Hybrid Working, on the face of it, appears to be a win-win situation for employees and employers.
During lockdowns employees have welcomed the freedom of homeworking and in particular the avoidance of the time, expense, and stress of commuting to offices. On the other hand, they have missed the physical social interaction with colleagues in an office environment. Many surveys have shown that the overwhelming number of employees wish to spend to split their week between working at home and working in the office, dubbed Hybrid Working.
For employers, the lockdown has demonstrated that employees can be trusted to work at home and be at least as productive and in many cases more productive. So with fewer people working in the office on any particular day, there are opportunities to reduce accommodation costs and make a significant contribution to the bottom line.
However, if we scratch the surface of this promising nirvana has some challenges.
Working in the office will not be the same
With fewer people working in the office there will be greater use of hot desking. So employees will no longer be able to sit at a regular, perhaps personalised desk, and may be sat with people they do not normally work with and, in larger organisations, may not even know. If the reason for visiting the office is to interact with colleagues then the people you are hoping to see may not be in the building as they have chosen a different day of the week to visit the office.
In some organisations a rota system may appear to be an equitable and feasible arrangement for employees working in the office. But because of their personal circumstances and the time to travel between their house and the office, some staff are likely to be more reluctant to come into the office as often than those who choose the office as their preferred place to work. Post-lockdown because of a recognition of the need to retain talent and a heightened awareness of the well-being, employees are likely to have a greater say in where they work and rota-based attendance may be unpopular.
In any case the previous informal happenstance in formerly busy offices resulting in discovering new information or sparking ideas with colleagues, often called water cooler conversations, will be much reduced with fewer people working in offices
Managing Hybrid Working teams
While many managers have risen to the challenges of managing virtual teams during lockdowns this way of working may still be outside their comfort zone. When some team members are in the office and others are homeworking the management challenges will be different, and arguably greater. For example, while everyone is on a videoconference call there is a level playing field. When some of the team are in the office and the some are dialling in remotely it will be more difficult to manage. Participation is often less from those people who are participating remotely and it is more difficult to read body language in a video conference. There is also a risk that managers will interact more with people who are in the office and they will need to guard against what could be real or,as perceived by remote employees, unconscious bias.
Will cost savings from Hybrid Working be realised?
It is likely to be a few years before organisations can realise costs savings from occupying smaller offices as a result of adopting Hybrid Working. A recent survey by NFS Technology of facilities management professionals and C-Suite Executives found only a third (34%) are looking to reduce space. Over half (56%) expected no change in their space profile. Reasons ranged from lease commitments, the need for more space per employee, and uncertainty about homeworking long-term.
Hybrid Working is also likely to require new investment in office accommodation. The purpose of offices will change. People will visit offices to generate ideas and problem solve. The current layout of offices may not suit this activity so there is likely to be a need to be an investment tine modern supportive environments for collaboration.
Before refurbishing an existing office, there may even be an opportunity to relocate offices as the original location rationale is no longer valid, e.g. to be within commuting distance of employees. So options to relocate to where property cost are lower should be considered, lease breaks permitting.
Post-Covid, the choice does not need to be a binary one of home or office. There are other work location options such as client premises, hotels, and coworking hubs that may offer better facilities and therefore be more attractive and also convenient to employees than traditional offices. A number of companies, such as Spotify, are adopting a work from anywhere policy that even allows employees to choose in which country to base themselves.
All the above needs to be addressed with a robust business case before the organisations commit to Hybrid Working.
John Eary, Director of JEC Professional Services Ltd. which helps organisations become more resilient through Agile Working, Business Continuity and the Digital Workplace. John seeks to provoke new thinking on the opportunities and challenges for new ways of working presented by technology. He has assisted over 40 organisations to adopt new ways of working. John is the author of the book, Agile Working and the Digital Workspace published by Business Expert Press