Could Hybrid Working Revolutionise the World of Work?

2020 changed all our lives in one way or another. In the face of a global pandemic and recession, our day to day lives have become almost unrecognisable from this time last year, and businesses and employers – of all shapes and sizes – have had to reconsider the way they work, just to keep the wheels turning. Though for the time being we remain in lockdown, with the vaccination rollout gaining momentum and restrictions easing there is light at the end of the lockdown tunnel.

Back in March 2020, as the ream of regulations intended to control the spread of the virus were first introduced, the world of work was forced to change dramatically. With the introduction of social distancing and the 2m rule came the end of crowded meeting spaces, bustling office kitchens, and water-cooler conversation. Those of us who could work from home, did. Those of us who didn’t think we could, often did, too.

Now, one year on from the first set of Covid-19 restrictions, both employers and employees are having to think again and reshape the workplace to suit.

Remote working has worked well (for some) as an emergency measure, a temporary set up. It was initially a challenge, maybe even a little bit exciting at first. But, as the months have rolled on and the novelty has worn off, it’s become clear that some things are just easier to get done face to face – and 30% of us have acknowledged our productivity has fallen while working from home.

A full-time office-based business might not be possible just yet– but working from home 100% of the time doesn’t work for everyone either.

Step forward, hybrid working.

Hybrid working is a mixture of working remotely (from home, or elsewhere) and coming to an office, central location, or other collaborative spaces to work. Essentially, it puts the onus on colleagues to choose how, when, and – importantly – where they work best.

It flips the traditional working relationship, and ultimately relies on trust. When done effectively, it’s a way to combine the positives of an office environment with the benefits of remote working.

In 2021 and beyond, hybrid working achieves what lots of businesses have been flirting with (to varying degrees of success, depending on sector, culture, and intent) as a policy for years: flexibility.

And that flexibility has never been more important. When asked, 58% of people said the ability to have both a flexible schedule, and to work flexibly from anywhere, was one of the most important benefits to them. And it’s not just employees that benefit from flexibility. With the right products, environment, and set up, the option to work flexibly leads to greater productivity, too – making it a win for some employers as well.

There’s no denying that working from home has brought some benefits – avoiding often long commutes that, according to the Ford European Commuter Survey, causes more stress for people than their actual jobs. As well as the highly-prized flexibility that remote working offers, people also reported greater focus, and the ability to create a genuine work-life balance. In fact, when asked, 98% of people said they’d like to continue working remotely – part time – for the rest of their career.

But, it’s that ‘part time’ element that’s crucial. Working from home doesn’t solve everything. In fact, it can open the door to a whole host of different problems and challenges.

We often go to work and feel part of something bigger – a brand, a business – that has its own set of values, behaviours, and culture, all integral to the way we work. That’s much harder to achieve if everyone is working from their living rooms and never meeting face to face, or as a whole organisation.

For those starting new jobs, or even new careers – it’s tricky to learn from your peers, soak up your organisation’s culture, or benefit from your colleagues’ experience day to day if your interaction is purely digital. The lack of face-to-face interaction a year into the pandemic is starting to present real challenges.

And this distance is playing on our leaders’ minds. When asked, 70% of managers are worried about maintaining company culture while remote working, and 75% report a reduced cohesiveness at a team level.

Team cohesion is a big priority. It’s well documented that physical proximity is important to creating and maintaining trusting and cooperative relationships, and, according to Buffer’s State of Remote Work Report 2020, 20% of those asked said they struggled to collaborate and communicate remotely, with a further 20% saying they’d experienced loneliness when working from home.

And, what about those that live with their parents, or house share in small dwellings with an average 4 people having to work from the same location? The impact of individuals’ wellbeing must be considered, rather than employers making company wide decisions on where their staff can work from.

By offering a clever mix of the benefits realised by remote working, and the opportunity to collaborate, communicate, and create meaningful relationships that a physical working location brings, businesses could have an opportunity to become – and stay – sustainable and successful.

Hybrid working could just be the answer.

While it’s not possible for all employers to fully embrace hybrid working, and it’s easier for some sectors to implement than others, recognising that introducing elements of hybrid working where possible can make for a productive, happy workforce is a good place to start. Businesses can then look at what they’d like to put in place – and tackle how to go about it.

Lots of employers fall into the trap of thinking that, just because their business has never worked flexibly, it can’t. While that may be true at times, it’s often not the case. In fact, the reason over 50% of companies didn’t have a flexible or remote working policy pre-pandemic was reported as ‘longstanding company policy’ – essentially, things were done the way they’d always been done.

It doesn’t mean the death of the office, or deserted city centres – quite the opposite. The pandemic has given us all the opportunity to rethink and reimagine the workplace as a whole. It’s a chance to look, with fresh eyes, at how we use these spaces – for productivity, creativity, and collaboration – and to reformulate the way we work as a whole, focusing on flexibility, balance, and efficiency.

With that shift in mindset, comes a huge degree of practicality and responsibility.

Employers will need to look at their existing office spaces and think – how can we repurpose these? Creating flexible hubs, used for collaboration and team bonding can work alongside social distancing measures to help rebuild the workplace and create the new normal. Personalised stowage such as lockers can be introduced to provide colleagues with peace of mind and security helping them settle in.

Any solution requires careful thinking, and a pragmatic approach. For example, that might mean using storage as a wayfinder to help form functional space division without building walls, and creating channels and streams for people to move around the office. Making sure desk areas and hubs are equipped with cleaning stations – and that there’s personal storage that’s secure, and within reach of a user’s safely distanced space. Expressly communicating the purpose of these spaces – not for day to day working, or to create a culture of presenteeism, but to foster genuine collaboration, planning, and creativity will be vital in the months ahead.

And, because embracing hybrid working means thinking about both sides of things, employers need to make sure that their colleagues are truly set up to work remotely, too, and consider what budget they have to support them do so properly.

How are their ‘remote’ spaces? Do they need equipment to create an environment that will allow them to work best at home – regardless of the type and size of space they’re working with? Can businesses create ‘working from home’ kits for all employees to make sure they’re comfortable?

And, what about ‘digital presenteeism’? With nearly a quarter of people struggling to unplug at the end of the day when working from home, and 67% managers worried about employees overworking at home, how can employers communicate the importance of switching off – even if, rather than physically leaving an office, it just means closing a laptop?

With any sort of change also comes challenge, and any transition into a different way of working requires a lot of thought and genuine buy-in from all levels. Clear communication and support for employees now, and as we continue to adapt to a ‘new normal’, is more important than ever. By promoting wellbeing and providing a range of support services, alongside creating a working pattern that allows for flexibility and creativity where possible, we can help smooth the process and avoid bumps in the road.

Covid-19 has dramatically accelerated and sometimes forced the pace of change, which hasn’t always been comfortable for businesses to adapt to. We’ve now been presented with an opportunity to take this difficult current climate as a chance to pause, and re-evaluate how we want to do things – both now, and in the future.