Feature

Will a hybrid work model become the new normal?


With many workforces forced to work from home amid the coronavirus crisis, HR Grapevine explores whether this has changed the way that employees will work going forwards…

Words by Sophie Parrott | Design by Lucy Bick

Words by Sophie Parrott


Design by Lucy Bick

When the coronavirus pandemic hit at the start of 2020, many employers and employees were forced into homeworking arrangements virtually overnight. A quick shift, which according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), resulted in almost half of workers carrying out some work at home. Whilst many are still working from home as a result of coronavirus-sparked restrictions (see: lockdown), other businesses decided to use this moment to change the way their business works, coronavirus pandemic or otherwise.

For example, earlier this year, Twitter told staff that they could work remotely ‘forever’ if they wanted to, following the success of its work-from-home measures. “The past few months have proven we can make that work. So, if our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen,” the firm said in a statement at the time. Shopify and Slack, have similarly told staff that they can work from home going forwards if they want to.

This change isn’t apropos of nothing. A CBRE survey found that circa 85% of employees would like to work remotely at least two to three days per week post-pandemic, with the remaining portion of the working week spent in the office. This brings into question whether a ‘hybrid’ work model – which involves a workforce that is split between working remotely and working from a central location – will become the norm going forwards.

2021 is going to be a year of experiments rather than of hybrid working – where it is very likely that hybrid working will be the outcome – but I don’t think firms will jump straight into it

‘Definitely an appetite for it’

Recent data from Future Forum Research, found that the majority of workers never want to go back to the old ways of working. They found that just 12% of workers want to return to the office full-time, with a staggering 72% wanting a ‘hybrid’ model of work going forwards. This appetite for change is why Bruce Daisley, former Twitter Vice President and a Workplace Consultant, told HR Grapevine that the hybrid model is likely to become the norm, adding there is “definitely an appetite for it”.

However, as Daisley sees it, it’s not just so straightforward as rolling out hybrid working. A follow-on question would be how comfortable organisations are with the idea of hybrid working. Whilst KPMG research has found that many CEOs are keen to reduce their office footprint this might not result in hybrid working right away. “I think there is definitely a movement in this direction [towards a hybrid work model],” Daisley explained, even if it doesn’t come into effect immediately. “[If anything, I would say that] 2021 is going to be a year of experiments rather than of hybrid working – where it is very likely that hybrid working will be the outcome – but I don’t think firms will jump straight into it,” Twitter’s former Vice President added.

 

Substantial remote work – but not complete

Whilst 2020 saw many workers complete all of their employment remotely, according to Sir Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology at Alliance Manchester Business School, this is not what workers want full time. He explained that what people actually want is a hybrid or mixed model approach in future. “What people actually want in a variety of developed countries is to work substantially from home but going into an office from time to time. By substantial I mean, in effect what they want is what suits their lifestyle. So, what they want is work-life integration, not balance [and that’s the direction] where we are moving,” Cooper said, adding that many still saw benefits of team-building in an office environment. Indeed, early 2020 research from Vodafone found that 40% of office workers missed spending time with their work friends, while 21% missed collaborating with co-workers, suggesting that they would like to go back into the office for the social aspects of work.

Cooper continued: “What’s going to happen is, employers are going to encourage people to work substantially from home, but I think they’d make a mistake if they forced someone to work 100% remotely because that is not what people want and they do need to get together to team build, to have creative sessions on new products and services, to meet one another, to meet their social needs and so on.”

The evolution of homeworking

Statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that between January and December 2019, 5.1% of the UK population worked substantially from home.

Yet, when the coronavirus crisis hit earlier this year, more recent ONS data found that more people were working from home. In fact, in April, 46.6% of people in employment carried out some work at home.

Of those who completed some work from home, 86% did so as a result of the coronavirus crisis, highlighting how the pandemic has impacted the way that we work.

How to manage a hybrid workforce?

In future, it is possible that employers and employees will adopt a hybrid model of work, with employees spending a portion of the week in a central office and a portion of the week at home.

The big dilemma then centres around how HR and line managers can manage those who spend part of their time in the office and part of their time working remotely. To help with this, HR Grapevine has collated three tips to help with this:

Firstly, the biggest risk is that one group starts to feel isolated or become an island. So, making sure that line managers and HR have plans in place regarding how they will interact each of their teams is crucial. This could include scheduling regular check-ins and involving all of the team in meetings.

Secondly, setting clear expectations and creating new practices is key. Talking to staff members about how and when communication needs to happen and setting guidelines for how this should be done – such as over the phone or via platforms like Slack for example – is also important to ensure that business operations continue to run smoothly.

Finally, providing flexibility for workers, not just around where they work, but also around how and when they work too, is another consideration for HR and employers.

 

What people actually want in a variety of developed countries is to work substantially from home but going into an office from time to time

Managing new normals

While Cooper explained that there will always have to be a central office space, he said that the downside to the hybrid work model is that companies don’t always have the right kind of line managers (at all levels in the business) to manage this. “We now need a concentration on people skills on hiring in and promoting managers that have parity between their people skills and their technical skills,” he explained. These skills issues – always the most pressing concern for CEOs – will likely be the key to unlocking new structures of work in a way that benefits the business. As will technology and systems allowing staff to see when it is best to come into the office, something which Fujitsu recently invested in. Whilst this management of new normal will look different from organisation to organisation, what is clear is that old normals will never return 100% as they were.


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