A woman working from home on a laptop [Photo: Shutterstock]

Will hybrid working become the new normal?

Linda MurdochFor many of us, this last year has meant adapting to working from home. But now that there are very real hopes that the restrictions associated with the pandemic may begin to be eased, what will this mean for where we work? Linda Murdoch, our UofG careers director, believes that it is likely that most organisations will adopt a hybrid working model, with the workforce split between working remotely and working in the office.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many changes to the discussion around working practices, with a large number of employees keen to continue working more flexibly once lockdown is eased. According to a report carried out by the Institute for Employment Studies, 73% of workers across a broad range of industries preferred a move to hybrid working – sometimes at home, sometimes at a workplace.

Working from home during lockdown has allowed us to determine which aspects of our work are best done with others in a communal physical space and which benefit from lone working with less distraction or interruption.

Problem-solving, for example, is an activity best approached by team members together in a physical space, bouncing ideas around, selecting useful ones and building on them. Although this can be done remotely via Zoom or Teams, it lacks the speed and spontaneous dynamic of an exchange of opinions which happen when heads are brought together to solve a problem.

“Negotiations, critical business decisions, brainstorming sessions, providing sensitive feedback and onboarding new employees are activities which may lose sensitivity when done remotely.”  The Future of Work after COVID-19, McKinsey Global Institute

Tasks requiring concentration without interruption for longer periods of time such as data input, reading and writing, are better suited to home working.

Not having to travel to work saves time and expense, and is a good way of offsetting climate change, but this is at the expense of the social aspects of work; the chance encounter with a colleague you have not seen in ages in the communal kitchen; the ease of getting a question answered quickly by a work colleague at a desk or in an office close by; the tasty morsel of gossip offered by whoever you sat next to at a meeting.

Supporting staff wellbeing will be crucial once restrictions are eased, with many employees having reported loneliness and a decline in their mental health due to long periods working from home.

There is renewed focus on the skills required for a good hybrid working culture, including high standards of line management, a premium on interpersonal communication and planning of workloads which enable staff to make the most of their time at home and at work.

For managers, the co-ordination of many diaries, setting and meeting multiple deadlines involving several teams working in different places at different times will be key.

Finally, experience has taught us that where possible, setting clear boundaries between home and work life during work-from-home days helps mitigate some of the more negative aspects of homeworking associated with the pandemic.

This article was first published April 2021.