I’ve told my team that I’m fully contactable while I’m on holiday. So that’s interesting. Tell me more about that. And what kind of precedent are you setting by doing that? Because even though the intention is like, I want to be there for my team. I don’t want to leave them in it while I’m away.

If there’s an emergency, please do contact me. But then obviously when the team goes on holiday, they feel like they need to do the same thing and be contactable. So, there’s all these little nuances of behaviour where maybe things have changed a little bit since the pandemic and the shift to hybrid working where leaders and any workers feel like they need to be more contactable.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: I think you’ve touched upon a really good point as well, the role of leadership. And I know we spoke a lot about this on our previous podcast, but hybrid role learning and how to make it work or not make it work, but designing as we’re talking about here that role that leaders have to play and. We don’t know the answers all to hybrid, but people look to leaders to lead and to mirror behaviour as we were saying, so it’s sort of how do our leaders approach it, looking to others for kind of advice. I think that importance of coaching, particularly now in the hybrid world, even like experimenting, trying new things and learning on the go and understanding yourself in that is really important. 

Sarah Partridge: Yeah. And actually something that I was going to touch upon before, you mentioned the word mindset, right?

And I think this is so important in terms of the way that businesses approach the hybrid quandary. Because I think a lot of what’s stopping us from coming to a solution that works for everybody is fear. There’s a lot of fear there, primarily within leaders, I think, to adopt a flexible approach or to allow certain individuals to work more remotely or whatever it might be.

It’s very fear based, I think, of hanging on to the way things have always been and that ability to oversee and to be across everything that’s going on. And the other word that comes up for me is trust, right it’s very, you know, the foundation of this is around trust and those trusting relationships and knowing that if someone in your team is working remotely, you know, you trust them that they’re doing what they need to be doing.

Right and it’s actually okay. And that’s good for them and that’s good for their wellbeing. So I think there’s some work to do with leaders around the mindset shift there and sort of building levels of trust, but also trying to let go of the fear of like the bad thing that might happen if people start working more flexibly or remotely, and actually embracing new ways of doing things.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Yeah it’s really interesting. As you’re talking about both the points that you’re saying, I’m slowly sat here thinking to myself that hybrid – we seem to have the technology to be able to do it. A lot of actually what the challenges are about the people side of it. How do we connect with the work that we’re doing and also with each other?

And that is the bit that we are most immature in, in the area where there seems to be the most amount of struggles. We’ve talked a lot about the challenges, both positive and negative, actually. And I think there’s so much more to explore in that space. I think we’ve only just touched upon a small amount of it.

But, I want people to kind of go away and think, Oh, actually, there’s some stuff I can do, or there’s a way that I can kind of affect some change. Also, I can try a little bit, some strategies, see if different things work in my organisation, either kind of as a leader at that top level or as an individual.

Kristina, I’m just wondering if you’ve got any kind of strategies that you would be recommending. 

Strategies for Successful Hybrid Work Implementation

Kristina Curtis: Yeah, I mean the, for example, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development have developed some useful strategies really around a multi layered or a system approach. Starting at the wider sort of society and government level where, you know, it’s about labour laws, the right to disconnect, up knowledge and up skilling.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: The right to disconnect. Never heard that one.

Kristina Curtis: Yes, the right to disconnect, yeah. 

Sarah Partridge: We haven’t. Hasn’t happened yet. 

Kristina Curtis: Whereas really at that organisational level, it’s again, it’s about the supportive work life culture. How can organisations support a work life culture? And, you know, having these formal mechanisms, as I talked about, so having input in the form of kind of pulse surveys to really understand, from an employee’s perspective, what works for them and also having those kind of more informal conversations as well.

And really at the employee level, we’re starting to see more kind of of these daily recovery experiences, where the kind of organisations are organising, kind of going for a daily walk, having relaxation, sort of things related to psychological detachment as well. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: There’s things that you actually probably would bake into your workday as well, yeah? Go and have a coffee break, go and have a quick walk around. They are actually quite important. 

Kristina Curtis: Yeah, exactly. And it’s really about building employees resilience. To be able to kind of cope with this sort of new working world of hybrid working. And this has kind of translated into lots of different types of things from kind of redesigning the office.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: It’s one of my favourite topics, let me loose at Ikea everyone.

Kristina Curtis: Organising social and team building events and also having that kind of leadership visibility. So including leaders that spend time in the offices. This sends positive messages around the kind of importance of in person collaboration, and they can also kind of set that example that they’re participating in certain office events when they’re on, and sort of demonstrating that commitment to an organisation’s values.

But again, it kind of really comes down to the key thing of having that employee input and flexibility. So, unless organisations are really having some kind of mechanism of where they’re actually gaining some input, you know, so that employees are involved in the decision making process, yeah, and empowering them to say how they would like to work.

And then, you know, it’s up to the organisations, obviously, how they support that, and then also kind of maintaining and monitoring, is that working well for them? Because sometimes we don’t know until we’ve tried something, obviously. 

Sarah Partridge: Just to add to that, because of what I was thinking about in terms of those discussions that are so important, to get the employee input into those.

I’m doing a lot of work around psychological safety at the moment. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Big scary word, that. 

Sarah Partridge: It’s a big scary word and it’s probably a bit of a buzzword in leadership circles, but essentially it just means creating an environment where individuals feel safe to speak up about whatever it is that’s on their mind.

So it might be to challenge the leader around a decision. It might be to ask for help on a project. It might be to say I’ve made a mistake. Whatever it is, it’s that ability to speak up and speak out without fear of being ridiculed or whatever. And I think that when we’re having conversations about hybrid working, having that element of psychological safety there to really understand how people are feeling and how it’s different for different individuals, right?

Because as we’ve said before, there’s not one size fits all. There are wellbeing implications here, which people sometimes would feel reticent to talk about. There’s family implications here. So there’s a lot of kind of stuff going on underneath the surface where we need to make sure people feel safe to speak out because otherwise when we’re doing that work around pulse surveys and having those kind of discussions and forums, people aren’t going to speak up, unless they feel safe to do so. So I think that’s really, really important. 

The other thing as well with my kind of strategy hat on is that I always encourage strategy to be something that is co-created or co-designed, as you said before. So, it’s not just someone in a corner office designing a strategy and then going, right guys, go off and do this.

It’s like, how do we get the voices of everybody in the room so that as a business we can co create our strategy? And it sounds like, obviously, Kristina, to take what you’ve said there, we’re talking about a hybrid working strategy. You know, we need to get that co-creation, but we can’t co create without psychological safety.

So it’s kind of just those foundations and building blocks to get to where we need. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: I couldn’t agree more. We get a lot of questions at Clarasys saying, what can we do? What can we fix? Like straightaway, like we can do something in like two, three months. And actually it’s all about the individuals, as we’re talking about.

There’s no one size fits all approach to this at all. And I think that’s what we would always be recommending to our clients to do is actually go listen to your employees. 

Kristina Curtis: It’s so important. 

Sarah Partridge: Such an underrated leadership skill. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Yeah. People think we do it and I’m like, oh, I don’t think you really do.

And I think. That there’s a bit of a missing role. You know, a lot of people think, oh, you know, this is the HR thing. Actually, it’s an employee experience thing. And up to now, there hasn’t been a great lens on that. And we’re seeing more and more places have an employee experience type lead, role, director, that’s actually focused purely on this listening to employees and thinking about the way they need to design roles, think about the way they need to design the business, as I was talking about earlier, and trying loads of different things. I think the walks etc. are all fantastic ideas, but sometimes we get clients being like, Oh, we brought in free lunch for everybody and we put that ping pong table in and nothing’s changing and we can’t get people to come to the office.

And I’m like, well, you’ve done that, but you haven’t actually asked your employees about why are you coming to the office? What type of work do you need to do? Do you have the right environment and the right space? What can we do to make your working life easier, more effective and efficient? And I’m going to avoid using the word productivity because I think we have the wrong measurement of productivity that means that we’re not talking about hybrid in the right way at all. But I don’t know if you’ve got any views, Kristina? 

Kristina Curtis: Yeah, no, I just, I agree with you. I think, as I said, gaining that input is so, so important because often we find that, you know, organisations will jump to a solution that they think will work and then spend quite a lot of money and investment on it and it won’t work.

And it’s because they’re not really… 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Or it works for a little bit and then they need to do something else and they’re like, well, it worked two months ago. Why isn’t it working now? Yeah. People change. 

Kristina Curtis: Exactly. People change. Context change. So we really need to understand a little bit more about the barriers and facilitators for people on kind of what makes them want to come into the office and what works well for them.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: I think, yeah, as I said, the biggest advice that we give to our clients is let’s set up a listening program. Let’s really understand what your staff needs. Let’s design with them in mind. Two things that we’ve seen that work so well is principles and a bit of code of conduct. Sort of what is expected from you as employees and making sure that’s really well understood.

You co-design it with the employees that you’ve got and you make sure that anyone you’re hiring in understands that. They know what they’re walking into so they’re not disgruntled. They’ve not got different expectations. That code of conduct and principles doesn’t need to be kind of like hard line, but it’s those typical things of we’re expecting you to work well with your employees.

Make a decision on whether that means you have to be, you know, together or not. So that’s something that we definitely advise. And I think the one thing which undoubtedly is incredibly important is having the right technology. Communication breakdown in a hybrid setting is a killer. So whether that be you Zoom, whether that be an instant communication channel, or actually we’re seeing a much prevalent more technology in the employee kind of engagement platforms is extremely important. That’s going to be your foundation. 

So anywhere I’d be starting or people starting out thinking about this. Sure, you’ve got the right technology. Think about some principles that are really important. Start listening to your employees.

Once you’ve done those types of things, then you can. Be really ready to make some changes. 

Sarah Partridge: The technology one’s really interesting because certainly my experience of it is even though we have the technology to do online meetings, when it becomes problematic is when it’s hybrid within a meeting. So we have some people in the office in person in a meeting room, and others are online. Or, you know, going back to the logistical building issue, if you’ve downscaled your building and you come into the office and there’s not a meeting room to do the meeting, you find that there’s all these people sitting at desks with headphones on. Doing a hybrid meeting and Sophie, I might be in a meeting with you and you’re on two rows away from me and I can hear you talking on my headphones, but also, and it’s just very messy.

And I’m sure there’s a lot of technology that’s emerging to address some of that stuff. But I think that’s where it becomes very difficult. And particularly when you have an in person meeting with maybe one or two online. The one or two people online sometimes get forgotten or they switch off and disengage and start doing emails because they feel that they’re not part of the discussion.

And, and so there’s all of these nuances that I think are still not quite resolved. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Although interesting, it’s interesting because I completely agree with that. But I also think there’s something in terms of meeting culture and having ineffective meetings or too many meetings or baking too much into your schedule that probably is now being accentuated.

We’re seeing that, you know, let’s face it, like people are either got too much on their plate, they’re having to do that at the same time, or actually the meeting is not driving the engagement it needs. It’s not a great meeting, therefore people are distracted. We’ve not got the right people there. So I think there’s, I agree with that, that there’s some real technological challenges with hybrid.

And I think it drives into some of the points that Kristina was making earlier. Like when we are together, let’s make sure that we are together when we don’t need to be together as a team, a particular team of rights, like let’s kind of have some good principles around that. But let’s also not forget the importance of just having great meetings.

Sarah Partridge: Yeah, and maybe that’s, you know, it’s probably a training requirement, actually, in terms of helping leaders to conduct and chair meetings online and how to make sure that they’re engaging with all of the people in that meeting because it’s a virtual room rather than being a physical room. And it’s a different skill set.

Kristina Curtis: It is a different skill set. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: We are also, and I’m sure you’re in the same space, are advising leaders to get some training on that, or really think about it and invest some time in it, your previous leadership approaches might not work the same way they used to. Ladies, do we have any other strategies that we can advise listeners on?

Sarah Partridge: I mean, one of the things that comes up for me as something that needs to be addressed is the ability to signpost. When it comes to wellbeing, and we’ve touched on it a little bit, but not in any direct way. But I think that when we’ve talked about those serendipitous moments by the water cooler. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Which I’m not sure really what a water cooler actually is,  to be honest, but everybody says it.

Sarah Partridge: Or, you know, in the kitchen, right? So we have communal kitchens. You go and make a cup of tea, you get chatting to a colleague or whatever it might be. Or you can see someone in the flesh and you can look at their body language, and you can kind of assess the eye contact. You do get a sense, I think, as to whether someone is feeling good or really struggling, right?

And those are two ends of the spectrum, right? But I think that that’s very tricky in a virtual world. And I’m wondering what the key is to that, to make sure that we’re still able to. Spot potentially those people that might be struggling at work for whatever reason it might be, but to have that duty of care as a manager, as a leader, to be able to support and to signpost to appropriate resources or whatever it might be.

And obviously if it’s hybrid, you’d think that there’d be the opportunity to do that in person every week, but maybe not. Right. so it’s like, how do we ensure that that wellbeing agenda is still top priority and we have the ability to make sure we’re caring for our colleagues. 

Kristina Curtis: No, it’s really, really key. I think we develop the skills and culture needed for these open conversations about wellbeing from the organisational level, but also the employee level, feeling able to talk about it, I think is really, really key. 

Sophie Brazell-Ng: I think we could probably talk for absolute hours on this. And as we said at the start, there is no one size fits all.

Nobody has all the answers. It’s something we’re really starting to learn. And it’s interesting, we’ve had the technology for a while and now we’re really starting to change the way that we work in response to it. So I think there’s so much more to come in this space and so much more. learning. It’s not a trend.

It’s going to be here for a very long time, which I think is incredibly exciting. But some closing remarks. I’d love to know both of your opinions on a punchy question. In your opinion, does hybrid work, Sarah, I’m going to go with you first. 

The Future of Hybrid Work and Its Impact

Sarah Partridge: I think hybrid does work. And I think it’s essential for the future of organisational health, for the future of employee wellbeing.

The hybrid model is one of the best things to happen. I know that there’s challenges and hopefully those challenges will be resolved in time, but I think it’s an absolutely brilliant thing for so many reasons. I think it’s created opportunities for so many people to live a more full and rounded life and to bring their whole selves to work rather than put on the The Work Persona and going to the office.

Yeah. So, I am, I feel really positive about it. I’m really excited about it. We’re not where we need to be yet, but we’re still so new into this, you know, it’s going to take several years before we get to the right place with it. But yeah, I think it’s brilliant and long may it continue.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Long may it continue. Yeah, 

Kristina Curtis: I have to agree with Sarah. I think the hybrid model works, but it needs nurturing. And leaders, you know, they must continually reinvent the future of work. And now is the time to begin discovering how to bring about that future. And really, it’s about investing in what we’ve talked about, this employee listening and understanding the drivers of either working from home or coming into the office and even being brave enough to then put some more investment and develop micro interventions to see actually what works for different groups within your organisations and having that tailored approach will be key.

Sophie Brazell-Ng: Amazing. I think hybrid’s here to stay. I think actually, to be honest, it’s been here for a while. It’s just a lot more prevalent now. We are very much still in the toddler phase though, and I think we have to be intentional about the things that we, we do in this space, but the opportunities that it’s going to bring everybody, I think is incredible.

We’re only really on the precipice of what it can mean. More intentional, full rounded lives. I think that’s a really nice way to think about this, but yeah, we do need to put that thought and intentionality behind it. 

I had one note earlier of something that I think is a wild thing to think about from the future, but thinking about how we redesign cities in response to hybrid ways of working, that could be a future topic. Hit me up in 30 years time when that’s actually a thing. 

But just want to thank you both for today’s really rich conversation. Again, there’s so much more to talk in this space, but I hope everybody that’s listening has enjoyed our topic of conversation and please do reach out if you’ve got any thoughts of hybrid or need any support in that space. 

Sarah Partridge: Awesome. Thanks for having us. 

Kristina Curtis: Yes. Thank you. 


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