Manchester Leaders in Tech Roundtable

Pubished 25th April 2022

This article was originally published on the Infinity Works website.

How are we developing our people in a hybrid working world?

In the first Manchester Tech Leaders breakfast roundtable, the key topic of discussion was ‘Developing our people in a hybrid world’. This highlighted the importance of in-person meetings when it comes to nurturing a strong work culture.

Read the thoughts of Client Practice Lead and host of the event, Amelia Bampton, as she summarises how the insightful discussion brought a sense of solidarity and consensus between attendees:

Having recently moved into our brilliant new Manchester hub, we were delighted to hold our first in-person breakfast event for our Leaders in Tech roundtable series here on 17 March.

To provide some context to the discussion, we invited Manchester Digital to open the event with a summary of the findings from its Manchester Digital Skills Audit for 2022 – an annual audit of more than 250 digital and technology businesses.

The report highlighted some of the challenges faced by those currently trying to build teams in start-up ventures. There’s a definite squeeze on employers when it comes to salary expectations from potential hires. Three quarters of businesses have had to up their salary ranges during the last 12 months. The report also showed that company culture was the number one thing that appeals to people when they’re exploring their working options. The shift towards remote and hybrid working as standard has given employers a much larger and more diverse pool of potential applicants – but it isn’t without its challenges.

We wanted to take the opportunity to bring senior leaders across the North West together to discuss the ever-evolving topic of ‘Developing our people in a hybrid world’. For many employees, the hybrid model has provided them with many benefits; from boosted productivity, to more say in how they wish to work. For employers, however, the transition has thrown up some new obstacles to navigate. New and familiar faces from organisations of different sizes were (finally) able to connect in person over shared experiences surrounding hybrid working – resulting in a highly engaging morning. Here are some key takeaways from the conundrums that we covered…

Working round the individual is key

Following on from the pandemic, where most people worked entirely from home, many wish to keep their ability to work flexibly. We have moved away from a ‘one size fits all’ working model. Manchester Digital’s digital skills audit showed that businesses expect 60% of their workforce will be hybrid workers over the next 12 months, and that 22% will be home workers. In order to provide the best employee experience, we all need to work with individuals to understand how they want to work, and how they work best. This is a notable change from the standard ways of working pre-pandemic, where everyone went into the office Monday to Friday. Increasingly, that way of working is becoming the exception, not the rule.

People need people

Hybrid working has a tremendously positive impact on the way many companies operate. A healthier work-life balance and better ability to ‘switch off’ were two key benefits heard from around the table. But there was also talk about the difficulties this way of working has presented. Many people still feel that a strong work culture is essential for creativity and community within the workplace. This connection can be hard to build when employees are working remotely. The power of creativity and innovation are not to be underestimated – yet this isn’t happening as organically as it once did. The general consensus from the roundtable was that people need people – especially when it comes to building a creative environment.

While hybrid working doesn’t seem to hinder productivity, it does present a challenge when nurturing a healthy employee environment. This is particularly apparent for those who have recently started a new role – especially for people still early in their careers, with some new starters leaving jobs because they feel disengaged and unsatisfied. Figures in the form of mentors are crucial for encouraging them to feel included, valued and excited by the prospect of joining a new team. This can be a tricky feeling to build if you’re doing it all through a screen.

Management time is increasing

Another key takeaway was that more time is required for training and supporting teams that are working within a hybrid model. Organising a ‘casual chat’, and developing softer skills is harder in a remote world. Leaders now need more time for people management. The Digital Skills Audit showed that after self-learning, attending physical or online meetups is the most common way employees have developed professional skills over the last 12 months.

Not being in the same place at the same time has led to an increase in resources required for employee development, as despite the changes to the ways of working, our roles and responsibilities have stayed the same... As have our diaries. This is something which resonates with many of us, as there is now much more admin for arranging 1:1 sessions and Teams calls to train people. General acknowledgements of calendar invites, responding and processing feedback and following up on issues such as providing psychological safety are more important than ever before. It is easy for people to feel a lack of connection if communication isn’t prioritised.

Work culture is a work in progress

Now employees can decide on where they want to work, they can ultimately choose how ‘involved’ they want to be in general work culture. Many of our team no longer want to commute. This is something we as people leads have had to learn to adapt to during the transition to hybrid working. Accepting that sometimes people don’t want to travel or simply don’t feel as productive in an office environment is a given, and now there is less justification to question an individual’s choices.

There is a challenge in keeping track of how employees use initiatives put in place to ensure they’re maintaining a healthy work life balance – such as encouraging employees to take a two-hour lunch break to get out of the house. It is important to reinforce the need to switch off when working from home. If everyone is running at 100% it can easily lead to burn out, particularly when you factor in the additional time that’s now required for management. We need to break the feeling of being tied to a keyboard eight or nine hours a day.

An appreciation for physical meetings

There is clearly still a time and place for face-to-face meetings and it’s important to utilise those moments where people are brought together, but we also need to appreciate that not everyone will see the same value in physical meetings.

The roundtable was a great opportunity to hear the thoughts and challenges from a variety of businesses, and bring everyone together to discuss the positives of change and the challenges presented. No one has all the answers to solve the challenges we face, but it’s clear we’re all on the same journey trying to accommodate hybrid working as the ‘new normal’.

We’d like to thank all our attendees and Katie Gallagher from Manchester Digital for an insightful discussion, and we look forward to hosting more Leaders in Tech roundtables at our new home in Circle Square.