Is hybrid work the best approach?

Employees may like it best, but they may not be aware of the potential downsides

Is hybrid work the best approach?

An option that’s been offered for years, the hybrid model has ramped up considerably during the all-consuming pandemic, as employers came to appreciate the value of having people working safely and productively from home while venturing back to the office when the coast was clear.

And now that the omicron threat seems to be subsiding, the call for a more formalized approach to this option is rising.

Which leads to the question: Is the hybrid model the best approach?

I like to think so. I certainly appreciate the comfort and reduced costs of working from home, while looking forward to taking in the energy of the office and colleagues for a couple of days a week.

And I’m not alone, many surveys have shown that having people work in person and at home can lead to gains in productivity, employee engagement and retention, greater work-life balance and reduced costs.

However, there are naysayers, with valid concerns — many around potential inequities.

Take, for example, Michael Smets, professor of management at University of Oxford, who has concerns about the inequality of this arrangement.

“I am baffled by the extent to which hybrid working is presented as the ‘new normal’,” he says in a BBC article. “For many, hybrid working will remain an elusive dream. It may become the new normal for a select, even privileged, group of jobs. This is more than a little reminiscent of the old  division of ‘white collar’ and ‘blue collar’ work.”

You could also see two organizational cultures emerging, with the in-person workers and managers benefiting from the positive elements being together and in-person collaboration, “while culture and social cohesion for the virtual workforce languish,” say Andrea Alexander, Aaron De Smet, and Mihir Mysore in a McKinsey Quarterly article.

“When this occurs, remote workers can soon feel isolated, disenfranchised and unhappy, the victims of unintentional behaviour in an organization that failed to build a coherent model of, and capabilities for, virtual and in-person work. The sense of belonging, common purpose, and shared identity that inspires all of us to do our best work gets lost. Organizational performance deteriorates accordingly.”

Plus, the hybrid model can make it harder for organizations to attract the talent they need, says Callum Adamson, co-founder and CEO of Distributed, in a Forbes article.

“Remote working makes it possible to hire the best talent wherever in the world they happen to be. That makes it possible for businesses to be competitive without being based in particular talent hubs. Hybrid methods don't solve this problem because they still tie potential employees to a central office.”

Further criticisms have included the challenges for people working from home, such as parents with young children and daycare issues, or younger employees with less-than-ideal home office setups.

Read more: A wide range of employee experiences will have to be rejigged to maintain a sense of fairness among the different groups of employees, says one expert.

So, while workers say they want more remote work or the hybrid option, it’s possible they don’t really know best.

Many people may not be aware of the potential downsides and see only the positives. But cracks in the model could appear, leading to problems when it comes to collaboration, morale, productivity, customer management, promotions, employee retention, mental health and so much more.

At this point, I think it’s too soon to say which approach is best. Yes, we’ve had hybrid versions before, but not nearly on such a massive scale, for so many different employers and employees, with proper at-home offices and newer technologies focused on connectivity and collaboration.

I’d say we have a few years of exploration and development to go before we can truly assess the pros and cons, and come up with a final word. But even that may never be possible considering all the variations of workplaces — what works for one may not work for another.

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