By: Ashley Friedlein- CEO & Founder of Guild.
Across the UK, final restrictions are now lifting, and people are slowly venturing back to the office. However, days in the workplace are now more flexible, with a number of organisations choosing to downsize their premises to make way for a hybrid working model. This may mean employees need to be in the office for a couple of days a week, or only when absolutely necessary.
The hybrid model is set to be the new normal. A recent survey of more than 16,000 global employees conducted by EY revealed that 9 in 10 respondents want flexibility in where and when they work. Additionally, more than half said they would quit their job if their current employer didn’t offer flexible working options.
While some people welcome the return to the workplace, for others, it’s clear that working from home has allowed them to reclaim time and improve the work/life balance.
Organisations are right to be cautious before adopting a hybrid working model. While there are many benefits, there are also challenges to overcome.
Hybrid working benefits for employers:
- Reduced costs
- Fewer employees being in the office means being able downsize, saving on rent and day to day running costs
- More productive staff
- Without the commute at the start and end of each day, employees are more likely to be more focused, as they are less tired
- There may also be fewer distractions compared to an office environment
- Lower staff turnover and absenteeism
- Whereas an employee who has mild symptoms might not want to come into the office to prevent spreading germs to others, an employee working from home doesn’t need to be as concerned, leading to fewer sick days. There is also less chance of them getting sick as they are not as likely to be stressed, or exposed to other commuters in close proximity
- Because the work/life balance that comes with hybrid working frees up more of an employee’s time, staff turnover is often lower
- Access to a wider talent pool
- Roles are opened up to workers who might not otherwise have been able to apply due to location, diversifying the workforce and bringing in the best talent
Hybrid working benefits for employees:
- Flexible hours and locations
- Employees can work hours that suit them, working from home, or a different location
- Childcare costs are reduced or eliminated altogether
- Parents get more quality family time
- Improved health, happiness and wellbeing
- More time to exercise
- Option to prepare healthier food at home
- Time to do household chores
- Days spent at home can be used to chip away at housework, gardening and DIY projects
- Less time and money spent on commute
- As well as cost savings, by not having to commute, employees are less tired and stressed, have more time to sleep, and more time to relax in the evenings
In terms of the challenges, many of the issues stem from a lack of communication and a feeling of togetherness. Humans are social creatures, and in person interactions are likely to be lacking if adopting a hybrid working model.
When everyone isn’t together in the office, it can be difficult to create an inclusive environment for employees where nobody feels excluded or unheard. There is also the question of unconscious bias to address – are employees who spend more days in the office getting preferential treatment compared to those who work from home more frequently?
Many employees will work together having never met face to face, leading to a sense of isolation and a lack of camaraderie. Good working relationships boost productivity and wellbeing, but this can be difficult to maintain when physically separated for long periods.
Not everyone enjoys working from home. With the home/work divide lines being blurred, some staff are finding themselves working longer hours, or being unable to switch off.
Another problem comes with managing, training, and measuring employee performance. Whereas regular one-to-ones and performance reviews were scheduled periodically, these have been far less likely to go ahead when staff are working remotely. This can lead to problems being overlooked, skills gaps, and a lack of career progression.
Managing a team and collaborating on projects has been made easier in part due to improved access to remote working tools, and the use of online communities and web conferencing has allowed employees to stay connected with colleagues and peers when they need advice or support. Using these tools effectively will continue to be an important factor in making a hybrid working model a success. This means agreeing upon the channels of communication being used, and putting guidelines in place so staff are consistent in the way they use them.
Planning which days employees will be in the office does not necessarily have to be set in stone, but it’s important that it works for both employees and the business. Having a schedule in place will ensure that a team member doesn’t show up on a day when all desks are booked out, resulting in them having nowhere to work!
To help with team bonding, set aside a few days a day a month when everyone in the whole office, department, or team comes in for a catch up. This can present an opportunity for feedback on what aspects of hybrid working are working well, and what needs improvement. Additionally, hosting company away days a couple of times a year can help to reinforce close working relationships by bringing everyone together in a non-formal environment.
Ultimately, it will be down to the individual and the business to agree on the terms of hybrid working, but organisations who are unwilling to offer the flexibility the vast majority of employees want may end up missing out on attracting and retaining the best staff.