Hybrid, remote and office working: The realities behind the theory…

Hybrid, remote and office working: The realities behind the theory

Event overview

Our latest BCS IT Leaders forum event focussed on the realities behind hybrid, remote and office working.

With our expert panel of speakers from FirstGroup plc, BT, Morrisons, Covéa Insurance and Auto Trader, we explored what each respective business is doing to accommodate new ways of working and what employees and managers are actually experiencing….

Panel speakers (click on image for bio)

Panel Q&A

What does hybrid working mean to you?

Adrian Whittaker: It means flexibility, I can work anywhere, anytime within reason. I have more choice and can work how I work best.

Tammy Kennedy: I completely agree with Adrian plus add in “appropriate” to the “anywhere”. I have to make sure I am in the right place for what I am doing for confidentiality reasons, this is quite real because I have heard lots of people having conversations in public places that they definitely should be having privately!

Jordan McLean: For me, I have to go in every day but we have a four day compressed week and in those four days we have core hours of 10-4 when you have to be available. 

Philippa Rickard: For me it is definitely a mix of 2-3 days at home or I can be in the office or a coffee shop, i.e. it is flexible. A compressed week would not work for me because I train in the morning, I am a swimmer, so it is a lifestyle thing for me. For me it is important to give choice.

Russell Warman: I like the flexibility, often I do 7am to 2pm in the office then go home and finish there. To do that without taking holiday is great. We encourage people to be in more than out, which people often take to mean 3 days per week in the office but it needn’t. I come in every day but am flexible time wise and that works for me. We do see some contention for desks at times and we have given managers autonomy with their teams so it all depends on what people’s tasks are. No point or need to come in to sit on video calls all day for example.

JM: Our leadership is in most days but teams differ as to whether they are in the office.  Sometimes people come in on a Saturday, once each month or so, that is part of the new arrangements but it is not for work as in the rest of the week, it is for getting teams together and is very good thinking time because there are no distractions.  People find the compressed four day week outweighs the Saturday commitment.

What have you found with productivity in the new work environment?

TK: We expected a dip with working from home but no, it was fine. You need a good reporting regime in place to monitor delivery of course.

JM: We actually realised during the pandemic with everyone working from home that we got more done in less time. 

AW: There was a pre-covid perception of working from home as being a “day off”. Covid completely changed that picture, productivity went through the roof which was very surprising to the executive……Engagement is the downside though, as it is difficult to check in on people’s mental state when you are not with them day to day to make sure they are okay.

The productivity increase is still there, it looks to be permanent. People want to deliver when working from home, the mind-set has changed, it is not a “day off” at all.

TK: Yes I agree, the increased productivity has not dropped away at all, although of course there are always unproductive people but at a general level it has been good for efficiency.

How have you adapted your company office space for hybrid working?

JM: We re-assessed our old approach including how many desks each function needed, so we reduced our working areas to increase open space, we lost around 70 meeting rooms and completely changed the desking to introduce zones with a completely empty ground floor to allow complete flexibility as to how it is used. 900 desks have gone and we have invested in screens for digital connections with stores and sites. Much more inclusive because we have close real-time connection between distant sites and the executive.

PR: Yes we have done something similar, we have some amazing collaborative space and have made a big investment in this way or working, which is made possible by the reduced number of people in the office on a daily basis.

RW: We in fact took more space during the pandemic but kept the same number of desks, spreading them out more and creating booths, collaboration labs and presentation stages for example. Spaces have specific purposes which works well. Our town-halls can be done in a more inclusive way in a purpose built studio and people get to hear from the leadership more regularly now. 

What have been the challenges for you with hybrid working?

TK: Pre-covid I was office based and I was wondering quite how this could all be done remotely.  I have approached it by being very open and honest with how I feel and I have shared that to encourage others….This pays off to a degree but not completely. Everyone is very different and you need different approaches with different people but to be open yourself is important – this has not been easy for everyone.

AW: One challenge has been the increased expectation that you will be there 24/7 and you tend not to switch off from work. But on the other hand, I am not travelling like I used to and it is flexible like I said. We have non-work huddles for 15 mins each morning….absolutely no talk about work and that works well.

RW: I’ve found hybrid meeting tech can be tricky; for example the auto-cameras that suddenly focus on someone coughing instead of the speaker!  But these things will improve over time.

PR: Yes that is a good point, plus I would add connectivity issues into the mix!

JM: One issue is how to engage people who are in a virtual meeting but perhaps have their cameras off so you just cannot tell if they are with you or perhaps you can see that they are not, our ways of working have to adapt to this new environment.

AW: We find there are some challenges with some people needing to be on site because of what they do and some need not be. There can be a bit of friction between the two groups….healthy banter anyway. But longer term it does raise questions about enabling more flex for those on site. 

TK: Some want to be 100% remote but the business does not want that, we need face2face interaction, it just works better for some things.  But it is difficult to explain, to articulate, WHY people should come in say 1 day per week. 

AW: One thing I have found is when you have children it can be hard for them to understand that you are at home but are working so not “with” them.  One nice side of that is that when people are working from home their families are sometimes in shot and I actually find that quite nice!

How have you found hiring during the pandemic?

TK: People did take a lot on faith about how our environment was because we could not walk round with them and show them physically. But on the other hand it was very handy for me not to have to travel to different sites to conduct interviews! On-boarding has been much harder. New starters have had to be much more pro-active to make it really work, much easier when you are physically there amongst your new colleagues. 

AW: There is now a much increased expectation of hybrid and remote working, so even asking people to come onsite can present problems at times. This does raise questions around how people can engage with others, end users in particular in my team and deliver to them. 

Even asking new recruits to come in two days per month as a requirement has raised questions around expenses.

There are always positives and negatives, we have a much wider candidate range now and access to wider skillsets but the issues I have mentions are very real.

TK: For us, everyone has to be able to access one of our four core offices without expenses being paid.  This does limit us a little bit. 

AW: We have found that giving autonomy over location has clinched a deal when offering a role at times.  It matters to people.

TK: We have met with real challenges on salary expectation with new candidate sand this is also causing attrition.  Attending the office is less of an issue than this.

It is a concern that remote working reduces affinity with the corporate brand – the buy-in to the business.  The work can be “just a job” that people could do for anyone.

AW: Yes completely agree with that, harder to gain emotional investment in the business. Salaries are a huge challenge too. Hybrid does allow lifestyle improvements without salary reductions. For example living in a lovely but remote part of North Yorkshire. 

PR: We have found that hybrid working allows us to recruit from further afield but then of course, so can others so it puts upward pressure on our attrition with the wider availability of roles. The market has gone crazy, salaries are all up and people are being very particular about their own requirements…..a very different and difficult market.

RW: Completely agree with that about salary. We find that people who are earlier in their careers are happy to come in more than the more senior who are often very happy to be fully remote. That said, it can still be a challenge with early-career colleagues. We have an extensive programme of learning about the role and the business which lasts 6 months, we do not have all the answers yet. 

PR: Yes, definitely easier if new colleagues are physically present for training and absorbing the business and what happens.  Very difficult when working from home.

JM: We find that too and plan it very carefully so they are in for a couple of days each week and moved around to be with different people shadowing and learning. We found our brand and response to the challenges helped with recruitment during the pandemic and we have been brave with remote working. We have to see it as an opportunity otherwise it will be a threat. 

PR: It is important to get the message out there as to how we have responded and the flexibility. People need to want to work for a company!  But with increased flexibility of course come logistical issues in getting people together at the same time.

So with the benefit of hindsight, what would you have advised if you knew then what you know now…?

AW: Why did we not do this before??

TK: This was enforced change and I was really wary and worried about not being amongst people, I am a people person and thrive off the buzz and interaction of that.  But it has been fine and I would say be okay with it not working at first, it was all new!…..I am hybrid now and love being on site but would never go back to a full five day week in the office.

JM: To keep checking in on people, when you are physically with people you see so much more but when remote, you have to make the effort to know.

PR: I think it would have been good to know that normality would in fact return, or at least some version of it. We simply did not know what was going to happen or when back then.  A big issue can be bringing people back in a bit.

RW: Yes I agree and now this is all about getting hybrid to work the best it can.


Adrian Whitaker

Adrian Whitaker is an experienced IT leader providing services to Transportation, Retail, Financial, Telecoms, Utilities and Government, commercially astute with delivery of results across FTSE100 blue chips. Adrian has delivered digital strategies and made double digit percentage cost savings, transformed IT services and lead teams of technical engineers. He’s successfully transformed support across shared services over 3 continents providing significant improvements and cost savings. Adrian is also a board member for the charity “Action for Children” who provide practical and emotional care and support for children and young people. Last year, they helped children and families across Yorkshire by organising a co-ordinated sleep out in Millennium Sq, Leeds.

Tammy Kennedy

Tammy Kennedy is a seasoned Digital professional with more than 25 years’ experience across various sectors. She has dedicated the last few years to developing and building a high functioning BA community of practice within Consumer Digital at BT. Tammy thrives on being an agent of change and helping develop those around her to realise their goals and ambitions. This goes beyond her places of work, into the rich digital community in the Yorkshire region and also into schools and colleges where she provides insights to encourage students into careers within the wonderful world of technology.

Jordan McLean

Jordan McLean is currently Technology Director at Morrisons where he has ownership of the strategy, delivery and support of technologies including; Customer Experience, Digital Technology, Marketing & Loyalty, Data, Reporting & Analytics, HR Systems and Service Ops. Jordan is an experienced IT Leader with a background in operations, outsourcing, a global FTSE 100 utility company and the largest volume retailer in the world. Jordan has a proven track record in delivering a range of successful enterprise-wide solutions and transforming large, global teams to deliver business value.

Philippa Rickard

Philippa Rickard has over 22 years of experience in project and programme management and of leading teams to deliver whilst aligning with company strategy in her current role as Director of Delivery at Covéa Insurance. Philippa has a highly successful track record of achieving complex projects through the entire lifecycle within Hermes, William Hill, Sky and Morrisons before her current role and she has been a key player in providing sustainable improvements and transformations to project frameworks and governance, ensuring a better alignment between business objectives and prioritised deliverables.

Russell Warman

Russell Warman is Head of Infrastructure and Operations at Auto Trader, the UK’s largest digital automotive marketplace. He co-leads the platform engineering team charged with the capacity and performance of one the UK’s busiest websites – autotrader.co.uk, which sits at the heart of the UK’s vehicle buying process. During his 23 years within the company, Russell has been heavily involved in the digital transformation and the migration from private data centres to the public cloud.

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