The days of the COVID-19 pandemic when hundreds of thousands of people had no choice but work from home might be fading into memory. But for many, working from home continues to be very much a day-to-day reality. They just choose to do it nowadays.
The latest official figures show that the number of people exclusively working from home is actually pretty low. According to the ONS, only 16% of UK workers operate exclusively from home. That is dwarfed by the 56% who have now returned to work full-time.
Although it should be pointed out, the percentage working just from home is considerably higher than it was pre-pandemic. And the number going into work full time even more noticeably lower.
Arguably the most interesting group is the one in the middle – the 28% of people who now split their time between the workplace and home. Or, to give them their increasingly popular title, the ‘hybrid workers’.
There’s little doubt that the push towards more flexible working arrangements that cover both going into the workplace and working from home has been driven by employees. During the pandemic, 85% of people who worked from home said they wanted to continue to do so to even when restrictions were lifted. 78% said that working from home had given them a better work-life balance.
Now that the necessity created by the pandemic has died down, 58% of UK workers say they prefer the flexibility of a hybrid model. Which suggests the number splitting time between home and office still has considerable room to grow.
Too much of a good thing?
However, there are concerns that giving free rein to the hybrid trend without wider consideration of its effects could prove counter-productive. There is evidence that people working from home are working longer hours than they would in the office. Worryingly, 81% of younger workers say they fear they will become lonely and isolated working from home.
And one report in the US reported that 80% of business leaders worried hybrid working was ‘exhausting’ for their people, because it involved irregular routines and put the onus on them to take care of office equipment and their home office environment.
So clearly there’s a balance to be struck. The benefits of home or hybrid working leap out to us intuitively – cutting down on the commute, more flexibility to fit work around the rest of your life (or vice versa), simply empowering people to take greater control of how, when and where they work.
But on the flipside, there is such a thing as having too much of a good thing. Sitting in the comfort of your own home deciding when you work sounds great. But it can lead to people feeling isolated. And the blurring of home and work life can make it harder for people to ‘switch off’ at the end of the day. Perhaps most obviously of all, is there anything more stressful than your WiFi or your laptop crashing when you are on deadline with something, and there is only you in the house to sort it?
How to get the balance right
Businesses are right to hand over more control to employees to organise their working patterns, and to encourage a better work-life balance. They will get happier, more focused, more productive and more loyal staff as a result. But equally, firms have a responsibility to make sure hybrid working is working for everyone, the business and employees. It can’t be a case of out of sight, out of mind when people aren’t in the office.
Keeping lines of communication open is essential. With fewer opportunities for informal face-to-face chats between managers and their teams to check in about how things are going, businesses have to be more proactive than ever about prioritising the pastoral side of employment. When was the last time you checked in with people about how they were feeling about working from home? Is it still as great as they thought it was at the beginning? Do they need anything, new equipment, a workstation assessment to make sure they are not doing lasting damage slumped on an unsuitable chair etc?
It’s important that everyone involved is clear about how hybrid working will work within the business, what the expectations are, how communication will take place and so on. To make hybrid working successful, it’s a good idea to set out clear policies and guidelines to ensure everyone is on the same page. And if something isn’t working for whatever reason, change it. Which comes back to the importance of good communication and good monitoring.