For the last few months employers have been asking us: “What does hybrid working mean?” As businesses begin to reopen and normal operations resume, business leaders and HR professionals are planning their post-lockdown future. And the word on everyone’s lips is hybrid.
We are at a pivotal moment. Employers must decide if employees can continue to work from home or if they must return to the office, or if the future of work is a blend of both.
Hybrid working, the new buzzword in business, offers a compromise between home working and going into the workplace. It could shape up as an attractive way to balance business needs with the wishes of employees.
This blog takes a deep dive into hybrid working to explore what it really means.
First up, what is hybrid working?
Hybrid working definition
Hybrid working isn’t a ‘new’ phenomenon. It has always existed. But its prevalence has been accelerated by COVID-19. There isn’t an exact definition, (we talk about it as though it is one thing, when in fact it’s many), but essentially, it means a working arrangement where an employee works some of their time at home, or at another remote location, and some of their time in the workplace or at a central hub.
Hybrid working is simply another way of describing flexible working arrangements.
The pandemic has presented an unprecedented opportunity for employers to re-examine their approach to flexible working. So many people have successfully proven that working from home is a success, even in roles where it was previously thought to be impossible.
But, for many employers it’s not a case of making a simple switch.
According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the introduction of hybrid working will require a significant culture shift. It will mean new ways of working and that will require associated HR policies and practices to be put in place.
The hybrid working arrangements are also likely to put greater strains on managers who will have to manage and support employees and build team cohesion in a variety of ways. Managers, at least initially, will need additional training and support to effectively manage hybrid teams.
And, for some employers, it may be more complex, with different hybrid models/terms required for different parts of the organisation, according to specific roles. Internal communication plans will need an overhaul and there are also legal implications to consider.
However, organisations that choose not to support hybrid working are in danger of retention and recruitment problems in the future, especially if employees (existing and potential) come to expect it. Even in the short-term, turning down employees’ requests for flexible working is likely to have a detrimental impact on engagement and productivity.
That’s not to say that hybrid working is right for every business, or even every single employee. But employers must weigh up the pros and cons before putting the idea of flexible working arrangements to bed. If properly implemented and supported, it could be a very positive business move.
Even if a temporary measure, a hybrid working environment will help employers manage a return to the workplace safely in the light of COVID-19. Moving forwards, a common set-up for employees looks likely to be a minimum of two days per week in the office and working the remainder of their week at home.
So, what is a hybrid working environment?
Hybrid workplace definition
There isn’t a definitive hybrid workplace meaning, but in a broad sense, a hybrid workplace signifies a workspace (office, plant, warehouse, factory etc.) where not all the workforce is working there all the time. This could cover a variety of scenarios, with employees working partly from home and:
- Different teams in the workplace on different days
- Everyone in on the same days, with the workplace empty on specific days
- A varied schedule so employees switch days/times in the office each week to ensure face-to-face interaction with everyone over a set period
- One week in the office followed by several weeks working from home (a position that widens the geographical location for recruitment)
There may also be an arrangement for different working hours for office-based days (9-5) to those worked from home (flexible).
Many employees have become used to working from home, and are enjoying some of the benefits, such as saving money, no long commutes, better work-life balance, more family time, fewer interruptions, feeling more productive and so on. And research shows that after the pandemic, most workers want to continue to work from home at least some of the time.
Ideally a hybrid arrangement will satisfy most employees, enabling them to enjoy the convenience and productivity benefits (deep work in a crowded office isn’t easy, while nipping out to a Doctor’s appointment is much easier on a day when working from home).
Hybrid work also opens up opportunities for working parents, carers and people with other outside-of-work responsibilities.
The biggest hurdle, on the other hand, is the ability to work cohesively within teams. While it has been managed reasonably successfully during the pandemic using Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams and a whole host of other video conferencing platforms, the truth is nothing quite replaces the natural bonding achieved when people work closely together.
Whether hybrid working is here to stay, isn’t yet quite clear. For most businesses it will at the very least be a transition phase. Understanding how to support employees through that change will be critical for success. Burnout is much more common in those working mostly from home. A poll by Gallup found that fully remote workers are now experiencing more burnout than on-site workers.
For all the advantages of hybrid working, there are challenges, such as managing employee engagement and maintaining connections between managers and their teams. With such a fluid work environment, it is vital that employees’ concerns, worries and thoughts are heard.
More than ever, employers will benefit from employee surveys to ensure no-one slips through the net. WeThrive’s employee experience platform helps to cultivate an environment of engagement wherever your employees are. Discover how your employees feel with an easy-to-use quick pulse survey, and instantly provide the tools and resources each employee needs to ensure productivity soars.
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