Hybrid Working: Time to Turn Theory into Reality
As the 2020 pandemic finally seems to be turning a corner in many countries, thoughts are now pivoting towards its longer-term impact on how companies function in the future. Hybrid working will be part of that future.
There’s little doubt that some organizations have thrived more than others over the last fifteen months, with long-term trends being significantly accelerated. Online retailers have gone from strength to strength, while some traditional brick-and-mortar retailers have struggled and closed. Cash payments have struggled against the use of digital cash, even in normal retail environments. Widespread homeworking has also proved practical, with management recognizing that staff do not have to be in the office to be fully effective.
Mixing home working and office working – hybrid working – is no longer the aspiration it was 12 months ago. Companies are assessing whether they need large office complexes, and how best to change working arrangements that best suit staff and the companies they work for.
In the UK, telecom giant BT is planning to reduce its 300 strong office estate down to just 30. Global Insurance Company Aviva has said that 95% of its staff prefer more flexible work patterns. That said, not everyone agrees. Many investment banks are keen to have staff back in the office, as they feel homeworking can compromise the ‘apprentice-based’ staffing model they use so effectively. Some staff prefer office-based work, partly for better collaboration, partly for social reasons, and partly because the domestic environment for many, especially the young, are not ideal for homeworking.
Striking a hybrid working balance
Clearly, there is a balance to be struck between staff and their management. Hybrid working is not risk-free, as it has implications for the people-process-technology paradigm that underpins all business processes.
However, get it right and it offers scope for an attractive working framework for staff, making it easier to attract staff who value flexibility, as well as providing scope for more efficient use of valuable office space.
Get it wrong though and a host of problems emerge, causing friction amongst staff, reduced collaboration, reduce quality of customer service and increased costs to name but a few.
The good news for many businesses is that the ad-hoc workarounds created early in 2020 provide an excellent template on which to build robust and sustainable processes that will deliver hybrid working. The systems and processes used in these workarounds – typically involving applications like SharePoint, file shares, Dropbox accounts, email, and spreadsheets – mean they cannot be used ‘as is’ as they can lack the controls necessary to provide the transparency and auditability companies typically require for a range of regulatory and auditing requirements.
The best way to empower hybrid working?
The fastest, most cost-effective way of enabling hybrid working is to find the gaps in systems and processes that do not meet the needs of the business and then addressing them with dedicated solutions that meet that immediate need.
Working with our customers, it seems that many core business processes – CRM, accounting, payroll, and so forth – have worked well over the last 12 months, because many businesses have already transitioned to SaaS-based applications, suitable for use anywhere, and particularly well-conceived for hybrid working environements. Where companies are challenged are in areas such as compliance management, policy management and third-party risk management, which while not high profile, are still core to the business and whose significance to the business has grown over 2020/21.
Policy management – defining business processes, creating service delivery standards as well as detailing management approval levels for example – has undergone a major transformation in 2020 as office-based standards and processes have been adapted for home use. Travel policies have changed multiple times. Compliance systems and processes – used to assess and measure behavior against standards – have had to be upgraded to keep up. These standards have also had to be applied consistently throughout the supply chain to assure consistency and reduce the risk and impact of potential issues.
Unifying practices and systems
As we’ve found talking with customers, companies had systems for policy and compliance management and third-party risk management in place before 2020. But they were often spread across different applications, in different departments, which made getting unified oversight across the enterprise extremely difficult. Multiple systems lead to multiple standards and definitions, numerous conflicts, and inconsistencies, as well as operational inefficiencies that increase costs.
A hybrid working environment, with staff working across multiple sites on a regular basis, demands unified policy management and compliance to ensure that all staff, throughout the business, always know their responsibilities, regardless of their location.
This needs to be tested and appraised on a regular basis, to highlight areas and drivers for non-compliance. This picture also needs to be escalated into the wider enterprise GRC management perspective. Similar principles need to apply to the supply chain, as suppliers will be facing the same issues, and the challenges and interruptions they experience cannot be allowed to impact their customers.
Mitratech provides a range of practical, proven, and robust platforms that help businesses address the challenges created by hybrid working. These include policy management, compliance management, and third-party risk management, alongside other areas including Shadow IT Management, data management, and workflow automation. Here’s how to learn more.