By Sof Socratous, VP for Northern Europe at Poly
Many staff view hybrid working as a right, not a privilege. The majority of organisations (80%) agree, saying they need to offer flexible working from day one of a person’s employment. This will only become more critical in the future, with Microsoft’s latest Work Trends Index showing that 38% of the world’s workforce are now hybrid workers (up seven percent on 2021). This is only set to grow, so businesses must take a long-term view on what ‘hybrid working’ really means in practice.
People not participants
A shift to a hybrid way of working requires planning and thought to ensure it does not negatively impact employees. Research shows that employees enjoyed the benefits of having a greater work‐life balance, being able to fit work around their lives, as opposed to the other way around. Conversely, 58% of employees feel the rise in remote working has meant they are always‐on and always available.
To make hybrid work a long-term success, organisations need to put people first. And think about two key considerations: how can organisations ensure the experience of hybrid working doesn’t morph into a set of bullet points within a policy document? And how can wellbeing be prioritised?
‘Always on’ versus overwork
Firstly, organisations must clearly outline expectations and provide guidelines in a world of work where time and place have become increasingly blurred. Many staff would have experienced suddenly having to flex hours for a medical appointment or a trip to the vet. Parents will no doubt have had to suddenly pivot to looking after sick children sent home from nursery. But there’s also the social aspect – meeting up for coffee with a friend who’s in town that you may not have seen for years because of the prolonged periods of social isolation.
But let’s be honest, many of us would have felt a bit guilty at first. After all, people are not used to putting their needs first or having that level of flexibility in the workplace. As a result, employees can overcompensate by being available at all hours, ensuring they can be contacted through a myriad of channels: email, chat, phone, mobile, video call. There’s a risk that being ‘always on’ can result in being overworked. This always on culture leaves them feeling always on and always available, leaving them unable to relax or switch off from work.
Remote work has of course existed for decades in certain professions, but the key difference between then and now is that hybrid work has many more touchpoints. It requires more guidelines, a greater focus on trust, culture, and compromise. Employers have a moral duty to protect employers from overwork, by setting out behaviours and supporting people to adapt to this new way of working.
Physical versus psychological comfort
Secondly, there’s the issue of wellbeing. Now that people are starting to return to the office, a lot of focus and investment has been channelled into physical comfort. Several policies have been adopted: the provision of masks and anti-bacterial soaps, touch free technology, plexi-glass partitions, new ventilation systems, and, most importantly, flexible work policies.
Peace of mind is important for people who chose to return to office work even if spaces are less populated. It’s also crucial for those who prefer to work remotely, especially those with compromised immune systems, underlying health issues or anxiety.
While investing in physical comfort is important, fewer have invested in the overall psychological comfort of their hybrid workforce in terms of enhancing trust, belonging, identity and relationships. Employees might feel physically comfortable in their home environment, but they might lack elements of psychological comfort such as sense of belonging and identity within the company. For instance, a report by real estate service firm JLL describes a ‘shadow pandemic’, referring to the long-lasting psychological impacts of the pandemic on mental health.
Therefore, it’s important hybrid work environments consider both physical and psychological comfort – this means investing in the right digital tools for people to extend their sense of purpose and belonging outside the physical office boundaries. It also means setting boundaries and ensuring that there is a healthy culture of work, where employees can ‘switch off’ at the end of the day.
The crux of the issue
The key issue for businesses isn’t simply acknowledging that hybrid working is here to stay. It’s acknowledging that hybrid working brings with it myriad considerations around employees’ wellbeing, many of which lack obvious solutions and are almost unprecedented in the history of work.
The most important thing to realise, though, is that while companies need long-term strategies for embracing hybrid working, they needn’t be daunted. By taking a people-first approach, communicating clear guidelines and investing in technology specifically tailored to hybrid working, companies can form a bedrock for their long term-strategies. Doing this will ultimately help organisations put their people-first and ensure wellbeing is prioritised.