It’s the solution that many businesses and companies have landed on with regards to bridging the gap between home working and office working since the first batch of lockdowns - but how is hybrid working effecting those who actually have to navigate around it on a daily basis?
While bosses may be ready to bring employees back into the office, it’s the workers themselves who seem to be the most stuck; struggling to keep up on conference calls, unable to pick up the same camaraderie and support from colleagues, and unsure where their opportunities lie compared with those who work in the office.
Let’s take a closer look at hybrid working, how it works, and the challenges it presents to workers and employers.
The Reality of Hybrid Working
As so many employees proved during the pandemic and various lockdowns, working from home can be just as productive and successful for businesses - if not more so - and is certainly not something to be shied away from if possible. From establishing home offices to finding new and interesting places in the local area to get out and set up a laptop in, home working became an opportunity to change the modern way of working - and it has largely worked across a number of industries.
However, that positive energy around working from home came when everyone was forced to do the same. Now, with workplaces opening back up and bosses instigating a return to the office, we find ourselves in the sticky middle ground of hybrid working.
On the surface, hybrid working offers an opportunity for employees to spend less time in the office and more time working on their work-life balance; perhaps travelling into and working from the office for two or three days of the week and spending the remaining days working from home. However, the reality is a little different, with multiple individuals in the office now forced onto those same Zoom and virtual meeting calls they were doing from home - only now they’ve had to commute into the office to perform the exact same duties. Working from the office no longer means last minute chats and meetings - for many, it means joining the same calls which are still being held virtually, with almost no other benefits other than working somewhere other than the dining room or spare room at home.
And when the chance to join a physical meeting does arise, Zoom and virtual challenges still get in the way - with those joining remotely (due to their new hybrid working hours) still talking over each other, experiencing the off technical glitch or delay, and generally making the atmosphere seem forced and no longer the same flowing conversation as workspaces enjoyed pre-pandemic.
The question is now, are these teething problems as we settle into what is being classed as the new normal for working, or are there genuine issues with hybrid working which cannot be ironed out under our current working conditions?
Hybrid Working: Is it Causing More Trouble than it’s Worth?
One of the biggest questions being asked right now with regards to working is how to ensure that employees are bringing their full selves to work each day - especially when they’re only spending half of their working time in the office. And in truth, can it really be expected of workers to constantly bring 100% to the job every day when their working environment is regularly changing, and they can never be sure of the next hurdle or of whether the colleague they need to speak to is in the office that day or not?
One of the solutions to productive and enjoyable hybrid working (because let’s not forget, we spend a huge chunk of every weekday working, and if we don’t make it somewhat enjoyable then we’re doing ourselves and our team an injustice) is proper planning and a system by which every worker has access to information on who is scheduled to be in the office, on what days, and for how long. Whether that means opening up access to work diaries, creating more transparency around colleague’s working situations, or simply encouraging better interaction between teams, communication remains one of the biggest issues - and is the only known solution to get us past this hybrid headache.
Another potential solution lies in a change in attitude to meetings, calls, and emails. During the pandemic, when employees and colleagues could no longer meet for five minutes at a desk or in a conference room, the rise in virtual calls was exponential - matched only by the significate rise in emails being sent. You only have to look at the stats to see how our need for virtual communication has changed over the pandemic - in February 2021, there were 40 billion MORE emails sent than in February 2020, and the weekly meeting time has almost doubled through virtual meetings and conferences.
But while the numbers certainly don’t lie, neither does our mindset - we start to automatically switch off and lose concentration after 30 minutes of a virtual meeting, and by demanding so much more email time than before, many workers are spending as much time talking about tasks and about their jobs as they are actually doing them. The solution? Again, it comes down to communication - this time encouraging more concise, to the point, limited communication both through email and virtual meetings.
If we want to continue to run productively across all industries, hybrid working needs to shift away from a reliance on virtual meetings and emails, and instead find ways of reforming genuine connections and interactions between employees when possible. Working alone is a recipe for burnout, and while many workers don’t want to go back to working fulltime in an office, neither do they want to stay at home for the foreseeable future, day in and day out.
It’s time to navigate a path of hybrid working which maximises work productivity and optimises the way we use the workday.