Opinion piece, first posted in our new online HR community – the Employee Experience Hub
In theory, hybrid working offers the best of all worlds for the employer and employee. It combines pre Covid-19 patterns of office-based working, with remote days, into an overall working schedule that allows both for in-person collaboration, team building, and productive work at a work location. This, as well as the opportunity for employees to carry out more focussed work when they need to be at home too.
And for the employer, it means they retain a sense of control. But they do also get to see their employees in person in certain circumstances (and a lot of managers still do want to do that).
So hybrid working is a win-win for all parties, for both employers and employees, right?
Wrong! Because now we are almost through the pandemic, when some of our responses on ways of working were necessarily quite rushed, not least because of the chopping and changing of regulations governing the workplace, some more serious issues are emerging. Especially if the balance between what the employer wants and what employees want isn’t quite in kilter. If that’s your experience at your place of work is it time for a rethink?
Let’s be honest, hybrid working sometimes feels exhausting doesn’t it? Because working a hybrid week requires frequent changes to our daily habits. As employees, it’s hard for us to find a routine that feels settled if we are in and out of the office each week, and especially if those days keep changing from one week to the next, and if we are not in control of these choices for ourselves. And it’s hard maintaining two work spaces as well isn’t it – one in the office and one at home – as this involves us doing extra planning for both. Nor does the burden of sorting things out at work and at home always fall equally upon male and female employees with families.
Hybrid working seems to be creating some extra pressures around digital ‘presenteeism.’ Employees feel they have to show they are working just as hard – if not harder – when they are at home. Especially if they are working for a manager who is a hybrid ‘sceptic’ which means they risk spending even longer hours online, potentially leading to overwork and burnout later on. The office commute that we used to moan about at least had the benefit of creating a clean break point about when and where our work lives began and ended.
Some managers just don’t feel willing or able to let go do they? They struggle to work out what work needs to be done and when by their teams. Hybrid working sometimes compounds their sense of losing control of what their team is doing because they can’t see it. At least when everyone was together in an office, they could always ask someone to do something straight away, just by calling out to them…
Employers are starting to think about these issues, but their responses are interestingly quite varied and at all points of a spectrum. Recently we’ve seen Deloitte announce that they are significantly reducing their London office space, as more remote working becomes their norm, thereby also saving themselves lots of money in London office rental.
By contrast, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, has written to his cabinet colleagues urging them to send a ‘clear message’ to all civil servants that they must return to working in their London offices, because using existing office space is much more ‘efficient.’
In neither case does hybrid working appear to be the primary chosen solution. And then there’s the reality that many employers have realised that a one size fits all approach to their employees no longer fits the bill either, especially if they have both office and site/factory-based workers to consider. One group having more choice than another feels a bit uncomfortable. It feels like a ‘digital’ or even ‘cultural’ divide.
So, if some of our hybrid working approaches are causing us problems, and if some of our earlier responses were perhaps a bit rushed, what should we be doing now, to make hybrid work better for us?
How flexible are you as an employer?
Evidence suggests that employees like to know first how flexible you are going to be as an employer. Firstly over the length of the working day, and secondly over the number of days a week you want them to work for you. Deciding the hours of work you want in your contract as an employer, and how they are to be worked is therefore probably a better starting point for a discussion with existing and new recruits, than where you want them to work which comes second. And there’s no reason why flexible working patterns can’t apply to both blue and white collar workers though, for the former, this does bring extra challenges around changing shift or rostering patterns.
Then there’s choices to be made about where work is done, either fully remotely, or fully in an office, or via some hybrid combination of the two.
Are the rules company wide, or set within teams, or is this a matter of employee choice with or without direct guidance from you as the employer?
It seems that no employer can make that choice for all of their employees without some form of consultation exercise. Up front at least, and then preferably on an ongoing basis particularly in a UK labour market which at present has significant skills shortages and near full employment.
So perhaps the question leaders should be asking themselves more when they are deciding what they want for their employees, is what do our employees want? And if you’re struggling to attract staff, or retain staff currently, then you really cant afford to wait much longer to ask those questions can you?
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