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Will companies retreat from hybrid working?

Posted: 26 Jan 2022

Will companies retreat from hybrid working?

The Taoiseach’s announcement that almost all COVID-19 public health restrictions have been lifted could mean a rapid return to the office for some workers, says EOLAS RECRUITMENT. But might it also spell the end for hybrid working and what would that mean for employers and their teams?

Currently, when IT roles are advertised, it is not unusual for employers to specify that the role will involve working remotely initially with a view to transitioning to a hybrid arrangement at a later date. This reflects a trend where hybrid working—a mix of being partly office-based and partly working from home — has become prevalent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, while early indicators suggested that hybrid working could improve productivity, reports are beginning to emerge that suggest those initial gains may prove to be short-lived.

Productivity of hybrid workers

One reason why productivity appeared to increase in some organisations early in the pandemic may be that employees working from home were putting in longer hours. When this additional time is taken into account, the productivity ‘gains’ diminish.

A study by academics from the University of Essex and University of Chicago examined personnel and analytics data from over 10,000 skilled professionals at a large Asian IT company. Their findings show that total hours worked increased by roughly 30% during the ‘work from home’ period caused by the pandemic— including an 18% rise in out of hours working—however average output did not significantly change.

Trust

PwC survey commissioned in September 2021, which explored the views of 3,937 business and HR leaders from 26 countries, found that while remote and hybrid working “provided a short-term productivity boost in most workplaces”, the gains “may have come at the expense of longer term employee trust“—“In fact, only 30% of the business and HR leaders surveyed strongly believe their organisation is building high levels of trust between workers and their direct supervisors,” PwC reported, adding that burnout may be partially responsible.

Employee burnout

Burnout is also mentioned in a recent Forbes article where Tracy Brower notes that many reports of increased productivity among employees working from home came early in the pandemic, but more recent reports suggest people are “tired, fed up and burned out” —“If their productivity was high at first, it has declined as the pandemic has worn on …”.

Hybrid working resources

Up to now, employers favouring hybrid arrangements tended to cite benefits like greater flexibility and resilience, little impact on overall productivity, and enhanced access to talent that might otherwise be out of reach. However, it is becoming clear that benefits like these can only be realised when companies commit to the necessary cultural changes and allocate sufficient resources to successfully manage mixed work environments.

Planning

When asked what employers need to do if they are thinking about introducing hybrid working arrangements or extending temporary arrangements introduced during the pandemic, Eolas Recruitment Principal Consultant Stephen Daly says careful planning is essential.

“From a hiring perspective, it’s important to understand the difference between hybrid and remote working. Hybrid working, where you want your workers to be office-based at least some of the time, means that you still have to compete for talent in your local market so there isn’t any strong advantage in terms of access to a wider talent pool. However, remote working means you can hire from anywhere—that can be beneficial for some roles but it’s not without challenges,” says Stephen.

“Regardless of where employees are physically located, their individual goals should align with your organisation’s overall goals. It’s important to identify which roles are suitable for hybrid working and which need to be office-based. Then you can assess what resources are required for these roles. You have to be careful to avoid treating hybrid and remote workers less equitably than their office-based peers as you could run into HR and legal difficulties if workers feel they are being unfairly treated. You also need to take employee attitudes into account and think about any policy or cultural changes that may need to be implemented.”

Employee attitudes

From a people management perspective, it’s important to monitor employee expectations and keep a finger on the pulse of what is happening in the market. For anyone employing IT workers, the best way to do that is to have a good relationship with a specialist IT recruiter, says Eolas Recruitment Senior Consultant Peter Kirby.

“While some workers enjoy the better work/life balance of reduced commuting time and the flexibility that comes with working from home, others feel isolated and miss meeting and mixing with colleagues.

“Younger employees, and those that lack adequate space to work comfortably from home, often prefer to be office based where it is easier to collaborate and socialise among teams and with peers. There is also evidence emerging that innovation is stronger when teams are office-based.

“New employees, who started work during the COVID-19 restrictions and had to work from their bedroom or from shared accommodation, have sometimes felt lonely and isolated and found it difficult to get to know their colleagues. When you’re new in a job, it’s harder to learn when you are on your own and you are often more reluctant to interrupt a colleague and ask for help. More experienced employees often feel they have better promotion prospects when they are visible to their managers,” says Peter.

“Hungry for employees to be back in the office”

While it’s probably too early to judge the future prospects for hybrid working, there are signs that attitudes are shifting. Initial enthusiasm may be waning and some companies appear to be turning away from the trend, albeit while retaining some elements of flexible working. When a proper cost/benefit analysis is performed, SMEs and smaller businesses, in particular, may struggle to make a viable business case.

A survey, conducted by McKinsey in May 2021 found that while most employees like to work from home for 2 or more days per week, employers “are hungry for employees to be back in the office and for a new normal that’s somewhat more flexible but not dramatically different from the one we left behind.”

For now, keep in mind if you are planning to recruit IT workers, the best way to source talent in a competitive market is to work with a specialist IT recruiter. Eolas Recruitment is ideally placed to manage every stage of your hiring process, from identifying candidates to screening applicants, arranging interviews and contract negotiation. Check out our informational videos and online reviews for information about how we work with companies.

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