ICAS President: Why hybrid working and hiring will be the way forward

By CA magazine

Moving beyond the one-size-fits-all approach to work will boost both business performance and staff satisfaction, says Bruce Pritchard CA.

Over the past year, we’ve all had to reassess our approach to teamwork and leadership. It was easy to take for granted the natural energy and creativity that came from being in the same room together. Few of us had experienced the alternative – and even fewer thought strategically about it. Remote working and, now, various forms of hybrid working necessitate a ground-up rethink of how we interact with one another and work towards our common goals in business. The message is simple – embrace change, be proactive and broaden expectations – but successful delivery will require careful thought and attention.

First, businesses of all sizes and sectors must accept that, operationally, things may never go back to the way they were. That encompasses all those staples of pre-pandemic life – from the nine-to-five to the daily commute and even requirements for office and co-working spaces. We’ve proved that remote and hybrid working can be just as efficient. It’s freed up our personal lives, too. A survey conducted for Bloomberg in May 2021 found 39% of US adults would consider quitting their jobs if their employer was not flexible with remote working. That rises to 49% for millennial and gen Z employees. Companies that fail to adapt accordingly will lose out on talent and, eventually, revenue. Sticking rigidly to old practices will come with a hefty price tag.

Second, we must be proactive about embracing these changes. You will need a plan of action to maintain strong teamwork and leadership in whatever new normal proves best for your business. That idea of proactively managing team and company relationships will be new to many executives, who may have expected it to remain a natural by-product of the cycle of daily work.

Instead, reach out to colleagues, schedule regular one-to-ones to formalise an ongoing dialogue and, although it may seem trivial at first, remember to inject a sense of fun. At Liminal BioSciences, we created a book documenting the company events we ran during the worst months of the pandemic and sent it to each member of staff. It’s a tangible reminder of how work brings people together as a community – both physically and digitally.

Finally, and of particular importance, we must broaden our expectations when it comes to finding, onboarding and retaining talent. Freeing ourselves of the physical and geographic constraints of full-time office work can mean applying the same mindset to hiring new staff. Personnel can now feasibly come from everywhere and anywhere – even beyond the borders of one’s own country. Firms should embrace the widened talent pool unlocked by the digital age and take the opportunity to hire the very best, not just the closest. And following on from the previous two steps, these new remote and hybrid employees will be joining firms that are operationally and culturally prepared to make the most of their talents.

This is not mere abstract theory or management speak. As CEO of a multinational business, I’ve experienced it first-hand. I’m based in Hertfordshire; Liminal BioSciences is headquartered in Canada. Prior to the pandemic, that meant two long-haul flights a month. Now, having not taken an international flight in 16 months, I’m clear that the business can adopt its own new normal for the long term.

Our executive team has made senior hires and undertaken a structural change programme from our various locations across the globe. Remote and hybrid working (and hiring) does not have to be a temporary solution – just some emergency “survival mode” until the pandemic settles – but can instead be a useful tool to grow and evolve one’s business in the future.

Of course, there will always be value to be had from everybody sitting in the same room together. I am greatly looking forward to the first opportunity to visit colleagues and hear their stories in person. But working practices should no longer conform to a one-size-fits-all formula. Each firm must explore the hybrid arrangements that will empower employees to do their best. And, as a result, better business outcomes will soon follow.

Read “Agile office, agile mind” for more guidance on hybrid working.