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Is the future hybrid?

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Undoubtedly, we are about to witness a complete overhaul of ‘usual’ working practice as the country reopens once again and some sort of ‘normality’ ensues.

The consensus amongst many businesses is that the way forward post-pandemic is the implementation of hybrid working models, with staff working some days in the office, and some from home. This notion is supported by our most recent Staff Welfare survey, where 69 per cent of respondents reported to favour the hybrid working model, working more so from home than in the office.

As we were all catapulted into full-time working from home at the start of the pandemic last year, and subsequently went back and forth between office and remote working due to the country’s lockdowns, the benefits and pitfalls of working from home became apparent. While solely working from home offered improved levels of productivity, a better work/life balance, financial savings of, on average, £44.78 every week and a reduction in carbon emissions, it also created issues such as increased working hours, presenteeism, worsened mental health and loneliness.

Hybrid working appeared to resolve the pain points of remote working while also offering the freedom and flexibility required for so many employees moving forward. However, like with any notable change within organisational practice, employers must be prepared for certain challenges along the way and have robust plans in place to make the transition as smooth as possible.


Don’t give up the office space too quickly

While the vast majority of employees report to want to shift to a predominantly working from home hybrid model, it’s important employers don’t take this as gospel and make any knee-jerk reactions. Just because this is the model of choice right now doesn’t mean it’ll be the favoured way of working forever. As personal lives shift and circumstances change, employees may re-evaluate what works best for them.

While your current space may no longer be fit for purpose or be a costly overhead for the number of staff in the office, opt to downsize instead of moving to anonymous co-working spaces or getting rid completely.


Work hard to avoid subconscious bias

In theory, the hybrid working model gives employees the choice as to how many days they work in the office, and how many are completed at home. And while this flexibility is incredibly attractive to many, it risks creating a two-tiered workforce.

Research has shown that despite the vast improvement of performance, the decrease of sick days and improved work satisfaction, those who chose to operate remotely weren’t rewarded with promotions at the same rate as their colleagues who remained based in the office.

While it is clear there is no difference in ability or productivity when working from home, visibility appears to be the key decision-maker in progression, a problematic situation which, if not managed, could lead to unfair advantages.

It’s crucial that, where possible, business leaders not only need to communicate more often with those members of staff who opt to work from home for more often, but that they must also look at setting objective goals to monitor performance fairly.


Keeping up the ‘office’ culture

Humans are social animals, we’re not designed to spend long periods of time in isolation away from our peers but, unfortunately, this has become commonplace over the past 14 months and the worry is that it may long continue as we switch to predominantly working from home.

While Zoom meetings or Team chats might work for the short-term to fill those silences, nothing will ever replace the water cooler chats. Research shows that these spontaneous meetings help build a working community, solve problems and even help teams combat crises.

During those days when people are in the office, it’s crucial that employers encourage the upkeep of robust office culture by setting aside time for collaborative meetings, inspiring team-building exercise and relishing in those valuable corridor chats.

As we all become accustomed to the ‘new normal’ and settle into modern working routines, there will, of course, be some teething problems. Employers and employees alike will need to work together, communicating openly and honestly to ensure any hurdles can be overcome efficiently and that working life after the COVID-19 crisis can continue as seamlessly as possible.


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