Moving on from remote working - hybrid working options

Remote working is seen by many as a chance to reset their working experience, but not everyone has this option and the potential for unexpected disruption is significant. The benefits of managing childcare and similar commitments have to be balanced by the encroachment of work life into the home.

Remote working is touted by some as the panacea to the pain of achieving work-life balance in a busy world. Others point to productivity benefits, while some have very different points of view. 

The two strands are becoming more established and clear.

Those who see remote working as a bad idea, with thoughts of individuals working in their pyjamas, versus those who see the benefits of less time spent commuting and appreciating time for quiet focus while they are working.

Of course, the reality is much more complicated; home-working is less appealing if you have a small home with limited space to work. Commitments such as childcare at home cannot easily be juggled with working. 

Image of mother working at laptop on bed at home, with small child on lap

Many workers do not have jobs that are suitable to work from home, from cleaners to scientists working in laboratories with specialised equipment; those working in retail outlets or hospitality to drivers moving goods across countries.

The solution that most organisations are adopting, where appropriate, is 'hybrid working', with staff who are able to work remotely given the option to do so, either two days or three days a week in most cases.

However, other issues have become apparent as the hybrid working approach becomes more commonplace. As someone who has had the opportunity to work remotely for many years, it's interesting to see the way technology has made things much easier - Zoom, Teams, etc., via high quality and high speed home internet connections is an effective option for meetings. While it may not fully replace an in-person meeting, the advantages can outweigh the downsides.

Some clients we work with in professional services (finance, insurance, legal services) note higher levels of productivity during the periods of lockdown, with senior staff able to work with more clients etc. with the change in working practices.

But some other consequences have become more obvious too.

  • If junior staff are less present in the office, how well is the knowledge and experience shared so that they can progress and develop?
  • This can also come up against other ways technology might be impacting those in legal jobs - with 'legal automation' reducing the work newly qualified or junior lawyers might undertake (and learn by doing)
  • How does an organisation balance flexible working arrangements with some staff, where it is not available for other staff?
  • If organisations downsize their office accommodation, often a significant cost, is the working space available sufficient if most/all employees come to the office?
  • Collaboration is not as effective where there is less in-person interaction, including the ubiquitous 'corridor moments' or 'chats over coffee'
  • Technology business Cisco, which specialises in networking hardware as well as meeting tools such as Webex, shared results from a survey they've conducted where 75% of UK workers said they were trusted by their manager to work productively when remote, but only 61% thought their colleagues could be trusted to do the same - potentially a sign of future office conflicts that need to be managed.