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Why hybrid working is key to building inclusive auto industry cultures

Volkswagen Financial Services UK chief executive, Mike Todd

In this exclusive AM-online guest opinion piece Volkswagen Financial Services UK chief executive Mike Todd reflects on the need to understand how people can be operationally effective while splitting their time between office working and home working.

One of the most impressive things about the automotive industry is that it’s driven by innovation.

For more than a century, brilliant minds have been working to make our vehicles safer and more sophisticated and the way we finance them simpler and more convenient.

And as we emerge from the pandemic adapting to an age that’s more digital than ever before, with teams capable of delivering incredible results from satellite offices at home, we must continue to innovate.

But the innovation I’m referring to here is all about new ways of working; creating work environments that are fit for the future and reflect the changing landscape.

At the beginning of March, we at Volkswagen Financial Services UK restarted our hybrid working pilot, with colleagues splitting time between home and the office.

We recognise that hybrid working is the next step on our journey to creating a culture of flexibility, which will help us to retain existing talent as well as attract the best in the business to new roles.

From a personal point of view, I’ve recently had a number of really valuable, unscheduled interactions with colleagues that I’ve seen in the office and I’m excited to see more faces at our Milton Keynes HQ soon.

I’m actually starting to feel more like a CEO again. It can feel a bit odd when you’re the chief executive of a company like ours and you’re sat at home with the dog day after day.                                                                                        

As a business leader, I have to be aware of the precedent I set, but I also trust my colleagues to find the right balance between being in the office often enough without being there all the time.

I believe teams will flourish and colleagues will continue to thrive if pillars of trust and flexibility are in place.

I’d also like to recognise the teams and individuals whose roles haven’t had the hybrid working option, and I am extremely grateful for their continued dedication and hard work.

As part of this new normal it’s important that we keep asking ourselves ‘where am I likely to be most effective?’ and I’m confident that our teams will carry on being at their best as part of our hybrid working plan.

For me, I think the key is to establish what works for you operationally, and work out the technicalities of how and where you are going to get certain jobs done.

There are practical elements to consider, such as what kind of work is best done from home and what’s best done from the office. Some of that will be down to mind-set.

For example, if I have to do an all-colleague broadcast, I’ll want to be in the office, in the boardroom or at my desk, so that I’m in the right zone for that activity. If I have something to write or read, then potentially that could be best done from home, where I can sit quietly without interruption.

But hybrid working is not without its challenges and whilst the resumption of this pilot will be an easy transition for many, there may be concern and uncertainty for others.

That’s why we’re determined to maintain a responsible approach and will be harnessing colleague feedback to refine our ways of working. Creating an inclusive culture is a big priority for us.

The bottom line is that previously your working pattern was determined for you, and now we are in a world where you may have more control, as your physical working location might be largely determined by you. That’s a real positive of hybrid working and is a good thing for colleagues and our business.

Hybrid working doesn’t mean we have to compromise on the five Cs: communication, coordination, connection, creativity, and culture. In fact, I think the reverse is true.

My observation is that, over the past two years, in some cases our collective work-life balance has been on a more even keel and many businesses have had the opportunity to reshape their culture for the better.

Research from McKinsey & Company found that companies with healthy cultures have three times greater total returns to shareholders, so in my view, hybrid working has clear benefits for executive level decision makers as well as the wider workforce.

I think businesses that build inclusive cultures in the future will be those that place trust in employees to get their work done where they feel they are most productive and most comfortable. Leaders who focus on flexibility without compromising innovation, I believe, will find organisational success in the coming years.

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