Hybrid working is not the future of work, it’s the now. And companies that are choosing to accept and embrace this reality are not only enjoying increased staff productivity and improved business performance, but have enhanced their appeal to potential talent and established themselves as preferred employers.
One such company is human capital management (HCM) specialists CRS Technologies, which implemented the hybrid working model following the lifting of pandemic restrictions. The undertaking has been so successful that according to general manager Ian McAlister, the company has no intention of going back to the office full-time.
“While the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown restrictions caught many companies off guard, for CRS the transition to a remote working environment was relatively easy, owing to the nature of our business – the provision of HR and payroll solutions and services to more than 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East, the United Kingdom and Pakistan,” says McAlister.
“All our systems are accessible via our networks and the only component that required some tweaking was the setup of interpersonal communications and associated processes.
“Consequently, from the outset we were able to assure our clients that our services offering – including support and assistance – would continue undisrupted so that their businesses could remain operational.”
Which is exactly what happened.
“Our employees quickly adapted to the ‘new normal’ and business not only continued as usual, it flourished,” says HCM Head Nicol Myburgh.
He attributes the success of CRS’s hybrid working to three factors – instilling a culture of trust, listening to employees’ needs and empowering them to do their job.
A culture of trust
From the outset we decided not to go the ‘big brother’ route and install monitoring tools and surveillance apps onto laptops and devices to ensure staff were doing their work, Myburgh relates.
“Instead, we choose to trust our employees and give them space to achieve their goals without consistent monitoring and assessments. As long as the job or project is completed as expected, when or how the work is done is left up to the employee.”
The underlying goal is to drive productivity through engagement, clarity around expectations, and transparent, live reporting on daily/weekly/monthly outcomes.
“Because everybody knows what they are expected to do and they understand the metrics that measure their performance, they are more engaged and more committed to doing their work,” says Myburgh.
Listening to employee needs
CRS has always been committed to supporting the psychological wellbeing of its employees.
While the company found that employees could be just as, if not more focused and productive when working from home, it soon learned that remote working is not without its challenges.
“Fewer distractions, little to no office politics and more efficient meetings are all great for boosting productivity, but the downside of these benefits is less interaction between staff, which can lead to employees feeling lonely or ‘left out’ of the workplace,” says Myburgh. “Consequently, we partnered with health and wellness providers to facilitate counselling and guidance services to address our staff’s mental health needs.”
Regular face-to-face group meetings were arranged where – without management’s presence – employees were encouraged to speak openly and honestly about how they were coping with remote working.
“Initially, staff admitted to feeling isolated, overwhelmed and even depressed. While they enjoyed the cost and time savings that came with not having to commute to the office every day, working remotely had blurred the lines between work and home and they struggled to switch off at the end of the day.”
CRS took these admissions seriously and provided appropriate support and coaching to all staff. Where necessary, this was followed up with individual counselling sessions.
Over time, staff began to feel more comfortable in their new work environments and eventually acknowledged that they had begun to enjoy working remotely and would prefer to continue to do so permanently.
To alleviate the feelings of isolation, CRS hosts regular staff social events and teams are encouraged to occasionally hold meetings at the office to further facilitate one-on-one interaction.
“It’s important that our people know we are committed to meeting their emotional and mental needs,” says Myburgh. “We believe that employees who believe they are heard feel valued by the organisation, remain involved in the company and are committed to working for it.”
Of course, South Africa is unique in that businesses have to contend with constant loadshedding, which can be exceptionally challenging in a geographically dispersed company.
A hybrid working environment does not allow employees to stop working when the power goes out, Myburgh points out, and giving employees the space to work from anywhere while simultaneously ensuring that they can continue to work despite regular power outages is a delicate balancing act.
CRS resolved this challenge by providing each staff member with a backup power system. “If this is insufficient for any reason, we have instituted a hot desk system at the office so that anyone can come in to work whenever necessary.
“Empowering, trusting and listening to our employees has resulted in higher morale among staff, even though they are dispersed across numerous locations, including countries outside South Africa,” Myburgh adds. “Furthermore, staff turnover is lower than ever before, while productivity and performance have increased significantly.”
For these reasons, McAlister is bullish about the future of the hybrid working model at CRS.
“We are fortunate to have staff who have grabbed the hybrid working environment as an opportunity to show they can work independently. As a business, we pride ourselves on being outcomes-based and flexible with desk space and time for our employees. We will continue to empower them to accept responsibility for their working hours and structure their days to deliver the best value possible.”