Business on top, casual on bottom: that’s the universally accepted working from home attire. In fact, more than forty percent of people working from home during the pandemic confessed to wearing pyjama bottoms during a virtual meeting – an outfit now dubbed the ‘Zoom Mullet’.
While the pandemic caused us to rethink how we get dressed everyday, it also led to a foundational shift in the way that we worked. As we emerged from the confines of our homes and returned to the office post-lockdown, one thing stuck: our desire for flexibility.
Lack of flexibility and autonomy has time and time again been attributed to the rise in worker burnout. Hybrid working seems to be an antidote, as a model which puts workers’ choice at the foreground. But really, it’s just the first step in creating a work culture that puts trust in employees, superseding one that breeds micromanagement and fear.
What will the future of hybrid work look like, and how can businesses keep up?
What is hybrid work?
Although ‘hybrid work’ refers specifically to combining remote and in person working environments, it has come to represent a bigger cultural shift in the way that we do work. The implications of hybrid work now point towards a foundational sense of autonomy and a culture of trust within a workplace, with employees able to choose the way they work in order to maximise their productivity.
While some organisations continue to require a structured approach (many operate on the 3 days in, 2 days remote model), other organisations are embracing a future where time, place and style of work are all at the discretion of the employee. It goes beyond ‘flexitime’, which seemed mostly suited to parents and carers; it is now becoming an opportunity available to everyone.
Organisations are embracing a future where time, place and style of work are all at the discretion of the employee.
In a survey of over 1000 decision makers of organisations who can facilitate hybrid working, more than three-quarters (78 percent) have introduced a hybrid working model, whether formally or informally.
Of those in the survey where a hybrid work model was feasible, just eight percent hadn’t taken the plunge.
Is it here to stay?
The pandemic created a seismic shift to every facet of life, including what we came to expect from our 9 to 5. Covid let the working-from-home genie out the bottle. With no time to prepare, white-collar workers worldwide were abruptly forced to convert their homes into makeshift offices.
However, employees, realising they could quite effectively work from home; and employers, realising WFH caused an increase in productivity, collectively sought to make it stick once the world opened back up.
The pandemic created a seismic shift to every facet of life, including what we came to expect from our 9 to 5.
And now, several years after the first wave of lockdowns , we’re still seeing the positive impact of hybrid work. There’s the financial side: in 2019, UK commuters were on average spending 10 percent of their salary on annual train tickets at an average £2,605 each year – they can save more than £1000 a year on travel thanks to hybrid working. It also offers cost-cutting benefits for employers, who are able to streamline their spendings on rent and utilities.
But perhaps more significantly is the shift in workers’ mindsets. Home and work life has equal priority, they feel more trusted to manage their own time and productivity, and their work is given more purpose as they’re valued beyond the act of merely showing up.
Employees now expect hybrid working and businesses must understand that to retain and attract talent, this flexibility has become a prerequisite.
What are the benefits?
The benefits that have been attributed to the hybrid work model include:
- Improved work-life balance
- Higher productivity
- Better wellbeing
- More staff autonomy
- Increased income by saving on travel and lunch costs
- Increased mobility – being able to live further away and commute in less frequently
- Better balance of collaborative and quiet work
Many of the factors that lead to burnout may be alleviated through a hybrid working model, thanks to reduced commute time and more opportunity for finding a flow state of work. But at the heart of this is employees being able to take ownership of their time, and being trusted to do so in a way that works for them and the company.
Are there any downsides?
While hybrid working presents a new age of increased flexibility, trust and personal autonomy over the way we work, it also has the capacity to exclude some of the workforce and decrease a sense of connection. These downsides include:
- Less access to work resources and equipment
- Less connected to organisation’s culture
- Decreased team collaboration
- Impaired working relationship with coworkers
- Reduced cross-functional communication and collaboration
- More difficult to coordinate work schedules, tasks and timelines
- Less feedback from line managers
As well as the practical restrictions like limited access to resources and equipment, hybrid work’s perhaps most significant drawback is its impact on company culture and inclusivity. Working alone all day in a separate location to coworkers can lead to feelings of isolation and lack of connection, which in turn has increased the risk of mental health problems arising. Unsupportive management may not notice the warning signs of an employee struggling when their only contact is a 30-minute daily Zoom call. For others, the constant psychological shift from ‘office day’ to ‘home day’ may be disruptive.
Unsupportive management may not notice the warning signs of an employee struggling when their only contact is a 30-minute daily Zoom call.
Inclusivity is something that may also be threatened by hybrid work – immunocompromised workers, long Covid sufferers and parents may be struggling with the return to the office – but it also may have an impact on opportunities for minorities.
Proximity bias, a term coined to describe employer favouritism over those who choose to spend more time in person than working remotely, may be responsible for hindering career progression for some workers. Deloitte found that almost 60% of women who work in hybrid environments feel they have been excluded from important meetings. The alarming figure may be caused by women being more likely to choose flexible hours or work from home for childcare reasons, potentially having an impact on their career growth.
What does the new generation of the workforce think about it?
The younger generation (18-34 years old) are almost 60 percent more likely to leave a company if they don’t offer hybrid work than older ones (55–64 years old). However, this doesn’t mean that they, especially Gen-Z, don’t see the value of the office.
It was a common suggestion that Gen-Z and millennials would be reluctant to return to the office post-pandemic. But in reality, those who entered the world of work in a virtual setting now crave the water-cooler moments – the tea-breaks and moments of in-person spontaneity. They also see coming to the office as a way to connect with senior team members and facilitate opportunities to impress those who can mould their career progression.
Those who entered the world of work in a virtual setting now crave the water-cooler moments – the tea-breaks and moments of in-person spontaneity.
How can businesses adapt to the future of hybrid work?
There’s no universal handbook for how to do hybrid work right – with little precedent for businesses, they’re having to play a reactive game, especially to mitigate its drawbacks.
Yet organisations must not only offer a hybrid model, but implement a successful and supportive one, at the risk of losing talent to organisations that do it better. Workplace consulting and research company Gallup say that it all comes down to “leveraging the advantages it creates,” whether that’s through addressing criticisms and challenges head-on, clarity of expectations from employees and employers, or “being intentional about how time is spent on-site versus at home.”
In 2021, Accenture claimed that “work has changed forever”. They might just be right.
Remote Not Distant: Design a Company Culture That Will Help You Thrive in a Hybrid Workplace – Gustavo Razzetti
Don’t let hybrid work set back your DEI efforts – Harvard Business Review
A guide to planning for a hybrid future – CIPD
What leaders should do next, the advantages and challenges of hybrid work – Gallup