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Equipping Civil Service leaders for hybrid working success

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How can Civil Service leaders create a framework for hybrid working? What tools and guidance do they need to make decisions and optimise working practices?

Those were the questions on the agenda in the second instalment of the Nous Group Breakfast Seminar Series in the topic “Working effectively post-COVID-19 constraints”, which took place on 27 May.

To frame our discussion, I explained how Nous had supported a large Australian Government department’s transition to hybrid working. Nous produced targeted learning forums and developed practical materials for employees, including a toolkit with guidance on effective hybrid working that contained resources for frontline managers leading remote and dispersed teams.

These supports are effective because they are relevant to the employee experience – what employees encounter, observe and feel at work – which has changed dramatically in the COVID era. Organisations have many levers to influence employee experience at home or in the office, from systems to the way the work environment enables teams to work well together.

With this framing, UK Civil Service participants in the roundtable engaged in a discussion under the Chatham House rule. Participants identified three main points that leaders should pay attention to when developing their organisation’s hybrid working model.

1. Use principles and boundaries to help employees make decisions about hybrid working

The principles-led approach involves creating some high-level statements that capture organisational priorities. Employees can then choose working arrangements that align with the organisation’s principles. Many Civil Service organisations take a principles-led approach because it is flexible, empowers staff and shifts from a compliance management culture to a trust-led culture.

One leader shared some of their organisation’s emerging principles:

  1. A flexible and inclusive approach that reflects individual and business needs, balancing working remotely and working in the office.
  2. A strong focus on staff wellbeing, which includes maximising relationships and connectivity, supporting work/life balance, and creating a safe and healthy working environment.
  3. An outcome-based culture that is built on trust, rather than workplace presenteeism.

Civil Service leaders may need to define boundaries for hybrid working arrangements. Some boundaries will be determined by organisational requirements: for example, security restrictions may limit where people can work from. Other boundaries might be role-dependent, such as the requirement for senior staff to be present in the office sometimes to facilitate professional development and maintain culture.

One way organisations can reconcile these boundaries with their principles-led approach is by shifting focus from the individual to the group. Discussions as a team, department or office can help to establish collective expectations and responsibility for strategic outcomes. Some organisations are experimenting with team charters that describe how individuals at all levels will work together effectively as a group in a hybrid working environment.

2. Hybrid working models will evolve rapidly

Large-scale hybrid working is a new phenomenon, and organisations will need to refine and iterate their approaches over time. Leaders need to monitor the effect of different hybrid working patterns on the organisation and individual, adjusting course as needed in response to performance indicators. Some leaders plan to re-evaluate individual hybrid working choices every three months, while organisations using team charters will treat these as live documents that are updated as required.

External pressures will also reshape hybrid working models. Leaders will need to gather feedback from customers and service users to understand if and how their experience has been impacted by hybrid working. They should also work closely with their peers – inside and outside government – to identify any effects that the mass transition to hybrid working has had on broader systems.

3. Staff need short-term practical supports to transition

Planning for the future of hybrid work is important, but leaders also need to support their staff during the current transition phase. Clear guidance and tools to manage expectations and build staff confidence are crucial. For example, some participants told us they are giving staff information on what to expect from the office environment when they first return, including reassurance around protective safety measures. Building capability in agile practices – such as daily stand ups, weekly show and tells and retrospectives – can be a valuable way to support staff and maintain relationships and collaboration during this period.

One organisation is inviting staff to visit their building at a convenient time to reacquaint themselves with office life and holding workshops to discuss staff views on hybrid work and necessary future changes.

A tailored and flexible model is essential

The transition to hybrid working will be complex and disruptive for many individuals and teams in the UK Civil Service.

Nous’ experience with Australian organisations has shown that these challenges can be surmounted by developing a tailored, flexible hybrid working model that equips leaders to manage change and provides staff with practical guidance.

Get in touch to discuss how Nous can support your organisation to develop a hybrid working model.

Prepared with input from Daniel Benwell and Antonia Instone.