Is hybrid working, flexible working? It offers the opportunity to flex where you work, sometimes from home, sometimes the office. This comes with risks around fairness, visibility and presenteeism. But it has the potential to normalise flex for all, and move us on from flexibility as an individual accommodation to an organisational norm.
UNDERSTANDING THE ISSUES
It’s about varying where you work and has, of course, been prompted by the success of enforced home working for millions of us during pandemic lockdowns.
A key difference between pre-Covid flexibility and hybrid working is in the wholesale nature of hybrid. Organisations are integrating and normalising hybrid working across most, if not their entire, workforce. By comparison, pre-Covid flex was usually granted on an individual case-by-case basis.
This shift from the individual to organisational has the potential to get us thinking about flexibility more widely. And it could remove some of the negative impacts of flex for those who need to work flexibly.
Office based teams and their managers have grown used to working from home but throughout our pandemic experience everyone has been in the same boat. With everyone working remotely and living via Zoom. It’s been a great equaliser.
Hybrid working means that some people will be at home, and some on the premises, at different points in the week. There will be many questions about communication, collaboration, team cohesion and company culture.
These are all solve-able with thought and consideration. Many organisations have been working on a hybrid model for years, but calling it flexible or agile or intelligent working – so I see the current interest in hybrid as an opportunity to give flexible working a bit of a rocket boost.
Flexible working is not a magic wand. The magic elements of flexible working are choice, and control. That’s what deliver the engagement and performance wins for the employer. Flex is simply evidence that choice and control are likely to be present.
Hybrid working offers the appearance of flex, because there will be choice around where some people in an organisation can work.
But without being open to people having choice around when they work, and how long they work, this partial flex will be available only to some of the workforce, and may only partially meet the needs even of those who can access it.
Hybrid working brings risks around visibility and opportunity for promotion. When out of sight becomes out of mind, it is often flexibly working women who miss out. Manager training around work allocation and tracking performance outcomes is going to be important.
Remote working during the pandemic has reminded us of the dangers of being “always on”. Future wellbeing and performance gains will be lost, if employees feel that their remote working mode should be set to “permanently available”.
Some roles will be suitable for hybrid, while many others will require full time presence on site. So questions may arise around fairness across teams and between employees. Clarity about what kinds of flex are appropriate for what roles will help, as will keeping minds open to other forms of flex.
The benefits from normalising where people work may include:
- Managers who are less likely to assume that remote working equals lack of commitment, establishing a virtuous cycle of assumptions and expectations around flexibility.
- More opportunities for men to be active in family life, enabling greater gender equality at home – and thus at work
And if hybrid becomes a norm, there’s a bigger win on offer, if organisations and managers open up to other forms of flexibility.
Questions can then be asked about flexing time – when work starts and finishes, when it is carried out.
And we can really start looking at how long and considering meaningful part-time roles and jobsharing.
Hybrid working won’t help if jobs are simply too big. How much work is often the missing piece of the flexible working jigsaw, along with when and where. If workloads are not addressed, hybrid and flexible working merely mean the freedom to manage too much work at a time and place of your choosing. The benefits everyone wants, for people and for the business, are unlikely to materialise. That is more than a disappointment. It is a recipe for disengagement and stress.