Three Hybrid Working Misconceptions, Busted

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Originally posted on Forbes, 22nd February 2022

Hybrid working is here to stay. Countless studies show that workers relish their newfound work-life balance, not to mention the time and money they save by not commuting to the office every day. And if their flexible working options don’t pass muster, they won’t stick around, with 72% of workers saying they are likely to look for a new job. Employers who are serious about holding on to top talent will need to be prepared to meet this demand, as many already do. However, several recent studies suggest that hybrid working, when different people are in the office at different times, might not be all it’s cracked up to be. It could create workplace divisions, they say, stall career development and be detrimental to employee health and mental wellbeing. So, how can employers overcome the potential pitfalls to unlock hybrid working’s full potential?

Proximity Bias

The first charge leveled against hybrid working is the threat of proximity bias – the idea that managers tend to rank people who sit alongside them in the office more highly than employees who are working from home and therefore out of sight. According to the Future Forum Pulse survey (January 25, 2022), this bias is now the number one fear among business executives, with 41% saying they are concerned about inequalities between those working primarily in person and those working primarily remotely, up from 33% three months earlier. The risk is that people who aren’t in the office as frequently as their co-workers could be overlooked for promotion – the so-called Zoom glass ceiling limiting their career opportunities – with bosses seeing those who lean towards remote work as somehow less committed.

The Great Divide

Experts warn that women could be at a particular disadvantage in a hybrid future. They probably won’t go into the office as much as men due to childcare duties and family commitments, which are easier to manage from home.

Global data from the Future Forum Pulse supports this. It found that 84% of men work in the office all or some of the time, compared to 79% of women.

According to Amanda Blanc, CEO of leading British insurer Aviva, the problem is that women might not be around “when some of the conversations are being had and they could miss out on opportunities.”

That not only means personal development and career opportunities. It could also mean that women are passed over when there’s a challenging project – or they’re simply less connected than their in-office colleagues with what is going on across the company.

Health Issues

People aren’t just jeopardizing their careers when they work remotely, it seems. A new study suggests they could also be affecting their health and mental wellbeing.

More than 8 in 10 people leaders report that hybrid working is exhausting for employees. Workers, too, say that they find hybrid more emotionally draining than fully remote arrangements and even full-time office-based work.

For some, hybrid offers the best of both worlds but for others the switch in routine and the need to maintain two workplaces appears to be taking its toll.

A Way Forward

Despite these potential downsides, we know that employees want and now expect hybrid working. So, how can employers ensure that the benefits shine through for everyone?

Dispensing with traditional, outdated views of remote working is an important first step. The notion that an employee who is working from home for however many days a week is less dedicated or less able to contribute is a relic of the pre-Covid past.

Creating the right conditions for remote and hybrid workers to succeed is also key, which might include:

·        Defining and communicating what remote working means for your organization. Do you expect workers to be in the office a set number of days or can individuals or teams set their own hybrid-working schedule?

·        Evaluating employee performance objectively so that it’s less about hours worked and more about impact and outcomes

·        Expanding diversity, equity and inclusion efforts to provide equal opportunities for everyone, regardless of where they work

·        Ensuring that people who are working remotely feel as connected as their in-office co-workers. For example, meetings should either be held online by default so that everyone has a consistent experience or scheduled for the days when the full team is in the office

·        Reskilling managers so that they are better able to support and collaborate with their teams in the new, more flexible future of work

·        Providing guidance for employees so that they are able to work smart, such as encouraging them to set healthy boundaries and have clearly defined work hours when they’re working from home

The Road Less Traveled

As offices go back and employees and employers find their hybrid working feet, teething problems are inevitable. However, with the right policies, processes and practices in place, businesses can escape the prejudices of the past. And they can capitalize on their positive experience during the pandemic when remote working rightfully earned its place in the future of work. No longer the preserve of working moms or viewed through a negative lens, it can work for everyone. Welcome to flexible working 2.0.

Author David Morel Tiger Recruitment Team

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