How to make hybrid working a success in a post-pandemic world: new study

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A new report argues that there has been a permanent mindset shift around how work can be organised and that there ‘can be no going back’ to expectations for universal office presence.

The report Work After Lockdown: No Going Back What we have learned working from home through the COVID-19 pandemic draws on three sources of data collected between July 2020 and December 2021 and 72 interviews with leaders and workers. A wellbeing survey collated the views of 2,221 respondents.

Published this month, the report looks back on what employers and workers have learned about home and hybrid working over the past 18 months. It then considers how we can maximise the opportunity to embed some of the more successful working practices into the next phase of change.

The seven areas identified for focus for the next phase are:

  • Technology: Continued investment in digital infrastructure enables hybrid working. At the most practical level, when people work in two places they will need to have easy access to IT resources from both locations.
  • Inclusion: There must be parity of opportunity for people who may be mostly or entirely home based with those more regularly working in an office. Practical examples include ensuring every meeting is an inclusive hybrid meeting, with video dial-in opportunity.
Work After Lockdown is a major research project funded by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of UK Research & Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19. Photograph: iStock
  • Democratic decision-making: Throughout lockdowns and occasional returns to offices, teams have benefited from high involvement in designing their own ways of working that take account of individual working pattern preferences and organisational needs.
  • Job Analysis: Clearer understanding of the time and place constraints on tasks that require people to be on-site at particular times. Variation in working preferences across teams and individual jobs should be considered. An ambition for a specific ratio of in-office versus at-home time was less preferred than 'finding a balance that would work.'. One company crafted a message that was designed to be interpreted by teams in ways that worked best for them.
  • Line management: Wellbeing should be first and foremost in managers’ concerns and conversation as individuals prepare for post-pandemic hybrid working. Empathetic listening is key to engagement
  • Communication and messaging: Frequent and personal communication by leaders was an essential aid in guiding their organisations through lockdown. This communication should continue though this next period of change.
  • HRM practices: Induction and on-boarding of new starters has been a weak spot during the pandemic, and needs more deliberate facilitation by managers to help inclusion and optimise performance.

Gains and losses

The research showed where there were gains and losses from extended home working. Stand-out findings on the plus were in productivity which saw two thirds of employees (61.7 per cent in 2020 and 68.9 per cent in 2021) reporting that they ‘got much more or a little more work done’ at home compared to the office. Recent ONS data has shown that UK productivity across the economy rose during the core months of lockdown.

Home working has also yielded better quality meetings with more systematic interactions – sharing information on Teams – and shorter meeting times. The study also found improved team relationships, increased managerial trust of remote working and new digital skills from extended home working.

Home working has yielded better quality meetings with more systematic interactions –sharing information on Teams – and shorter meeting times, according to the research. Photograph: iStock

On the losses side, the study found that social deficit, lost opportunities for on the job learning and work intensification were identified as key concerns.

Over 40 per cent of home workers reported fatigue, including symptoms such as poor sleep, musculoskeletal problems, eye strain and headaches, which were still in evidence 18 months into the pandemic.

A leader observed that working from home could be a ‘draining experience’ for extroverts and that working from home had increased the workload for some.

While over 95% of employees want to work from home at least sometimes, with 18% saying they always want to work from home when they were asked in September 2021, there is a realisation that hybrid is here to stay. 

“The message from our research is that while many of us will welcome the opportunity to return to the communality of offices, there can be no going back to expectations for universal office presence," say authors.

"The default has shifted in employees’ preferences for hybrid working. Our analysis shows that a close alignment between employees’ work preferences and the flexibility options that their employer offers is a key driver of recruitment, retention and performance.”

Work After Lockdown: No Going Back is co-authored by Parry, J., Young, Z., Bevan, S., Veliziotis, M., Baruch, Y., Beigi, M., Bajorek, Z., Richards, S. and Tochia, C.

Read the report here



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