Due to the unprecedented rise of Covid-19 infections during the pandemic, organisations large and small had to adapt rapidly to the resulting ‘shocks’ in order to stay in business. To some extent, this has meant that they have dealt with challenges as they arise, without a clear strategy or plan in place to navigate the transition to a longer-term hybrid work culture.
As a result, businesses may struggle to recruit and retain staff and meet their organisational goals and outcomes sustainably and effectively. In early 2021, research from Sony Professional Solutions found that 4 in 5 employees believed that their employers were not adequately prepared to make a sustainable transition to a hybrid model of work.(7,8) A mid-2021 report by UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that at least 46% of UK employees did not have flexible working arrangements in their current roles.(9)
More recently, a survey of 17000 employees conducted by SAP Concur found that over 3 in 5 employees continue to find their companies’ policies and technologies inadequate to enable flexible work.(10) The lack of technological readiness has been cited as a concern as the uptake for hybrid models of work rises, especially in the manufacturing industry.(11)
Beyond the practical challenges around technology and other infrastructure, other ‘human-focused’ challenges that come with the culture shift include the need to cultivate new and creative ways to communicate and collaborate, fostering sustainable engagement between team members while safeguarding employee health and wellbeing.
Helping small businesses with their culture change strategy
A majority of large private as well as public sector organisations like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, NatWest, and the Bank of England have announced plans to reconfigure and formalise policies of flexibility that are geared towards making hybrid working models the norm, aimed at giving workers the freedom and support to work based on their individual needs.(12) It is clear that the successful execution of this process is largely contingent on adequate planning and availability of capacity and resources, as well as a mindset and will to achieve change.
However, smaller organisations or those in the third sector in particular may not have access to this type and extent of resources, be it time, funds or human capital to plan and execute policies that can help them emerge from the shocks of the pandemic. Third sector organisations such as voluntary entities and registered charities have been equally impacted by a shift in work culture. Following the pandemic, there has been a change in attitudes towards flexible working in the third sector, with more urging for and embracing flexible working for all roles in the sector.(13) The 2021 Charity Digital Skills report found that 68% of charities were preparing to adopt a hybrid model of work.(14)
However, transitioning the workforce to hybrid working could seem like an additional burden at a time when resources and funds are significantly stretched due to the pandemic, with much of the workforce in the third sector already working beyond their regular hours to meet the needs of the individuals they serve. Many employees working for charities, voluntary organisations or in parts of the public sector such as the National Health Service and local councils have experienced heightened stress, compassion fatigue and burnout as a result of their intensified frontline duties during the pandemic.(15)An unplanned and unsystematic approach to transitioning an already overwhelmed workforce to hybrid work without planning for potential challenges and pitfalls could pose threats to both individuals as well as an organisation’s health and wellbeing.
This resource aims to support small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs) and the voluntary/third sector to prepare for, be responsive to, and navigate the uncertainty and change that comes with transitioning to a hybrid model of work. Based on our experience of developing and implementing this process with a frontline charity in Cornwall and The Isles of Scilly, we offer an approach to co-designing a hybrid workplace culture that is fair, equitable and addresses the needs of the workforce. This process may be used as a template for other organisations of a similar size, structure and nature of work to plan and execute their own hybrid work model.