The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly changed how SMEs operate and has uncovered new opportunities for leaders and owners in navigating the shift to hybrid.
It has transformed how firms work, do business, and meet customer needs and has brought to light the positive impact that remote working can have. It is essential that SME leaders and owners take these benefits forward into the new normal.
At Learnerbly, there were several challenges we had to overcome to ensure we remained operational as the crisis took shape. We had ‘trialled’ full-remote a few weeks prior to lockdown officially taking place last year to test our systems and processes. We made sure our employees were equipped to deal with this change, from kitting out employees with the right tools and technology to maintaining a connected and positive ‘virtual workplace’ culture and keeping employee wellbeing at the forefront of our strategy.
In order to ensure everyone was supported in the best possible way, we gave a £500 work from home allowance to purchase the required equipment as well as a weekly £6 contribution to household bills. We also sent ‘surprise and delight’ gifts via the post periodically to our colleagues to help boost morale.
We also recognise that when spending a lot of time online especially on video calls this can be quite draining. We therefore introduced ‘wellbeing-Wednesdays’ a day where we avoid company-wide meetings to enable people to focus on doing deep work and not necessarily have to jump on a video call every other moment.
The shift to remote working has demonstrated that empowering employees to take control of their work, trusting them to work in the way which enables them to balance their work and family life leads to more engaged and motivated employees. It has also enabled us to recruit from a more global pool of talent and enabled colleagues to save considerable time from no longer having to commute. The benefits which we have gained, both at a leadership and employee level are key factors in why we’re excited to move to a hybrid work approach.
As restrictions continue to lift, businesses across the UK are creating plans for how to move to a hybrid work model. However, hybrid working won’t happen by accident. SME leaders and owners will need to create hybrid policies, principles and processes and influence these to ensure they come to life. This is something we’re currently navigating.
Finding the right balance between virtual communication and collaboration and face to face is a tricky dilemma. We recognise that in person communication sits alongside remote working in equal importance, by helping to foster meaningful connections with colleagues and ensure our staff feel connected to one another.
At Learnerbly this has meant giving employees the flexibility and choice to decide what the right balance means for them. They have the choice to continue working from home permanently or to avail co-working passes (either on a few days a week basis or permanent basis.) We recognise that for many employees especially those for whom it may be their first job or who have limited space at home and share with others – they would rather be in a more professional environment and interacting with colleagues face to face.
Access to the right technology is vital in supporting this cultural shift, so it’s essential that we equip our workforce with the tools needed to enable seamless collaboration and inclusive meetings, to empower employees to choose when to travel into the office and when to work remotely. Businesses that follow this will not need to encourage workers to be physically present to avoid missing out on important conversations, decision making and meeting participation.
Team leads have also been given budgets to facilitate periodic socials whether they be in person (in keeping with the latest government guidance) or remote to foster deeper connections and to boost team spirit and morale.
It has been a period of huge change and a learning experience for all business leaders. This is why we have openly shared our approach with others in the hope that it may help other businesses grappling with the same challenges.
However, what the past 12 months has shown us is that the case for hybrid is clear. We’re excited to continue embracing flexibility even after the COVID-19 crisis has passed. The key is to keep innovating on our processes, co-creating the new normal with our colleagues and clearly communicating the way forward.