Hybrid working: does it have a future?

two colleagues in the office talk to a woman on a conference | Hybrid working: does it have a future?
By Caroline Gammon | 13th April 2023 | 8 min read

New normal this, new normal that – the term was thrown around everywhere during the pandemic without a true understanding, but one thing was clear: the workplace will never be the same again.

Now that the dust has settled, we have a better understanding of what new normal means; among the various changes, one which seems to have the most staying power is “hybrid working”, which allows staff to split their time between being office-based and working from home (WFH).

When it comes to implementing a permanent and effective hybrid work model, there is no one-size-fits-all approach businesses can turn to.

So, where do you even start?

Do employees still want to work from home?

First things first, employees don’t want the option of remote working, they now expect it.

There’s been a fundamental mindset shift, and failure to meet that expectation – where feasible – will, without doubt, hinder your recruitment and retention.

According to the BBC, 70% of employees say they will never return to their offices at the rate they had previously, especially since 59% of people believe they are more productive when working from home.

It seems that the sentiment is being shared among many businesses; Okta’s research found that 61% of company leaders think their teams are more productive working remotely. Of those that remain, 24% say that their staff are just as productive in an office as out of it, and only 15% think productivity decreased during remote working.

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Is hybrid working a perfect business solution?

In short, not quite.

Hybrid working arrangements have their pitfalls, just like anything else.

Every business is different, so there can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach to hybrid working; to truly make it work, there are a few things to consider.

Out of sight: the problem of proximity bias in hybrid working

Proximity bias creates a so-called “halo effect”, where the people you work in close proximity with have the most kinship.

One UK survey found 94% of leaders recognise the contributions of team members more when they are in the office.

Add to this that in the recent survey by Okta, 19% of businesses thought proximity bias was an increasing problem, and 40% of leaders are actively putting efforts into preventing this issue.

This investment and effort are made with good reason, as proximity bias can result in hybrid staff feeling underappreciated and looking elsewhere for work.

Company culture when hybrid working

Ultimately, hybrid working has been and continues to be a real test for the modern manager, requiring many to completely transform the way they work with staff – now, team building needs to always be at the back of their mind.

Whereas it was always tough to spot needs and fractures in groups of staff, this has become more of a challenge in the remote world when we consider there are fewer cues from someone who might be on the other side of a screen rather than face to face.

Top tip: consider offering management additional training and coaching on looking after hybrid employees, ensuring they have the tools and skills needed.

If there’s a split in a team between a group that works in the office and another that does not, then Hays says that you must head off any chance of a “them and us” culture.

Time must be carved out equally for the team members in the office and those working further afield.

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Does your sector allow hybrid working?

Previously, I mentioned that hybrid working is an unavoidable demand from employees and needs to be implemented to some capacity where feasible.

The keywords are: where feasible.

One of the biggest factors which determine hybrid working's feasibility is what sector you operate in.

To name a few, factory work, agriculture and hospitality all obviously can’t accommodate hybrid working; as a result, we're seeing some employees make career changes so they can benefit from the flexibility that hybrid working offers.

For employers who aren’t able to offer hybrid working, your next steps should be to consider what alternatives can you provide to sway current and future workers.

Financial considerations 

With hybrid working being such a drastic change to operations, many financial aspects of running a business have also changed.

We're now seeing many employers revise remuneration packages.

Jobs in areas such as London often paid far more to compensate for the cost of living difference; however, hybrid working removes the need to be in these central areas, so some companies are removing regional salary differences.

Additionally, with offices being expensive real estate, fundamental changes are being made.

Rather than being dedicated spaces, offices are reducing in size and transforming into collaborative meeting locations for creative team meetings and bonding.

Leading by example

True change must come from the top.

Although it might be preferable to fine-tune hybrid models at a line-manager level, the C-suite can still lead by example.

Bosses cannot stop the wave of hybrid work practices rippling across most industries, but managers at all levels of a business can help guide its implementation, ensuring it impacts both workers and their company in a positive way.

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Does hybrid working have a future?

Back to our original question.

The simple answer: absolutely, hybrid working is here to stay, but to what capacity will depend on the individual employer.

Initiatives such as the recent, successful 4-day workweek trial fundamentally rely on hybrid and flexible working, citing they were able to achieve better engagement and wellbeing – learn more about the 4-day workweek in our recent blog.

Digital transformation is paving the way for new ways of working and new ways of living - companies need to embrace the change.

The new normal is a world where we can work from anywhere at any time!

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