How important is hybrid working for Irish SMEs attracting staff?

How important is hybrid working for Irish SMEs attracting staff?

The logistics of attracting and retaining good staff has changed quite a bit in recent years, and employers increasingly find themselves having to deal with changing priorities from potential employees. For example, a growing number want to work at least partially from home, and it’s not hard to see why.

Housing in Ireland is expensive. Finding an affordable place to live often means putting up with lengthy commutes to work. That in turn means less time for other important things, like looking after older parents or young children or even just maintaining hobbies and getting to the gym.

Commuting alternatives?

In particular, spending hours commuting becomes a harder sell once people realise that with technology, there actually are alternatives. Modern laptops, smartphones and improved broadband mean that most people can set up a workstation at a kitchen table and operationally fire on nearly as many cylinders as if they were located in an office.

Video conferencing, e-mail, file transfer, collaborative applications and solid Wi-Fi really are game changers. This was proved during the pandemic when even companies that previously would have said that remote working was impossible for them found ways to make it happen.

But as the working world has returned to something closer to normality, battle lines have appeared over the issue of getting staff to return to the workplace when they naturally don’t want to give up the benefits they accrued while working remotely.

Shifting workplace dynamics

For the owners and managers of small businesses, this shifting dynamic can be challenging. They naturally want to give their staff the best working experience they can, but they also have deadlines to hit, bills to pay and businesses to run.

A pandemic is one thing, but can and should hybrid working be allowed to become the norm? The truth is that not every business can easily accommodate hybrid working. In some cases, some staff members might be able to make it work while others may have roles that require their physical presence. Is it fair to let some do it, and others not?

Managers are struggling with the question; ‘if someone’s not in the office, is that going to cause a major problem?’ How can they get the balance right between ensuring employee satisfaction while also maintaining operational efficiency?

Operational compromise

Well, the truth is that the situation is likely to require compromise. From the employee point of view and for anyone in the job market, the horse has bolted. Once enough companies offer hybrid working, those that don’t or can’t will suffer for that position.

So if as an employer you have to do it, how can you do it right so that it adds to your business and doesn’t undermine it?

One of the significant challenges for smaller businesses is fostering a sense of team cohesion and camaraderie. When teams work remotely, the spontaneous interactions and organic conversations which often lead to innovative ideas are notably reduced.

For this reason, hybrid working works best when the terms are clearly laid out in advance. Those that work from home one or two days a week need to prioritise the time they spend in the office, meeting their colleagues and recognising that in facilitating them, their employer is likely taking a hit.

Battling Silos

Remote and hybrid workers need to be managed with an eye on making sure that unnecessary silos aren’t created, with employees feeling disconnected from the broader company culture. When it comes to monitoring productivity, new methods and metrics are likely going to be needed that suit situations where you can’t always see your staff in front of you.

In recent years, there has been a huge surge in the refinement of collaboration tools, and platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams and Zoom have become the backbone of remote team communication for many companies. These tools, when used effectively, can replicate many in-office interactions, ensuring that team members stay connected.

Cloud-based tools like Google Workspace or Office 365 allow employees to collaborate on documents in real-time. This means that team members can work simultaneously on projects without being in the same room or even the same city, but crucially can have real time video or audio feeds open as they do this, creating a real sense of connection.

Important partnerships

Perhaps without full time IT staff, leaning this heavily into technology to reengineer the way they work can be daunting. But this is what is required to create the kind of workplace that will allow them to compete to attract staff from bigger and better resourced companies.

It’s also why it’s important to have quality partnerships with companies that can help you achieve your goals. You don’t need to know how to roll out an IT solution yourself, you just need to know who can help do that for you.

It is evident that many employees value flexibility, and this can’t be ignored, specially by smaller businesses. As a business owner, it’s about weighing the pros and cons and deciding what’s best for the company's long-term sustainability. For now, facilitating hybrid working is a key differentiator when talented professionals go looking for new roles.

If you would like to discuss your hybrid working set-up, including digital needs - speak with one of our digital experts for free, personalised advice. You can also read more about how to help your team work better from anywhere.

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