By Marcus Beaver, UK&I Country Leader, Alight Solutions
When the Queen gives the royal assent to joining events from home, we know that hybrid working is a firm fixture in the nation’s armoury. While in recovery from a hospital stay the monarch was able to virtually present the The Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry to poet David Constantine who was accompanied, in person by the Poet Laureate Simon Armitage. Blending in-person congratulations and online ceremony, the Queen was able to continue her duties; in her words ‘working mechanically’ from home.
With the eyes of the world firmly on the UK during COP26, the Queen’s willingness to try hybrid working may send a wider message. Not only can even the most auspicious of meetings be facilitated by technology, in times when personal circumstances dictate – and when travel is often synonymous with heightened carbon emissions – they may even be preferable.
That’s not to say there is no place for in-person meetings and events. As Diane Waldron, head of sales at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre said about COP26: “The very fact it is going ahead as a face to face event shows the importance of face to face and how that can’t be replicated by online events.” And it’s true.
While it may have saved criticism of ‘gas-guzzling’ world leaders jetting in on carbon-heavy aircraft, the sheer scale of COP 26 would have made it a poor choice as a remote or hybrid event. However, when translated to team meetings of ten people, the argument for ‘in-person’ only becomes a little ridiculous.
Remote working empowered by technology has been proven to work, and there is no going back, especially when many businesses are incorporating this as a strategy to reach net zero targets.
However, we’ve also been shown the power of being together.
Take away the chance for us to interact in person and it becomes apparent that, for many, it was a vital ingredient of work. The pandemic forced many into one, remote way of working.
What’s clear from a plethora of recent research is that workers are rejecting ‘one size fits all’ and are demanding the flexibility a hybrid model delivers. In fact, research from Alight shows that two-fifths (39%) rank flexibility as a top five most important total reward, similar to bonus pay.
Now we’ve emerged from the worst of the pandemic, an era of choice and flexibility at work has dawned, and it’s as far away from the rigidity of old as it could be. Now we have the means to meet one another online, in person or a mixture of both, playing to individual preferences, locations and personal circumstances. Ensuring that remote working capabilities are maintained in a fair and equal way will be key to future business success, and offering both in-office and out-of-office flexibility is the way forward.
When employees are crying out for flexibility, and that flexibility can be achieved, why are some employers so reluctant to consider there is a new way?
We know digital works and we will never go back to the old ways of trudging to the office for a meeting that could’ve been held online. And, if it suits us, we don’t need to sacrifice the atmosphere of the office to stay at home to dial in. Whether at home or at the office, people can come together to work in the way that suits them individually.
Making hybrid meetings work can be a challenge – running them properly so that all can participate and there are no ‘second-class’ attendees (usually those who dial in remotely) – takes thought. But, if given the credence paid to other ‘remote’ initiatives that now seem part and parcel of working life, it can become second nature. That means the proper devices, the proper training and the proper attitude. Using functionality like hand-raising, chat and group polling are just as useful in hybrid meetings as they are on fully remote ones.
What employers must realise is that to deliver employee experiences fit for today, investment must be made in shifting cultures, and into enabling technologies.
Of course, there is also the question of when a meeting should be a Slack channel or email – let’s use this time to think about when we really need meetings and when we don’t. The purpose of a meeting is just as important a consideration as the platforms it takes place on. When accepting an award from the Queen, your team would probably be happy to attend a meeting – whether in person or otherwise! When you’re simply asking for task-updates, a meeting will probably send eyes rolling – whether in person or over video. Think about employee experience first and foremost.
The reality is that in this time of competition for talent, ensuring a positive employee experience is paramount. That means accepting that hybrid is here to stay and employers need to make it work. After all, if it’s good enough for the Queen…