Hybrid working in development finance - here to stay?
How do we build an effective hybrid workplace that is responsive to both internal and external dynamics?
Similar to other companies, Globalfields has also needed to adapt elements of its business model and ways of working in response to global changes, including the Covid-19 pandemic. Restrictions in movement and travel and the closure of many physical spaces has meant that many organisations, including Globalfields, had to resort to working remotely.
What was initially a set of temporary measures, has now become the ‘new’ normal, with different forms of flexible working structures now being part of standard employment contracts. These changes have been accompanied by many discussions – in teams, in business schools, in research –as to the best and most effective models to ensure effective business continuation across different company types. At the same time, hybrid working models have to support the mandate of a company. Some functions lend themselves well to hybrid working, while others may do so but with exceptions.
In a post-Covid context, it is fair to say that if well structured, hybrid ways of working, including working from home, can be effective for both the company and its employees.
With staff members in different locations, as well as many associate consultants indifferent countries, Globalfields has already embraced hybrid working, with a mix of working in the office and working from home or from another location (typically a client’s location).
In our last team retreat, held in London in mid-January 2023, we discussed issues related to remote working and explored ways to enhance it, with a view to deriving strategies and tools to support both employees' engagement and 'clients' centricity'.
On the one hand there are many positive drivers supporting hybrid working:
- A wider pool of people offering gender, educational, cultural, linguistic and generational diversity.
- A stronger emphasis on work-life balance.
- Savings on larger office space in London.
- Savings money as well as time on long commutes.
There are however some drawbacks.
- Mentoring, shadowing and spontaneous exchanges are often lost.
- There is a higher risk of siloed working, with colleagues often not aware of what others are doing, and not learning from peer-to-peer exchanges.
- The risk of losing the identity or ethos of the company.
During our team day, we discussed tools to overcome these barriers and build on the positive aspects of hybrid working, including:
- Technology, which is a must to ensure smooth connections and effective working. This includes communication technology such as zoom but also cyber security, project management and accounting software (a ‘smart office’ set-up).
- Accountability and trust, including ongoing feedback, more spontaneous interactions and other processes to maintain high participation, motivation and engagement.
- Organising regular meet-up for the entire team.
One area of work that has proved fundamentally irreplaceable by remote working is the in-country missions. This includes technical assistance delivery, capacity building, due diligence work and other advisory service. A member of staff in loco in the target country is much more valuable than seeing the team and projects only on zoom. Certain negotiations have proved much more effective in-person than digitally. Building a business relations over coffee or lunch can often support trust and consensus-seeking. Some interactions must remain, and the implementation and planning of projects still needs to be done with feet firmly on the ground.
An effective hybrid workplace needs to be flexible in responding to these internal and external dynamics – for example, improving the hardware and software to facilitate communications between the office and outside of the office set-ups, but also keeping abreast of changing needs and circumstances – such as in the above examples of country missions. In the case of Globalfields, we want to make sure that sustainability is achieved both in-house and in respect of delivering impacts (typically, environmental and climate-related) in clients’ assignments.