Why hybrid working isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be – and what everyone needs to do to make it succeed
“Sorry you were out when I visited. I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon.”
Ah, yes, the passive-aggressive words of Jacob Rees-Mogg, minister for Brexit opportunities and government efficiency, printed on cards left on the desks of home-working civil servants to try and get them back to Whitehall.
Widely criticised as Dickensian, it highlights a divide when it comes to the future of the ‘traditional’ workplace.
On one side there are many employees not only happy to continue working from home, but happy because they’re working from home. On the other side, there are employers who feel strongly that in-person working is integral to business success, not to mention those employees who prefer being in the office. So, what’s the solution?
Many businesses, somewhat predictably, have reached the same conclusion … hybrid working. After all, bringing together both will surely be the best of both worlds? The perfect solution for modern times.
• Employee happiness – a hybrid approach offers employees the gift of time, which can be invaluable for wellbeing. According to research by Hibob in May 2021, for 62% of employees, the hybrid working model has allowed for a better work-life balance despite the pandemic.
• Increased productivity – happy employees are productive employees.
• Lower costs – with the current cost of living, not having to drive to work or being able grab lunch from their fridge rather than the local food vendor can save employees money.
• Life flexibility – having the opportunity to work from home can offer the logistical freedom that makes life a little less stressful.
Little wonder then that companies are keen to roll out their own version of hybrid. Although, if they didn’t, perhaps they’d be looking for new employees?
According to McKinsey research, of those who prefer hybrid work, 71% say they’d be likely to look for other opportunities if it wasn’t available where they work now.
But is the preconception of hybrid working a misconception?
The challenges of hybrid working
Despite clear support from employees for hybrid, and while there are certainly great positives, early adopters have found themselves facing unexpected challenges.
Emotional exhaustion – according to Tinypulse’s survey of 100 global workers, 72% reported exhaustion from hybrid working – nearly double the figures for fully remote employees and greater than those fully office-based.
Digital presenteeism – even if employees are working hard, by not being in the office they can feel the need to be more visible and justify how they’ve spent their day. This ‘always on’ mindset can also see them unable to switch off and working longer hours than they would in the office.
Proximity bias – to paraphrase a well-known saying, ‘out of sight, out of the race for promotion’. Increasingly, employees working within a hybrid set-up feel compelled to go into the office. According to Atlas Cloud’s survey, the number of employees who said they had an effective working relationship with their manager while working from home fell by 12% and those who said they had an effective working relationship with their colleagues fell by 13%.
Technology challenges – two workspaces, two workstations. The likelihood is, without significant company investment, they’ll be of differing standards and sometimes not fit for purpose. And, let’s face it, some employees are also more tech-savvy. How long before those colleagues saying, “You’re on mute!” start thinking ‘You’re not right for the job!”?
Risks to inclusivity – hybrid working can emphasise a sense of isolation, particularly among certain groups.
Accessibility – the reality is, not everyone’s home is their castle, let alone their office.
A hybrid work in progress
Although the pandemic has clearly hit the reset button on how we work, to what extent and how that eventually looks has yet to be seen.
Despite employees’ appetite (and a willingness by employers) for remote working, it’s tempered by employer belief in the business benefits of in-person working.
And when you add in a realisation by some employees already working the hybrid way that it’s not without challenges, it’s becoming clear that this isn’t simply a case of the best of both worlds, but more like the best – and worst – of a new world.
Addressing that ‘worst’ part will be down to all parties involved – leaders, managers, and employees. Each play a role by helping to shape an approach that works for everyone.
Check out our playbook – Managing the Hybrid Evolution – for ideas on how to effectively embed hybrid working into your business and maximise its success.
In partnership with BI WORLDWIDE
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