Flexible working has certainly cemented its place in the zeitgeist of the 2020s with more people talking about remote and hybrid working than ever before. But is everything we hear about the apparent wholesale shift away from the traditional office model true? Here we look to dispel some of the common myths….
Hybrid working is a result of the pandemic
False. Long before COVID-19 hit there was a consistent rise of people working from home ‘at least some of the time’. Between 2009 and 2019 the number of EU nationals working from home increased steadily from 5.2% to 9%. In fact, in a 2018 Harvard Business Review Future Positive report, around half of 6,500 business leaders polled across eight countries recognised that employees’ need for better work-life balance – through greater flexibility at work – was going to have a significant impact over the next five years and would therefore need to be tackled urgently. Although Microsoft Teams adoption famously skyrocketed during the pandemic, the remote working enabler and mainstay of hybrid working teams was already serving over 13 million users in July 2019 and had added 7 million users before the pandemic even hit.
Knowing that hybrid working was the direction that we were heading in anyway could help your business adapt to the change of business operations and recognise that many of the tools available to support employees and employers were already well established before 2019.
‘Remote only’ businesses will prevail post COVID
Unlikely in the short term. It appears that the number of companies remaining as ‘remote only’ following the pandemic will be just a small minority. It doesn’t seem that the widespread adoption of remote working practices will see waves of offices closing permanently and commuter trains and roads emptying…not yet anyway.
Although some still speculate that fully remote working could be in our future, a study in Nature Human Behaviour looked at all of the communications of 60,000 Microsoft employees between 2019 and 2020. This demonstrated that working entirely remotely stilted collaboration practices and made them more “static and siloed”. Although they found that people do continue to interact with close contacts, they are less inclined to work closely with more “marginal members of their networks who can offer them new perspectives and ideas”. It is likely that this impacts innovation and that – although fully remote teams can perform well in the short term, ultimately, they may suffer as innovation recedes.
There’s a common understanding of hybrid working
Sadly, there isn’t. There is clearly a disconnect between what employees and employers think of as hybrid… and the definition varies from business to business. This is proving tricky when new employees join businesses with certain expectations and these aren’t met, possibly contributing to the increase in post-pandemic attrition seen in several industries. Are these employees leaving – in part – to find a business with a hybrid model that more closely meets their own requirements?
To define hybrid working in detail is almost impossible at present as businesses need to test and flex practices, and employees must overcome fears and re-set ‘in office’ routines. For some hybrid work means a fixed schedule of days split between office and home working, where for others it means a flexible fluid model of working where, when, and how suits the employee and their team on any given day. Whatever the approach, success depends on whether it is underpinned with consistent values of trust and respect between employee and employer, and a solid set of fit-for-purpose technology that enables flexibility without compromising collaboration and effectiveness.
Hybrid working is better for everyone
Not quite yet. One global survey of more than 600 company leaders and human-resources professionals found that over 80% believed that hybrid models were emotionally exhausting for employees. Naturally face-to-face interactions fall with hybrid working and this may be disappointing to those looking forward to a return to the camaraderie and buzz of the pre-pandemic office. One study shows that spending an average of three days a week in the office can limit encounters between any two workers by 64% compared with pre-pandemic norms with this gap widening to 84% for those in the office two days a week. Managers trying to encourage connections in a hybrid working model arrange more virtual meetings, send more emails, generate more Teams chats potentially leaving workers feeling overwhelmed and drained.
But it’s technology that is being touted as the fix for these issues. Microsoft Outlook allows individuals or businesses to set scheduling settings and take 5, 10 or 15 minutes off Teams meetings to create breaks between meetings, and Microsoft Viva Insights can nudge managers to notice even the early signs of burnout in employees and offers a ‘virtual commute’ to help separate work and home life. Users can be reminded to wrap up their tasks, prepare for the next day, log their emotions, and unwind with the Headspace meditation app.
Money can buy you talent
Fortunately, not. The pandemic triggered a widespread epiphany as people have now tasted the balance between work and life. Employees have woken up to the importance of taking care of their own physical and mental health, while at the same time realised that – with the right tools and technology – we can be as effective away from the office as we are sitting at a desk.
The Silicon Reef Work Happy survey in August 2021 unearthed some damning figures – namely that 71% of employees were prepared to leave their jobs if they weren’t offered the flexibility that they had grown used to. A month later McKinsey published a report, ‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours, which explored the same theme and looked at how more than 19 million US workers had quit their jobs since the pandemic. The article noted that “employees crave investment in the human aspects of work” and that with “more and more employers offering remote-work choices for hard-to-source talent” businesses could be losing talent to these businesses, regardless of how much they are prepared to pay to keep them.
So, fortunately no, businesses that are not prepared to first understand and then fix issues of engagement cannot rely on hefty wage cheques to retain talent. On the flip side there is something that businesses can do to stem the tide of attrition. By listening to employees while shaping their new hybrid ways of working, leaders can be confident that the models they create – and the technology they choose to support it – will help to retain, and even attract new talent in the future.
If you need guidance with remote or hybrid working practices, get in touch.