Wednesday 25 August 2021 6:00 am

IBM UK CEO: Accept the future of hybrid working and look at what needs to be done to retain company culture

The measures taken to minimise the impact of the pandemic have upended some long-held certainties; none more widespread than the move to remote working. What was initially seen as a stopgap measure to maintain business continuity during lockdowns has quickly become an established part of the daily routine for employees.  Digitisation is changing everything around us.  So, why not use this moment to reimagine the workplaces and practices of the future?

With the end of the summer in sight and most restrictions eased in the UK, many business leaders are targeting September to accelerate the transition from primarily remote working to a more hybrid model. The hybrid approach will help forward-thinking business leaders to build resiliency, flexibility and agility into their organisations. Applying the lessons of the past 18 months to renew business practices stands to create a more engaged, dynamic and supportive working environment. 

Leveraging the appeal of hybrid working

According to a recent ONS survey, 85 per cent of UK workers want to maintain a hybrid approach that preserves a mix of home and office working. Many leaders will initially be wary of this statistic, but based on leading multiple diverse, distributed teams around the world, I believe these concerns to be unfounded. We should instead think about creating effective, high-functioning teams, irrespective of the physical location of their people. There is much to be said for working across multiple, distributed and digitally connected teams – this approach cultivates diversity and removes many of the time-honoured barriers to progress. 

That’s not to say that everything in a hybrid environment is perfect – there will be challenges along the way.  Many of the problems have been widely discussed, especially for building relationships, training new staff, and working collaboratively to develop new ideas. Organisations will have to rethink how and when they use physical and virtual spaces, to use both as effectively as possible.

Employees will have differing preferences – ultimately, the new hybrid working environment must give employees choice but also create a culture where teams collaborate with new tools, policies, and practices.  IBM UK is relocating its London HQ and we have spent careful time reconfiguring for connection, collaboration, creativity, catching-up and calm – and we are also investing in our other UK locations to help accelerate our own hybrid journey. 

Alterations to the structure of a business’ workplace has a direct impact on its culture – and there is broad recognition that culture impacts financial performance. A good first step is to focus on community-building, which will create opportunities for people to learn from each other, embedding behaviours that support teamwork across the hybrid environment. 

A successful cultural transformation project involves soliciting feedback and building for flexibility – the upshot is an inclusive cultural environment aimed at supporting all people to achieve their greatest potential. It can also involve re-tooling the workforce to ensure the best digital tools are available to support collaborative working. Ultimately, this is about removing the restrictions inherent in conventional office-based settings and deploying your organisation’s best talents when and where they’re needed. 

Finding the right balance between in-person interaction and virtual working is crucial for employees at all stages of their careers and it should therefore be the priority for any organisation that wants to embrace hybrid and support the upward mobility of its staff. 

Of course, there’s no single best way to bring this all together. The onus is now on us all to reimagine the future of where and how we work – in this digital world, the tools exist.  The need of the hour is imagination, leadership will and determination to create that new inspiring work experience.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.