National Work Life Week – hybrid working two years on
National Work Life Week is back for its second year running, starting today. Its purpose - to get both employers and employees talking about wellbeing at work and work-life balance.
As a contribution to National Work Life Week I sat down with two of my RWK Goodman Employment colleagues, Remy Ormesher and John Nevin, to discuss what this meant, both to us as a law firm and our clients. The discussion ranged from home working v return to the office; the balance to be struck in a work-life situation and how this has changed; to the different generations now operating together in the work environment. One thing we were all agreed on, despite the generational difference, was that hybrid working works for us as individuals.
Over the course of the week, the discussions we’ve had will be released in bite-size chunks which we hope will stimulate debate over what is becoming an increasingly prominent topic.
Earlier this year we commissioned a study into the changing dimensions of the workplace. A copy of our report on this study can be found here. A key topic explored throughout the report is the benefit of hybrid working and its impact on staff welfare and we will refer to findings from the study throughout our discussions this week.
The concept of flexible working advanced 20 years overnight when lockdown hit. Until forced to do so, no Company would have thought to take the quantum leap to dictate that its staff worked entirely from home. It was amazing how quickly RWK Goodman, as a firm, adapted; but now that a return to the office is underway there are differing views on how beneficial it really is to work from home. Over the next four days we explore what this means, both for employers and employees. We welcome any observations and thoughts and on Friday we will aim to feedback on any comments we’ve had – hopefully this will spark an interesting debate!
What are the pros and cons of Hybrid Working?
Hybrid and flexible working are the buzz trends, exacerbated by the pandemic which required us all to adapt to working from home full-time. But, at the risk of being controversial and swimming against the tide, how positive is flexible working in practice? Remy says that several of her employer clients want staff back in the office – but are meeting resistance. Employers are finding that two years on from the start of the pandemic, remote working is impacting performance and workplace culture. Today we look at the pros and cons of hybrid working.
Hybrid working allows employees the flexibility to organise life around work, or vice versa and it is clear from employee feedback that this is improving work-life balance but also employee welfare. The stress imposed on employees by the demands of arranging home-life around attendance in the office is reduced by flexible working. This in turn encourages employee engagement.
Our study into the changing dimensions in the workplace, also found that hybrid working often encourages greater employee engagement as many individuals respond well to the level of trust that their employers bestow on them through hybrid working.
“Ultimately, it is about employers trusting their people to work wherever and whenever – within reason – they work their best”.
In addition to this, the removal of commuting time allows employees to use their time more productively – promoting a better balance and employee welfare. What is more, no one can deny the benefit of reducing travel disruption on stress levels!
Hybrid working does not come without any drawbacks. Working from home increases isolation from colleagues and lack of personal interaction. For junior staff, the hands-on supervision previously taken for granted is in many respects a thing of the past – to the educational detriment of junior members of staff. Juniors coming up through the ranks miss the ongoing interrelationship with senior staff and the learning, both tangible and intangible, which used to be automatic.
Not only does the lack of interaction in the office affect learning but it also affects workplace culture. The facility to build relationships at work is hugely beneficial to developing culture. It also fosters networking in the office, which for a law firm is key. There is also the blur between work and home life with many working longer hours with early mornings/late evenings which, while it might work for their lifestyle, often means they don’t really switch off. Being in the office gives a structure to a working day that is missing at home. People can (or should be able to) properly switch off when they leave the office in a way that they perhaps can’t when closing the bedroom door at home, which is where many people have set up their workstation.
“We need to find out how to make home working work in a healthy and sustainable way.”
Another factor for employers to consider is how employee performance is monitored from home. In a workforce where some employees are attending the office more than others, it is easy for managers to veer into making biased decisions based on proximity. As humans we tend to trust people we see regularly, which in turn could leave to giving work related opportunities to those people, which again in turn could lead to impact on promotions and bonuses. This can quickly become a discrimination issue for Employers if their male employees spend more of the time in their office than their female colleagues.
It is clear that both arguments – for and against hybrid working – are valid. Therefore striking the balance between the two is difficult. We will continue to explore this throughout the week.