Although some companies had the infrastructure in place to accommodate remote working, due to the COVID-19 pandemic there was a need to do so on a larger scale. Businesses with physical work premises that were not deemed ‘essential’ and could work from home were advised to do so. However, when restrictions were lifted, and businesses with office space began to open, they had to consider how to bring back the workforce safely, and whether it was worthwhile doing so.
The idea of hybrid working, a blended model where some employees return to the workplace and others continue to work from home, was brought to the forefront. Prior to the pandemic, the progress of flexible working in the UK was described as stagnant. However, roles that previously may have been considered as unsuitable for flexible or home working have been successfully undertaken from home over the last year and a half.
Many businesses have reported positive outcomes from the introduction of a hybrid working model – employees report:
- Being more productive (36%)
- Feeling in control of their work (34%)
- Feeling trusted (26%) and empowered (27%)
- Less distracted (20%) .
There are many other benefits that come with introducing hybrid working models to businesses. With 92% of young people wanting to work flexibly, offering hybrid working will be very attractive to new potential employees . Another benefit is that a healthier work-life balance becomes easier to achieve. Pre-pandemic, the average commute time in the UK was 62 minutes a day, with 15% of workers commuting for 102 minutes or more. The average UK “working day” was around 11 hours including the time spent commuting, leaving the UK ranked as the 8th worst country in the world for work-life balance . With many commutes now limited to 1-3 days a week, workers are getting that time back, enabling them to spend more time on hobbies or sports, or with family and friends. This time is also beneficial for people with childcare commitments or other caring responsibilities.
A hybrid working model includes employees returning to the workplace, so it’s important to note that there are also benefits to an office environment. Office workers are essential to the high-street economy of shops, cafes, and bars. Although still not at the pre-pandemic level, Central London gained the most from office workers returning, with shopper numbers rebounding by 66% compared with the same period last year, with week-by-week footfall rising by 8.8% . Other considerations include the potential difficulties ensuring all workers have the necessary access to technology from their home working environment, as well as the probable communication issues that any distributed team would have when moving face-to-face communications to digital or over the phone. Digital exhaustion could become a real and unsustainable threat.
Although there are challenges ahead, flexible working is here to stay. By setting aside long-held assumptions and embracing hybrid working, business leaders need to create an operating model that encompasses policy, workspace and technology, addressing digital exhaustion and rebuilding social capital and culture to ensure the success of a future of hybrid working.