Is hybrid work becoming the new norm?
Here's what you need to know.
The concept of ‘hybrid working’ has become more and more popularized over the past few years. And it is quite possible you might not fully understand what the concept or what it might mean for your business. Put plainly, hybrid working involves alternating between working on-site in your office or other standard workplace and working remotely from home. You might spend half the working week doing one, and the other half doing the other. It is hence a ‘hybrid’ of two different methods of work. This may sound like a straightforward process, but the effects this can have, both positive and negative, on how a business is run cannot be understated. Therefore, this article will help to introduce some key facts about how hybrid working might play out, clear up some common misconceptions, and discuss the pros and cons of this burgeoning new development in workplace culture.
10. Why is hybrid work growing so fast?
Aside from the fact that there are plenty of advantages to using a hybrid system, which we will discuss in more detail later, it is safe to say that the rise of hybrid work is strongly intertwined with the effects of the global pandemic. During 2020, the UK experienced its first national lockdown, forcing countless workers to adapt to doing their jobs from home, only to experience that process all over again in early 2021. While hybrid work may have at one time served as a mere transitional step before workers have returned to the office, the format has proved to have a surprising amount of staying power. Perhaps because it seems like the best of both worlds to avoid the wider effects of the pandemic. Many people still feeling unsafe working full time in crowded offices out of fear of exposure to COVID-19. However, plenty of workers still remember the stress and isolation of two separate lockdowns in the UK (as well as the damaging effects it had on business efficiency). Therefore, the ability to alternate flexibly between working on site or at home becomes more appealing than ever. It becomes a means to maintain the efficient atmosphere and human contact of the office, while reducing the risk. Likewise, working partially at home provides that level of safety without the risk to one’s mental health that may well come from remaining stuck there constantly.
9. It DOES NOT eliminate the office as part of your work system
Hybrid working is a quite different procedure from working full time at home. Just because your employees may feel more comfortable reducing the hours they spend in the office; it does not mean they never want to come back. In a PwC survey in the US during 2021, it was observed that while 73% of employees considered their transition to remote work a success, at the same time 70% of US companies also said that they considered the office environment to still be an important part of work and were anticipating using a hybrid system. This is not about abandoning the office entirely. It is about developing a new structure that allows workers to feel safe and comfortable, which is not only a worthy goal but will also allow them to be more efficient.
8. You need to use this as an opportunity to improve your workplace
We are now at the stage where your employees may be spending less hours in the office each working day, so you need to make sure that when they are present, they can work in the best environment possible. As stated previously, hybrid working has gone together with the pandemic. It is your responsibility to make sure full COVID precautions are in place to keep the staff safe, and that they are fully informed and trained in the steps they need to take. And these adjustments can apply to more than just safety. Hybrid working is by nature a very flexible format, and you may discover new ways to collaborate or speed up your process. If your workers are spending less time face-to-face in the office, then consider what changes you can make to make that limited time count. Be willing to adjust and rethink your office procedure if hybrid and remote working reveals an alternative approach.
7. It may lead us to rethink both how we work and how we train
Hybrid working has provided a slew of advantages and disadvantages that have changed the way we work. And this has led many to change how they look at other parts of the process, including the methods of staff training. In April 2021, UK based e-learning organization Skillcast, held an online seminar exploring how the differences between face to face and remote lectures on formats like Zoom could be compiled into new hybrid forms of online learning. This could involve a mixture of face-to-face and remote learning sessions or framing interactive tasks as responses to break up pre-recorded lectures. We are in the middle of a dramatic change to how businesses operate as a whole. That change is going to affect many facets of how organizations are run, not just whether workers are in the office.
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6. It has the potential to increase inclusivity
It is sometimes easy to forget what a barrier to some people the simple act of a workplace commute is. Plenty of people, for one reason or another, may not be able to readily travel every working day. They have children at home they need to stay with. They experience some disability that restricts their ease of travel. With the normalization of hybrid and remote work, such factors are nowhere near as debilitating when it comes to finding or completing one’s work. Whether it be projects that allow for real time collaboration on a document like Microsoft Teams or voice chat applications like Zoom, there are plenty of digital tools in place to let these workers contribute, even if they may have struggled to make themselves heard in work previously.
5. It can increase productivity, BUT it is not without its drawbacks
Remote work can do a great deal to improve one’s work-life balance. Employees can determine their hours flexibly while they are at home. If they complete everything they need to on time, they can choose how to manage their time in the process. It is much easier for them to develop a life of their own around their work. However, flexibility is not without its drawbacks. Being able to choose when and how one works also means knowing when to step away from the computer. There have been plenty of instances of employees being unable to mentally switch off from their work because they can so easily continue it from their phone. As a result, stress and burnout can be quite common problems for at-home and hybrid workers. However, there are things you can do if you see your workers struggling with this. If you observe your workers active online or sending emails at unhealthy hours, be willing to talk with them about it. Telling your employees when to stop is just as important as telling them to focus.
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4. It makes proper cybersecurity more important ever
An unfortunate side effect of remote working is that your staff will all be sharing and opening important documents on their phones or laptops in their own homes. This increases the risk your company files are exposed to from hackers because the attack surface they can exploit is that much larger. All it takes is one home-based worker having sub-standard cybersecurity measures in place and you could end up with a breach. This is something the manager needs to address. You will need to procure decent quality protective software for your employees, make sure they can still access it on their devices when they are at home. Remember, investing in preventative measures now is worth managing to avoid dealing with ransomware after a breach.
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3. Communication is just as important, if not more-so for hybrid workers
When you have several employees stationed at home, that limits your team’s opportunities to meet face-to-face. Out of sight, out of mind can be a real issue in conditions like this, and you cannot afford to leave your remote workers unable to make meaningful contributions in group tasks. Ensure to arrange regular contact with workers both in and out of the office. Weekly Zoom calls that give these the chance to contribute to group work is to demonstrate their own progress can make all the difference. Make sure important files are shared around and easily accessible for all parties. Regular check-ups to stay up to date with your team is always important but even more so when there is a limit on the amount of time you see them.
2. It is NOT a cost cutting measure
The idea of having notably less workers in the office at a time may lead managers to assume they do not have to worry about risk assessments, workstation management or supplying their staff with all the necessary equipment if they work from the comfort of their own home. This is UNTRUE. Especially if those workers need to consistently use screens. Maintaining your workers’ Display Screen Equipment is a legal requirement of Health and Safety, even if they work remotely. In fact, because you cannot directly regulate their workspace, it becomes even more important to make sure your staff have access to fire safety, ergonomic seating, and everything else they would have if they were in the office. Even if it means communicating with your HR department and even having your employee send you pictures of their home workstation, you need to be active in keeping track of it. And if your subordinates lack resources they need at home, the responsibility to provide falls to you. Being lax about health and safety is just as serious a problem under hybrid working as it is for in-office work.
And all these points are extremely important to keep in mind because…
1. …It is not going away anytime soon
Part of what led hybrid learning to become as common as it now is, was undoubtedly the pandemic. And it remains uncertain if, or when, that will pass. Until it does, hybrid working has established itself as a response to COVID-19. If one persists, so too will the other. But then again, it is all too likely that hybrid working may long outlive the pandemic that bolstered it. According to a survey shared on Google’s official Twitter account, between May and June 2020, the number of workers who said they wished to work in the office some days but not all rose from 52% to 62%. That is over 50% more than people who were willing to come into work every day, and over 30% more than those preferred to work entirely from home.
Additionally, the trend is continuing. A year later, a report by Owl Labs known as the State of Hybrid Work 2021 reported its own findings. Based on evidence from over 2,000 EMEA businesses, 89% of these companies expected to use a hybrid work system going forward. Hybrid working is more than just a COVID safety response. It has proven itself to be an advantageous format with the potential to help businesses flourish. And if companies fail to recognize the way the wind is blowing, they risk dramatically handicapping themselves in the coming years.
In a time of uncertainty for many aspects of life going forward, hybrid working is but one of many things that could change the way your business works. But it already seems poised to position itself as a staple of many offices for the near future. Hopefully, this may have helped you better understand what exactly this process entails and may even to decide whether this sounds right for your business too.