Hybrid working has become a buzzword for many HR professionals in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also become a hot topic for employers as they try to find a balance between employees’ desires for flexibility and the need to maintain productivity, collaboration and creativity in a workplace setting. However, the move to widespread hybrid working has not been easy, and employers are still grappling with several challenges that need to be addressed to make the transition a success.
Back to the office: This is one of the biggest challenges faced by employers. While some employers are dictating one, two or three days per week in the office, others are mandating a fixed number of days, with Disney even going as far as to mandate a 4-day week. While some employees may welcome the flexibility, others may be less enthusiastic, as they value the structure and social interaction that comes with being in an office environment. Employers need to find ways to balance these competing needs to ensure that all employees are happy and productive.
Many young people may also feel that changes to working patterns and the rise of remote work is a fair trade off for the sacrifices made during the pandemic. Or it may simply be that the pandemic accelerated changes that were already in progress. After all, most external meetings remain virtual.
Productivity: The government has claimed that home working is leading to a loss of productivity, which is a concern for many employers. However, the research on this issue is mixed, with some studies suggesting that remote working can lead to increased productivity, while others suggest the opposite. A study I commissioned pre-pandemic found that productivity towards remote working can be highly dependent on personality type, and as such the way a worker is managed is likely to be at the root of performance issues. ‘Accidental managers’ have been causing problems for HR since time immemorial, and our organisational failures to properly equip line managers for in-person management, let alone remote management, are likely to be at least as big a contributor to productivity issues as the remote employee.
Is working remotely good for both employees and the organisation?: Employees have a good case to make for remote working, as many have been doing their jobs remotely during the pandemic. Many see little reason to return to the office, especially if they can do their job just as effectively from home. However, employers need to consider the impact of remote working on their culture, productivity and collaboration. Employers should also consider the needs of their employees and find ways to accommodate their preferences, whether through a hybrid working arrangement or by offering flexible work arrangements.
Work/Life Balance: Being forced to return to the office for even two or three days per week can be as costly as commuting into places like London full-time. Employees may feel that the benefits of remote working, such as reduced commuting costs and increased flexibility, outweigh the benefits of being in the office. Employers should consider the impact of commuting on their employees’ wellbeing and consider flexible work arrangements, such as flexible hours or remote working, to alleviate the burden of commuting.
The challenges: Another challenge employers face is providing opportunities for employees to socialise, create, and innovate. In an office environment, employees can bounce ideas off each other, collaborate on projects and build relationships. However, in a hybrid working environment, employees may feel isolated and disconnected, which can hinder creativity and innovation. Employers need to find ways to foster collaboration and interaction, whether through regular in-person meetings or virtual team-building activities.
Health and safety: Many employees may not have an appropriate workspace at home. Risk assessments are often overlooked, leading to back pain, eyestrain and other physical ailments. To mitigate these risks, employers must provide guidelines on ergonomics and workstation setups for home offices/workspaces. Employers can also offer flexible work environments, such as allowing employees to work in a shared workspace, which can be beneficial for employees who do not have the necessary equipment or workspace at home.
Workplace benefits: Restaurants, gyms, health incentives and other in-office benefits are largely redundant in a hybrid working environment. However, employers must find ways to compensate for the lack of these benefits by offering other perks, such as flexible working hours or additional paid time off. Employers should also look at ways to support employees’ mental health, such as offering access to counselling services or mental health days.
The Gender Pay Gap: Finally, there are claims that hybrid working is bad for the gender pay gap, decreases women’s chances of promotion and that it increases gender biases. I feel this is counter intuitive. One of the greatest contributors to the gender pay gap is the absence of flexible work for mothers – the gender pay gap is actually inverted in favour of young women before motherhood. Being able to work in a hybrid fashion delivers the flexibility that young parents (both mothers and fathers) need to continue their careers.