We share some top tips on how to keep your workforce engaged and innovative in a hybrid working world.

While many employers still want to see an on-site presence, and for some roles remote working isn’t feasible, it has become a feature of working life that looks set to stay. According to an ONS Survey, 84% of UK professionals plan to continue a mix of working from home (WFH) and in the office.

For many, hybrid working was a positive manifestation of the pandemic, giving people far more flexibility and a better work-life balance. A survey of more than 12,000 professionals, by Tracking Happiness, found the ability to work from home increases happiness by up to 20%.

But remote working is also known to have its downsides and doesn’t suit everyone. Its impact on mental health is an important topic. The NHS, for example, has a dedicated page, providing simple self-help tips. For many, working from home is isolating and Nuffield health says “80% of UK workers feel working from home negatively impacted their mental health”. In another survey, of 2000 UK and US workers, 81% of under-35s would feel more isolated without time in the office, compared with 64% of those aged over 35.

So, what about innovation? Some feel fewer colleague distractions can help them focus, while for others face-to-face collaboration fosters more creativity. Although productivity might have increased during the pandemic – according to Forbes, innovation suffered. For others, hybrid working has actually made companies more innovative – Scientific American notes that remote teams “can gain an innovation advantage and out-compete in-person teams”. Success or failure seems to be down to the practical steps businesses take. So, what can companies do to keep their people engaged, innovative, happy and thriving in today’s hybrid working world?

Make innovation central to the business

Organisations tend to spend a very small percentage of their budgets on promoting innovation internally, says Forbes. For businesses to reap innovation rewards, they need to put more money into it. This, in turn, gives employees permission to think outside the box and not just follow the rigmarole of the normal working day.

Remember the importance of human interaction

Remote staff need to feel like they are part of a community and organisations should place a lot of value on emotional intelligence (EQ). Harvard Business Review (HBR) mentions the ‘proximity principle’, which means that people develop strong bonds with people at work, therefore working harder as their workplace is more than just an office; it’s a social environment with friends. “Friendships really matter to employee engagement,” it notes. So, what can employers do to counteract a lack of this? Invest time in “one-on-one interactions,” says HBR.

According to Deloitte insights, the sudden transition to remote working during the pandemic was successful because existing social ties and work peer relationships helped to sustain productivity. “Making sure that this social capital continues to thrive in a hybrid environment will be critical,” it adds. On the innovation side, employees who “feel free to share their emotions with one another – both positive and negative – are more likely to innovate and come up with creative solutions to problems,” says Forbes. Therefore, making EQ central to the business will likely make remote workers more engaged, and more innovative as a result.

Introduce robust support systems

Managers are key to enforcing new workplace measures, to improve employee engagement. But they need support too. In a Gallup survey, managers were reported to have taken the biggest emotional hit during Covid-19, so facilitating them to support others properly is vital for workplace engagement. “Once managers have the support they need, they can take steps to foster emotional connection, team bonding and fun to compensate for the loss of proximity in the office,” says HBR.

According to Forbes, one important area to invest in is remote management training, to ensure managers have the tools they need to manage remote teams well. When it comes to innovation, managers can set the tone to foster this too. Trusting staff by giving them permission not to look at notifications all the time, for example, should allow for more focused work and problem-solving, which is needed to innovate effectively.

Meet in person regularly

If possible, aim to meet in person with your staff and spend more time planning off-site meetings. Regular in-person meetings also fulfil the human interaction need – the Thought Leadership Institute notes “a sense of community in the workplace fulfils a basic human need for connection.”

Use technology to help

Organisations should look at the role ‘collaborative technology’ such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, or even virtual reality software can play, says PWC. Such tools make it easier for hybrid workers to communicate and feel included. These tools are particularly vital for staff who work remotely all the time. Slack, one of the most important hybrid working communication tools, says that “recent history has shown us that we can be effective, creative and productive working from anywhere”. But we still need to feel connected.

For help managing your workforce mix, talk to one of our team today.