Jan Wade
Jan Wade European HR Director at Arrow Global
28 May 2021

The people problem – Managing a hybrid workforce

Arrow Global operates across six countries, employing over 2,500 people. During the recent pandemic, the Group began to completely re-think how their global workforce operated, considering what their future operating model could be. We partnered with Arrow to help carve a roadmap for a more hybrid workforce post-COVID.

Arrow Global

Established in 2005, Arrow Global is a European investor and alternative asset manager, specialising in non-performing and non-core assets. The Group identifies, acquires, and manages secured and unsecured loan and real estate portfolios from and on behalf of financial institutions, such as banks, institutional fund investors and specialist lenders.

Meet Jan Wade

This change to working practices and behaviours is a People Sponsored programme led by Jan Wade, European HR Director at Arrow Global. Jan joined our Workplace [R]Evolution webinar in May 2021, where she shared her thoughts on Arrow’s commitment to a long-term hybrid workforce and how it’s likely to positively impact their people and culture, alongside the footprint requirements for their offices. The lively conversation sparked more questions from our audience than we had time to answer. After collating the burning questions from these global organisations, we asked for Jan’s expert advice during our follow-up interview.

As more organisations move to hybrid working, reducing office space is a hot topic. How did Arrow determine how much office space would be needed in this new era of work? — Steven

We employ over 2,500 people, and for the first time we evaluated our workspace needs. This showed that even at full capacity we had a surplus of 700 desks and so we knew we could use the space better in the future. With the sites we’re not immediately re-fitting, we may remove some desks and repurpose the space.

We aim to use our offices for more collaborative activities, rather than individual desk-based tasks. If people are going into the office just to use a desk – they might as well work from home. The office space needs to work harder.

The people problem – Managing a hybrid workforce

We used Leesman (the workplace experience assessment benchmark) for homeworking, office working and travel assessments. The questionnaires were extremely helpful, giving us perspective on travel time and the tasks our people do once in the office.

We also used Peakon, our employee engagement platform. It was surprising that where the score for being ‘able to work flexibly’ was lower, colleagues anticipated a return to pre-pandemic practices. While it’s important to listen to your people and collect data; there are occasions when organisations also need to gain further insight.

Based on our research, we created three workplace profiles/personas based on average role and office needs, and we are using these to plan our long-term strategy with our hybrid workforce.

The Personas

• Day-trippers
Able to work from home four days a week on average, with one day in the office

• Explorers
A balanced mix of working from home and the office

• Anchors
Likely to work one day a week from home, otherwise basing themselves at the office

How do you ensure people working from home feel connected to the organisation, their peers and feel ‘part of the buzz’? — Sarah

We’ve focused on communications via Teams, WhatsApp and Workplace (Facebook for work), encouraging informal chats and ran internal community and wellbeing campaigns to help people feel connected. Holding meetings to celebrate team achievements is really important and fosters that sense of connection. For example, we sent everyone thank you gifts at Christmas along with a festive hamper, supported by virtual quizzes, sports events and more. All these virtual opportunities for downtime are optional – people can opt- in when they want to connect.

In our Dutch business, we have ‘buddies’ – in other countries, they have adopted different approaches. It’s important not to try to control all the decisions and instead support different cultures and needs. We’re always consistent with the principles that underpin our long-term strategy.

How is Arrow supporting people at home? Are they considering leasing garden offices for their staff? — Jonathan

We do online assessments to discover our people’s individual needs and have developed home support packages to help people adapt to the home environment and feel included. We ensure our hyrbid workforce has the equipment they need, such as screens, proper office chairs and desks. No plans for garden offices yet!

We’ve also provided valuable support in the way of hints and tips for wellbeing, technology guidance and launched a confidential Employee Assistance Programme through Lifeworks.

The people problem – Managing a hybrid workforce

How can leaders encourage employees to engage with these new changes to work? — Alison

This shift does require leadership support and role modelling new practices. We have a steering committee made up of leaders from all locations and business areas who provide their input and commit to the new ways of working. Alongside this, we have communicated transparently and been honest with people about our decisions to limit current office usage and our transition to hybrid working.

We’ve introduced over 80 ‘Pioneers’ across the organisation – volunteers who lead the way and promote new ways of working, encouraging ground-up advocacy. They help people to use the latest tech we’ve introduced and understand best practices for working remotely. We’ve also created homeworking and office blueprints to give clarity and commitment around our direction alongside the support available.

Some people who can’t work from home at all (those in manufacturing/engineering, for example) may feel they are at a disadvantage or under greater pressure than those who are entirely flexible. What are your thoughts on this? — Nicola

I think all businesses, and the teams that work there, have a different challenge. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for a hybrid workforce. The key is emphasising the benefits of the working practices and not artificially saying they can work flexibly when the nature of their role doesn’t allow it.

Ultimately, we are moving to flexible working, but this is within the parameters of what our customers, clients and business need. It’s not a ‘free choice’ for all. For some people, working part of their week from home will not suit them. It’s part of the choice we all make in determining what our role requires and which company we work for. We intend to position this ongoing way of working as a positive part of our future and culture.

In the same way, there are many benefits of being around others and working all day in physical teams. I would focus on celebrating the benefits of working in an office – for example, team spirit, collaboration, sense of family and shared successes.

Historically, HR and property have been quite separate when it comes to making organisational decisions, did you find that these areas of the business came together to make decisions about the future of work? — Angie

At the start of this project, we ran a visioning session with our Executive team and established principles that applied to all aspects of the programme: HR, tech, and premises.

We agreed on the values that consistently sat behind all our decisions – better supporting a great employee experience. All our decisions are then based on customer and employee experience,
(though that’s not to say we aren’t commercial with it). Agreeing these principles meant we could make decisions about property, cost and space, with a continued focus on people engagement.

The people problem – Managing a hybrid workforce

How do you strike a balance between creating non-negotiable ground rules but allowing flexibility? — Alex

Whilst we want people to choose how they work, we reiterate that the ‘team comes first’. We have homeworking blueprints where we talk about the behaviours we expect from people based on team needs, and then flex for individuals. When people go back to the office, there will be an online acceptance to sign, highlighting the new expected behaviours and how to use the office space. There will be structure for our hybrid workforce, not a free-for all.

Over the next couple of months, our HR business partners will support managers to create a plan for the future and then we’ll communicate that across the Group. We’ll need to put a structure in place, so we don’t lose the benefits of increased mutual trust gained through remote working.

What are your plans for returning to the office? — Emma

In May, we will increase communications on this with our people. Increased office usage will be guided by Covid-R rates in the geographies and local government guidelines. We’re testing and learning with managers and their teams as we open up each site. It takes time to strike that balance between implementing non-negotiable ground rules whilst also allowing room for flexibility when it comes to a hybrid workforce. Leaders need support and time to set up the right patterns of work.

Our workplace personas will determine how frequently each person will need to be in the office. For example, Explorers might be scheduled with their teams to be in three days per week on set days, while Day Trippers might book their space via the app to fit more dynamic schedules.

What advice would you give other leaders who plan to move to a hybrid workforce with agile way of working? — Tim

Step back from the issue and think about it on a macro level. Focus on your company values, employee experience, brand and the guiding principles. If you connect your decisions to your values, I think people understand the choices better, leading to greater loyalty. If you have principles, it gives you an answer to most things and takes some of the heat out of the decision-making process.


Continue your Workplace [R]Evolution today

Download our free publication the Workplace [R]Evolution: Issue 2 or contact our team to find out more.

Workplace [R]Evolution: Issue 2
Workplace [R]Evolution: Issue 2

With dispersed workforces set to remain, organisations are adopting hybrid working models at a rapid pace, taking learnings from activity based working, utilising technology and empowering employees to choose how and where they want to work. In the second edition of our publication, we’ve explored the challenges and solutions of managing a hybrid workplace, how technology is helping bring people back to the office and the evolution of office design.

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