In a year like no other, 2020 saw the workplace react impressively to remote working, then its more permanent sibling, the working-from-home model, which soon became known as “the new normal”. Now, as vaccine confidence enables offices to tentatively reopen, we’re faced with “the next normal” in the form of hybrid working.
Hybrid working is a model where some or all employees return to the workplace some of the time, continuing to work from home for the rest of the week. It is an attempt to revive workplace culture, structure and social elements while retaining the independence, flexibility and satisfaction that most employees have enjoyed over the last year. There are no typical rules to a hybrid working policy, it will be different for almost every organisation, but it does challenge every company to think about its workspace, employees and culture, and adopting the right approach to “the next normal” will be critical for attracting and retaining talent.
Businesses worldwide are split on how to proceed. Many of the tech giants committed some time ago to their employees having the option to permanently work remotely, whereas the Goldman Sachs leadership have publicly shown their disdain for remote work recently, encouraging its employees back to the office. The issue with either stance is employee satisfaction. A Gartner survey found that 70% of us want to retain some kind of remote working option. However, a full-time remote setup doesn’t help those employees for whom that isn’t attractive and who are desperate to get back to the workplace. So, how do companies decide what to do? The pros and cons are a reasonable place to start.
The pros of hybrid working:
The most important positive of a hybrid working model is that it enables organisations to incorporate social distancing and retain a safe workplace, minimizing the risk of infection among employees, given the virus is still with us. This health and safety angle has to come first. For employees, the flexibility and better work/life balance brings obvious job satisfaction, and an option to return to the office will help with collaboration, relationships and mitigate any feelings of isolation. For employers the pros of hybrid working include:
• Downsizing permanent larger office space is a direct cost saving
• Smaller collaboration hub offices are more flexible but deliver the same workplace environment to employees
• Remote working has brought about a new direct channel of communication between leaders and employees that can be adopted and improved upon
• Hybrid working enables the digital transformation journey that many companies were forced into to be finished correctly, ahead of any original schedule
• It permanently removes the traditional barriers to flexible working, such as line-of-sight management
• It fosters employee attraction and retention – surveys show that candidates will actively choose employers that offer a better work/life balance and that employees will move if there is an option of increased flexibility elsewhere
• A wider talent pool to recruit from: remote job postings on LinkedIn increased fivefold last year and the option to work remotely brings a huge new candidate profile into the market
• It makes recruiting, interviewing and onboarding easier again
And the arguments against hybrid working:
• Remote working encourages a silo mentality among teams, and makes for difficult collaboration and innovation
• Digital exhaustion has recently become a genuine issue, with frequent online meetings held in place of a brief face-to-face interaction
• Teams are harder to manage in terms of who is in today, who isn’t, and individual morale
• IT becomes more complicated and expensive – with the added headache of cybersecurity becoming a growing problem for remote working
• Will presenteeism raise its head again? Will those who choose to come in more often be favoured, in terms of promotions and bonuses?
• For those who don’t come back, will there be FOMO, or alienation from a team? How can employers recreate “watercooler moments” and banter?
• Engagement will be a real challenge, particularly with Gen Z employees who have only just entered the workplace
Companies are going to need to listen to their employees as they form their hybrid working plans. There will be those who never want to return to the office and those who can’t wait. Managing those differing expectations and adopting a policy that gets the best out of all parties will be a challenge, but those organisations who do it well could gain a significant competitive edge.