Preparing for the future: Building a hybrid strategy that works for all

By Alexander Wiede, HR Director, SAP UKI.

  • 2 months ago Posted in

Looking back to the beginning of 2020, no one could have predicted the global crisis that was about to unfold. The COVID-19 pandemic brought an upheaval to services, lives and businesses globally. We all needed to make a shift to our daily routines and processes, and for most, it was an incredibly disruptive shift we were unprepared for.

When it came to deciding how businesses would operate in a dispersed environment, where the centrality of offices was no longer available, employee wellbeing was put at the top of the priority list. But for many businesses, they were simply not prepared to continue working at full capacity and provide full support to their employees at home. As a result, 44.4% of newly remote workers suffered a decline in their mental health at the very peak of the pandemic.

But now, as businesses are better equipped to support their employees, wherever they choose to work, it’s critical that employee wellbeing does not fall from the agenda. Fundamentally, adopting an employee-first mindset benefits both businesses and their staff, with workers who are looked after being more likely to be productive and happy in their role. According to a study by the University of Warwick, employees that are happiest at work are around 12% more productive than those that aren’t happy in their role.

Beyond this, employers will also notice a change in the levels of talent retention and attraction. One study suggests that with a strategy that consolidates the concerns and wellbeing of employees, 42% of businesses are more likely to retain their staff, while 31% will attract new employees. It’s imperative therefore that businesses can build an effective hybrid working strategy with wellbeing in mind.

Listening to employees

So how can businesses approach this? To begin with, employers must be considerate of the needs of each individual employee. Having an open dialogue is essential in creating a safe environment for employees and will allow organisations to understand what support they need, when they need it and how it should be delivered.

To do this, some businesses conduct regular employee surveys and use data platforms to collect and analyse the data to provide a holistic view of the workforce. This allows them to stay in touch with concerns, communicate change more effectively, and make decisions that take each employee’s personal circumstances into account. This clarity and openness allows businesses and their employees to be ready to respond to situations, and prepare for what is to happen in the future.

In our experience of adopting this process, we found that our employees are eager to retain flexible working, whether that means being in the office 2 days a week, working whilst traveling, or having greater flexibility on working hours. This was the motivation behind our flexible working model which is 100% trust-based - empowering our workforce to choose how, when, and where to work, ensuring they can operate productively. But this also ensures employees can effectively manage commitments outside of work, maintaining a healthy work-life balance and supporting them to run at their personal best.

Marrying the hybrid model with employee benefits

Undoubtedly, how businesses generally approach and deliver employee benefits has had to evolve to today’s hybrid working models to ensure that employees’ physical and mental wellbeing are being looked after - no matter where or how they might be working.

Over the last couple of years, businesses have pursued different routes. We followed best practice in providing a range of tailored services aimed at different employee segments/demographics. For example, our Peppy Parenthood benefit provides specialist support to new parents, while our “Are you ok?” campaign provides our employees with all the support they need, encouraging people to speak up when they aren’t feeling ok. To provide comprehensive mental health support, we enhanced our existing 24/7 Employee Assistance Program by additional “Ask The Expert” counselling sessions which are hosted by a medical doctor and mental health expert, and allow employees to seek advice on mental health queries.

For some, returning to the workplace and the regularity of being in the office nine-to-five, five days a week, no longer aligns with what is happening in their lives or what they want from a career. It’s important that employers recognise what each individual employee needs in order to succeed in their role, whether that be continued home working, a balance between the two or flexible working hours.

Responding to new and future crises

The pandemic gave reason for organisations to put plans in place for future crises and to acknowledge the importance of protecting their employees during these times. But with all individuals wanting different experiences from their workplace offering a variety of strategies has become essential.

The recent cost of living crisis is a prime example of this, prompting more employees to require increased support. It’s likely, for instance, that businesses will witness a rise in the number of employees who want to work from the office this winter in order to cut back on bills. Flexible working will be critical in alleviating this pressure and providing ongoing support.

The last two years have taught businesses that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to wellbeing and you can never be too prepared for what might come. From organisations providing each employee with laptops to take home to employees working from wherever they want and however they want, there’s been a seismic shift in modern working expectations. Preparedness must now come at the top of the agenda for leaders if they are continuing to run profitable businesses with employees that not only feel being looked after but who feel genuinely happy – because they do what they like, where they like.

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