The Effects of Hybrid & Remote Working – It’s a complex issue
Yesterday marks three years since the UK’s first lockdown caused by Covid-19…and the working world has not been the same since. The introduction of remote, hybrid and flexible working has challenged business leaders, HR and People professionals alike.
Before the pandemic, remote and hybrid working was not commonplace. The UK Parliament report, ‘The Impact of Remote and Hybrid Working on Workers and Organisations,’ found that pre-pandemic, 12% of the UK workforce was hybrid working, and only 5% worked mainly from home. Post-pandemic, however, the Office for National Statistics reported that 16% of the UK workforce was completely remote, while 28% were hybrid workers. The flexibility of hybrid working has been embraced by many employees, with the CIPD reporting that 78% of organisations asked to allow hybrid arrangements. However, some business leaders are still unconvinced regarding the longevity of this new way of working. 42% of decision-makers felt that:
‘The memory of the pandemic will fade quickly, and it won’t be long until we revert to the way we worked before Covid-19 pandemic.’
Yet, 41% disagreed with this. This even split of two contrasting opinions over hybrid work raises the question of why? The benefits of hybrid working are vast and have been the topic of conversation recently, so why do 42% still believe it’s a fad?
Benefits of Hybrid/Remote Working
On a productivity front, the Equal Parenting Project surveyed 597 UK managers finding that 75% believed flexible working increased productivity and a further 62.5% thought it even boosted motivation. Accenture found a correlation between high-revenue growth firms and hybrid work, with 63% implementing almost immediately compared to 69% of their low/no growth counterparts pushing for employees to be in the office. Moreover, employees seem to favour the flexibility hybrid options confer. It was found that 54% of employees would leave their current role for one that offered more flexibility. According to Gensler’s findings, 67% of UK workers want a hybrid model of working, spending between 1 and 4 days in the office each week for many reasons, including:
- Eliminating their commute,
- Saving money,
- Not having to leave pets, partners and children.
However, flexible working has been challenging and may not be the solution for your organisation despite what others around you are doing.
From an employer’s perspective, it can be very challenging to maintain or foster a positive culture in this environment. Although hybrid options are considered essential in attracting and keeping talent in this increasingly competitive job market, many organisations still need to cultivate a ‘hybrid culture.’ The cultural issues are worsened because 50-60% of work across different occupations cannot be done remotely. By splitting the workforce into office and hybrid/remote workers, business analysts have found it can create ‘two separate, in-cohesive organisational cultures.’ There are also fears that unconscious bias will influence future promotions and pay rises due to the impact of presenteeism.
For this reason, experts have warned that hybrid/remote working is actually worsening gender inequality despite initial hypothesises that it would help. Admittedly, remote/hybrid working facilitates women working who were previously excluded from roles due to the hours, location or travel. However, as women still do a disproportionate amount of childcare and housework, they are more likely to work from home than the office, meaning they are more likely to be disadvantaged by presenteeism.
Moreover, the younger generations, especially those with under five years of experience, are more likely to be negatively impacted by hybrid/remote options. 18–32-year-olds are twice as likely to work from their beds, have recently overtaken the elderly as the loneliness generation and have felt the most adrift in the workplace during Covid-19. This is supported by a study from Accenture that found that 74% of Gen Zers want more collaborative, in-person opportunities. This marks yet another cultural divide within organisations, highlighted by Michael Smets, professor at Oxford:
“We have a generation of young workers desperate to return to the office to escape unproductive work-at-home settings, overcome isolation and learn…And we have senior staff who enjoy the comfort of their home offices and the absence of any commute. How are organisations going to bring everyone together?”
Understanding Gen Z and the context in which they grew up in is essential. All these factors have made culture increasingly hard to keep consistent and positive in the hybrid/remote working world. This, alongside the fact that trust, connection and leadership are all harder to exhibit digitally, has left organisations worried about high attrition. One of our clients told us:
‘With remote workers who are not connected to the values, its purpose and its culture, have less emotional connection to the company and therefore can easily be on MSTEAMS late Friday PM with one Virtual Branded background on, and on the Monday AM have another companies without the blink of an eyelid.”
Clearly, this is a complex issue, and one size doesn’t fit all, even within the same organisation. What works for one function may not work for another, and what works for one individual may not work for another. Many organisations are grappling, trying to accommodate all roles, generations, preferences and genders. This, alongside external pressures in the form of high attrition, talent shortages and competition between organisations when recruiting, has led to many organisations adopting hybrid/remote working without fully comprehending the byproducts.
To hybrid or not to hybrid?
The decision is unique to every organisation and requires careful consideration and thorough research – not just regarding what people want but also the long-term effects. For example, women with children may generally prefer working from home for a myriad of reasons. However, suppose your organisation cannot mitigate presenteeism bias in the long term. In that case, there may be unfavourable outcomes that the women who voted in the original survey did not anticipate and would not have wanted. Similarly, young people may tick yes to wanting hybrid working merely because they’d like the option to WFM, not because they want to do it regularly.
“Done well, hybrid working has the potential to offer much-needed flexibility that allows more participation across a more diverse workforce…Done badly, hybrid working can set back advances in workplace equality by years, if not decades.”
The debate surrounding hybrid/remote working is often oversimplified to a simple yes or no. However, the reality is far more complex and entirely dependent on the organisation, sector, age demographic, gender demographic, variety of roles and organisational capabilities, among other factors.