Independent research for SEEK shows people's most sought-after office change is fewer in-person hours. Many view more flexible start times (42%) and less hours required in the office (41%) as realistic changes they expect to see in the future.
And when it comes to potential job opportunities, 61% of candidates consider hybrid working to be important.
Workplaces have benefited from hybrid working too. Unconstrained by location of staff and meeting room space, some businesses have saved cash by downsizing their office.
In a talent-short market where flexibility has become currency, hybrid working is now becoming more permanent. But making it work isn't always easy.
Here, three businesses share their tips for making hybrid working a success.
1. Identify moments that matter and be willing to evolve
At REA Group, the number one question now asked by potential candidates is, "how do you do hybrid?"
"It's a baseline expectation for anyone," says Alana Shepherd, REA's Executive Manager of People Agility.
The digital business specialising in property has around 90% of its 1,500 Australian staff in Sydney and Melbourne. It was moving towards greater flexibility even before the pandemic.
When employees were sent home in 2020, most had the technology in place, but it was the broader support from a wellbeing perspective that was more challenging.
REA has sought to create ‘a whole organisation experience’ through face-to-face communication. Rather than mandate days in the office, the company encourages teams and individuals to identify ‘moments that matter’.
At the team level, these moments could be team building or onboarding. At the individual level, they could be weekly one-on-ones with a manager.
"It's about balancing the needs of REA, the team and the individual," Shepherd says. "It's up to the team to work out when these moments happen. The key is really amazing leaders who are facilitating those conversations."
Most teams seem keen to spend two or three days per week together, but this can change over time. Shepherd says it's crucial REA remains flexible and "continuously curious" about what its staff wants.
Monthly surveys around hybrid working also allow REA to innovate and improve the experience. The most recent survey showed 90% of leaders feel their team’s performance and engagement in hybrid working is better than it’s ever been.
But it’s an ongoing conversation, Shepherd says.
“In thinking about hybrid, you need to consider the culture you have and the values you have, and they need to be absolutely connected.
“It’s been really important for us to test and learn, to help teams assess how hybrid suits the work they do and the way they want to connect, and to continuously evolve.”
Key takeaway: With hybrid now a baseline expectation for many candidates, balancing the needs of the business, the team and the individual is key. Remain flexible and look to continuously evolve.
2. Allow staff to choose their hours under strong leadership
IT services and consulting company Cognizant had also been implementing flexible working arrangements before the pandemic hit.
The shift reflected a demand for flexibility and a greater work-life balance among the company's 1,400 employees across Australia and New Zealand.
COVID-19 sped up the process, leading Cognizant to find creative ways to foster connection and keep people engaged.
"When you're working remotely, work can just become work. We had to shake things up," Cognizant's ANZ Head of Talent Acquisition Allegra Moore explains.
So Cognizant implemented 'people squads'.
"We have an engagement squad, a diversity squad, a future talent squad, a future leader squad, and all of those run different events. Those squads might have guest speakers. We had one recently from Harvard University who spoke to us about diversity."
Flexibility is now ingrained and valued at Cognizant. Staff can choose to come into the office, and they have more flexibility with their working hours.
"I've got some people who work from 5am until 8am then take the children to school or go to the gym," Moore says. "It's about work-life balance. We don't want people to miss out on family milestones and we want to help them manage their week so they're free of domestic duties on the weekend."
The flip side of unrestricted working hours and working from home is, of course, a lack of boundaries; work seems to seep into all your space and time.
Cognizant's leaders keep an eye on their staff's wellbeing. "We tell staff there's no pressure for them to work around the clock, and that it's important to maintain balance."
They also diarise 'together days’ once a week on a day agreed by the team, which are invitations to come into the office, connect with the team and speak to managers.
To make hybrid working a success, leadership is key, she says.
"Leaders need to be curious about what works for their staff. Not everyone loves working from home.
"You need to listen to them, ask them questions. It's not a one-size-fits-all anymore."
Key takeaway: Hybrid is not one-size-fits all. It’s important to keep people engaged and help them set boundaries when working from home.
3. Offer personal budgets to connect with colleagues and plan regular meet-ups
Envato, a global marketplace and community for creatives, has always promoted remote and hybrid working, which pre-pandemic was a selling point for the company.
"It benefited us because we were able to access talent who had to be in a specific location," says Natalie Firth, Envato's Global Head of Talent Acquisition.
Now COVID restrictions have eased, flexibility remains. Staff come into the office when it works for them, and they can choose their own hours.
"As a business we have to be flexible to adapt to what staff want, which is a new phenomenon for a lot of companies," Firth says.
But for hybrid working to be successful, she believes it must be led by the top down.
"You need to have an agreement and consensus among your executives on what hybrid working actually looks like. It needs to be consistent. Some teams can be more flexible than others."
At Envato, that consistency extends to budgets that facilitate in-person connection.
Every single employee has access to an annual ‘connect your way’ budget that they can use to connect with colleagues in their locations over lunch or coffee, for example, while leaders have an additional budget to bring teams together for things like workshops and dinners.
‘Back to base’ is another initiative to foster connection. The idea is to bring all employees across Australia and New Zealand to one place for a couple of days for meetings, strategy work and social events.
Envato has also upped its virtual events from sessions with guest speakers to channels where people can post pictures of pets.
"It's about creating moments where people can still bump into each other, and trying different ways of working," Firth says.
For leaders, this means being available to staff. "I've told my team I'm always available to them and I will make time," she says.
"Because if they're having a bad day, I can't see it."
Key takeaway: Consistency and looking at different ways to connect is a must. There needs to be agreement top down about what hybrid looks like as some teams and individuals can be more flexible than others.
Making hybrid work
Hybrid working has given individuals greater work-life balance while enabling businesses to enjoy greater staff satisfaction and loyalty.
The models — and the challenges to implement them — are as varied as they are complex.
However, the key is creating models that adapt and evolve for the organisation, its teams and its individuals.
Source: Independent research conducted by Nature on behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4,800 Australians annually. Published June 2022.