Over the past year and a half, there has been one thing that many of us have been deprived of – and that’s choice. The choice to decide on what to do, where to go, who to see and how each hour of the day will be seized.
But no longer having access to the freedom of decision making can be both good and bad. Bad in the sense that we feel a lack of control in how we are living and what we can do. But good in the sense that it has given us a chance to cut back on the excess noise that can often fill our lives – the extras and the add-ons…
For almost 18 months we have been able to embrace the simple things in life and enjoy more time at home. And many of us, who have experienced a slightly more focused way of living since Covid started, want to continue benefiting from it.
So what happens next? As vaccines continue to be rolled out, we are once again, greeted with an unfamiliar friend – choice.
And many of us don’t know the answer. When the pandemic struck, the route was obvious, and we were guided by priorities, essentials and regulations.
Now, the future is open, and we need to decide what it actually looks like. But one thing is for sure, and that’s the workplace we left in 2020 will not be the same as the one we return to in 2021.
What considerations are needed for hybrid working?
Now that the future is beginning to open up, we need to recognise where we need that element of choice, freedom and a more self-centric way of working. But also, we need to recognise where to add in the necessary support, implement policies as well as provide opportunities for an equal employee experience.
However, even before Covid, many businesses were already starting to question the traditional 9-5 setup and recognised that a more flexible way of working was not only an incentive for employees but also helped them to be more productive with their time.
So, the thinking behind a hybrid way of working isn’t new, it’s just what we had before was probably more hybrid-light.
Today, we are looking at accepting hybrid working as the norm and that greater scope of flexibility is raising some interesting and legitimate concerns, which are very much based on what we have started to experience over the course of the pandemic.
In our recent report, produced alongside eir Business, we discovered:
- 21% will never return to the pre-pandemic model of only office-based working.
- 39% are looking to implement a hybrid working model for their business.
- 40% will return to the office as normal.
So, with almost half hoping to return to the office post pandemic, what are the elements we should be examining before giving the green light on hybrid working?
Coupled with a fear of exclusion is a fear of burnout and mental health problems. 42% surveyed are concerned about digital exhaustion and mental health. For parents, working from home while trying to manage childcare duties is extremely full on and doesn’t offer much respite. And for others, the demand that comes from back-to-back video calls all day, along with extended working hours, can also have a knock-on effect of stress, lack of sleep and a general lack of work/life balance.
As Paul Gilbride says, “One of the most fundamental pieces of innovation in companies right now is around wellbeing. I believe we will see a lot of innovation in this area over the next 12 months, because being in a world where you can potentially work from anywhere, for any company globally, brings a risk of feeling isolated. We must look after our people.”
Support and mentorship
With multiple job losses over the course of the pandemic, many have experienced starting a new role while working from home. And it has been extremely difficult for those needing training and support, to get what they need while outside of the office environment.
Turning around and asking a quick question suddenly becomes a lot more difficult. And the chance interactions and conversations that help you get to know those around the business, simply aren’t there.
So, building in the right framework for training and mentorship is definitely another consideration businesses will need to factor in, to help avoid joiners feeling frustrated and isolated.
One element that we may not have previously considered in the approach to hybrid working is the imbalance in opportunities that it could bring if not implemented properly.
Multiple discussions relate to how those who are more office based, may have greater access to promotions and chance conversations than those working from home. Networking and relationship building may also be more difficult. Ideally, we need to think about what policies we need to put in place to help protect those working remotely.
“The nature of remote work – flexible work schedules, supporting a more diverse talent pool and creating wider accessibility to diverse talent – can be harnessed as a positive. However, extra diligence, intention and management is needed. All policies must be brought to life and integrated throughout organisational practices and infrastructures,” says Rowena Hennigan, Remote Work Expert.
Loss of work culture
Before the pandemic, you may not have considered the culture of your workplace and what impact it has on your well-being. However, having worked from home for over a year, may of us are missing seeing people. The conversation, the banter, the face-to-face meetings and catch ups with those who you see regularly but don’t directly work with.
Our social circles have decreased massively and the sense of identity we get from being in the workplace has also dissolved.
In our report, 40% were concerned about a loss of workplace culture which reflects the nourishment we get from working within a team and just how important that is to our daily working lives.
“Constantly being in the same environment and having no interaction aside from virtually and with the people you live with does not replace the planned and unplanned in-person diverse, casual interactions and collaborations. This experience has highlighted the importance of office culture for me.” Mark Higgins, Sales Director SME, eir Business.
Security and compliance
In the report, 49% stated that security and compliance would heavily influence their decision-making process. And security is an ever-relevant factor for businesses today. We have covered this in a separate feature here, which details necessary cyber security measures to enable remote working.
Benefits of hybrid working
We have already seen the many benefits to remote working. The greater autonomy, the positive impact on the environment and more time with our loved ones. And from a business perspective, it has helped many to reduce costs, widen their talent pool and increase productivity.
However, one in two businesses say that they still don’t feel ready to implement hybrid working from an ICT perspective, which really highlights the transition we’re seeing from gradual digital transformation to what is now being seen as the digital imperative. Essentially, we need to ensure that we have the right tools in place to allow employees to stay well.
As eir Business and Evros MD Martin Wells says: “Hybrid work requires new operations, strategies and infrastructures that encompass flexible work policies and innovative technology solutions.”
Approaching a hybrid way of working
In the report, Rowena Hennigan discusses how Diversity and Inclusion expert, Stephen Frost, sums up an approach based on three steps:
“The first is to “intervene intelligently” by carefully thinking through what kind of culture a business desires, and how different working approaches could support this goal.
Then, focusing on output and what the organisation is trying to achieve, evaluating how hybrid working might help and how best to incentivise any behavioural change required.
And finally, using data to analyse and measure the impact of working from home on different demographics in areas such as pay and progression, so that action can be taken should disparities arise. As Rowena Hennigan says, “effective remote work operations are iterative, evolving and always striving for improvement, a great example of innovation in action.”
Are you ready for hybrid?
Read more about the first steps in implementing a hybrid way of working in our blog, which also covers how to enable hot desking while precautions such as social distancing and contact tracing are still in place.