We ought to be used to large, global changes at this point, shouldn’t we? Well, many of us have likely caught wind of the next big one: the move to hybrid working. Marking the emancipation from lockdown after all of our positive efforts, working is due to change for many people once again to a new format. According to a survey conducted by CIPD, 63% of employers said they plan to introduce or expand the use of hybrid working for their organisations.
Hybrid working is a new form of flexible working that incorporates a balance of working in the office for some of the week and working at home (or at least remotely) for the remainder. As such, it’s an effective compromise for those who relish the opportunity to work from home as well as for those who feel they thrive more in a traditional office setting.
This new phase won’t be a novel experience for everyone, however. Some organisations, especially those that qualify as ‘matrix organisations’, have been practising hybrid working for a while now and are familiar with the idea. This need, though, has been supercharged by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has extended the call for hybrid working not only further and deeper within large organisations that were already practising it to some degree, but among smaller organisations as well.
Inevitably, with global shifts in the ways we live, there are things to watch out for. A few years ago, for a large majority of us, we all worked under the same roof in an office. Even during lockdown, there was a sense of solidarity and consistency as we almost all exclusively worked from home. However, hybrid working entails a dichotomy between home workers and office workers, and this split requires attention. Care should be taken to avoid schisms forming between the two groups. But when the office acts as a hub where most of the leaders, managers and senior staff are located, there is a risk of proximity bias serving as an undercurrent and benefitting the office-based workers over the remote workers. In turn, this may inadvertently sway opportunities for resourcing, reward and progression disproportionately in favour of office-based staff.
On a similar note, this has a deep impact for feelings of inclusion and fairness. Outwith objective measures like rewards and progression, there are less clear-cut considerations: the few words exchanged while passing by someone’s desk; the general updates that circulate around the office environment; or being in the priority group as information cascades down from higher levels; all of which tip the balance in office workers’ advantage. As much as some felt isolated while working remotely during lockdown, this danger is still very much relevant as we enter hybrid working – and for some, maybe even more salient.
So why move to hybrid working at all? Well, beyond the areas that require caution, there are some remarkable benefits and opportunities in hybrid working. As mentioned, it’s a new model for flexible working; one that’s likely more flexible than any model that came before it. It allows our work to be more tailored than ever before to our own preferences, devolving much more autonomy and control to work in the manner that’s best for us. With hybrid working, we can make choices about how we work depending on our preferences, whether that’s collaborating with those in the office or being present with our families at home.
This autonomy carries responsibility; while it’s going to be a stretch for leaders and managers, there will also be much greater accountability on individuals to work closely, collaborate effectively and maintain relationships with others, wherever they happen to be working. Successful hybrid working will require shared responsibility and effort from both sides. As organisations need to do their best to create a platform for remote working, the employee needs to actively engage with and invest in the networks, developments and the success of their organisation.