Hybrid appears to be the new working reality for many. John Cradden recommends how to get the best of both worlds for remote and presenteeism.
It’s been clear for some time that hybrid working is here to stay in Ireland. Any predictions that it was a flash-in-the-pan trend exacerbated by the Covid pandemic were quickly confounded in the months and years after the lockdowns ended.
The evidence looks to be overwhelming. Ireland’s workforce has transitioned to hybrid working at a greater rate than any other in the EU, with a quarter of workers now operating from home most of the time compared to about 7% in 2019, according to a survey by commercial property group BNP Paribas Real Estate Ireland.
“Many Irish companies, particular SMEs, may be struggling to define how to implement hybrid working in a way that balances the needs of employees with the needs of the business”
The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) says 42% of its members organisations had over half their workforce operating in a hybrid manner in 2023.
NUI Galway’s most recent National Remote Working Survey also shows at sustained desire by workers to work remotely for some or all of the time, with 30% saying they would change jobs if their remote working preferences were not facilitated.
And research by LinkedIn shows that Ireland has one of the highest shares of hybrid job postings in Europe. Over two-fifths, or 42.2%, of all paid job postings in April on LinkedIn offered hybrid working here, compared to an average of 33% across Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) over the same period.
Balancing business with employee needs
However, being relatively new to hybrid working, many Irish companies, particular SMEs, may be struggling to define how to implement it in a way that balances the needs of employees with the needs of the business.
One study by Maynooth University’s School of Business that focused more on employers’ rather than employee’s views found that many companies, including large ones, follow a somewhat ad-hoc approach to hybrid working in which basic operational rules about working hours, availability for Zoom calls and expected response times to emails were thin on the ground. While performance didn’t suffer at the end of the day, there was a lack of information and data about collaboration, culture and control – three factors employers say are suffering the most in remote work environments.
So how can employers design flexible working arrangements that harness the best of both remote working and presenteeism?
A key point is consider individual human concerns as well as institutional ones, according to London Business School professor Lynda Gratton and head of the Future of Work Consortium. This means looking at hybrid working in terms of jobs and tasks, employee preferences, projects and workflows and inclusion and fairness.
1. Implement a policy that works for your company
In devising a hybrid working policy, employers should consider the unique needs of both individual roles and teams within an organisation. After all, there is definitely no ‘one size fits all’ approach to hybrid working. For instance, there may be a large number of roles that require a strong degree of working alone and for undisturbed stretches of time, while in others, more employees may need to work collaboratively with others for much of the day. Similarly, it’s important to reconsider workflows, particularly if new technologies have been adopted amid the shift to flexible working. These considerations can help determine whether you need to re-think how the office space is designed, and whether certain tasks can be automated or outsourced.
2. Consider employee’s preferences
When looking at hybrid working arrangements, find a way to take into account the personal preferences and situations of your employees, such as through surveys, personas, and interviews. This will also help address any issues around inclusion and fairness, which can often suffer in an environment where individual managers were given the discretion to design their own processes on an ad-hoc basis with little in the way of top-down direction.
3. Set a shape for your hybrid week
If you allow employees to work from home two or three days a week, it’s still worth setting expectations for the shape of the week so that more employees are in the office on similar days. This would maximise the opportunities to collaborate and bond with colleagues in person, and give them more of a reason to be there, says the CIPD. This is also important for helping to sustain the company culture.
4. Set rules around email responses
In a hybrid working environment, emails and other digital communication channels are doing more of the heavy lifting in terms of collaboration, so setting expectations around when you should respond to emails, Slacks and other forms of work communication will prevent everyone scurrying around in a bid to answer the boss first.
5. Watch for burnout
Recent research by Microsoft found evidence of a “triple peak day”, where there were large peaks in activity in the early morning, after lunch but also during the late evening. This third trend may be a sign of people getting work done when it suits them and their personal situations, but equally it might be a sign of the workday relentlessly extending into out-of-office hours. Make sure you determine which one it is.
At a minimum, any hybrid working policy should contain guidance on core working hours, the importance of maintaining a work-life balance, any data protection and confidentiality obligations and health and safety requirements while working remotely.