People’s expectations of work have shifted dramatically in the past few years. How much? Both Amazon and Starbucks have faced outcries from workers this year because they asked them to return to the office – three whole days a week.
Such an outcome would have seemed preposterous several years ago – or at least as unlikely as the idea of project management suddenly operating remotely. Yet here we are. It now seems that hybrid working models, which strike a balance between remote working and a bricks-and-mortar presence, are here to stay.
Indeed, the 2023 APM Salary and Market Trends Survey (published 9 May) found that the proportion of project professionals rating location as an important factor when looking for a new job is decreasing sharply (from 69% in 2019 to 60% in 2020 and only 54% in 2021). Meanwhile, working-from-home options have become notably more important – 52% rated them as important in 2019 and 62% in 2023.
Raymond Gardner, Associate Programme Director in Strategy and Transformation at King’s College London, was involved in the implementation of hybrid working at the university. Having rolled out tools like Microsoft Teams and virtual support services as an emergency response, King’s soon concluded that a hybrid model was the best option for both staff and students.
“We did lots of work to understand which roles were essential to be on-site full-time (around a quarter – mainly for estates management), but for the rest the optimum was around two to three days a week,” says Gardner.
The benefits were clear: newly redundant offices could become spaces for students. Everyone became more tech-savvy. And with many senior leaders now hot-desking, or otherwise readily available on Teams meetings, they became more visible and accessible.
Hybrid working can bring plenty of other benefits to projects. Remote tools allow actions and Gantt charts to be updated in real time, improving accuracy and accountability; and project professionals can now lead or attend meetings with colleagues and stakeholders around the country, or even further afield, with far less impact in terms of cost, time or the environment.
It can also bring plenty of personal pluses. Richard Burgham Pearson is Associate Project Manager at construction and property consultant Thomas & Adamson. For him, the company’s continued use of hybrid working has had a notably positive impact on his young family.
“Having that flexibility means that I’ve spent a large amount of quality time with my eldest, Henry, who was born during lockdown,” he says. “We’ve recently had a second little boy, Will, and although I am out and about far more than I was during 2020/21, flexible working means I’m able to spend much more time with him [than if the company had maintained its old way of working]. I’ve also been able to support my wife.”
Learn how to say no
So how can project teams ensure that hybrid working continues to reap such benefits as it’s made permanent? It’s about maintaining a healthy balance between old and new methods, and understanding how to apply the strengths of each so that projects can become even more effective.
For example, online meetings can create a pressure for quick-fire responses. So it’s important to make project teams aware they can ask for time to reflect and report back, and to encourage them to set boundaries. “It’s easier for scope creep to occur with hybrid working, as leaders are more likely to have access to your project and want add-ons,” says Gardner. “Be clear with your RACI. And learn how to say no politely.”
Those boundaries extend to home life. Hybrid risks blurring the lines between home and leisure. And it’s important to accommodate the needs of those who prefer to spend more time in the office.
It may be a good idea to launch projects with a physical meeting, creating a sense of camaraderie and investment from the start. And to ensure that in-person meetings, when they do happen, really count.
“There’s no point in staying sat around a table,” says Gardner. “Stand up, move around, do something creative.”