Hybrid Working: The risks and benefits

During 2020 and 2021, the way we worked was turned upside down. Going to the office every day went from being the norm to being prohibited overnight. As the worst effects of the pandemic gradually recede, vaccination rates are rising, and we are learning to live with Covid-19 for the foreseeable future, organisations must assess the new work landscape.

Some organisations like JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs are pushing to end any form of remote working as soon as possible; many others are looking to offer a more flexible, employee-friendly approach to working arrangements. So, is full-time attendance at the office becoming an outdated and unnecessary way of working for many professions?

At first glance, it seems hybrid working – part-time in the office and part-time working from home offers the best of both worlds but can lead to problems around equality and employees and employers not being on the same page.

Organisations can’t successfully implement hybrid working without a clearly defined strategy and an understanding of the pros and cons that come when considering this workplace model.

What are the risks of hybrid working?

While a hybrid working model has several advantages for employers, including lowering business costs and attracting a global workforce, several disadvantages will need to be managed if hybrid working is implemented successfully.

Organisational Culture

When almost 30 percent of employees say they may switch jobs if required to return to the office full-time, it is apparent that organisations will need to consider employee well-being and preferences before imposing a return to the office. Organisations and managers need to carefully think through how, when, and why they ask their employees to return to the office.

For example, for onboarding and team-based activities that require collaboration, having employees in the office makes sense as it gives them the chance to become familiar with company culture and bond with their fellow employees.

Declining productivity

During the pandemic when remote working was mandatory, 45 percent of employees reported working more productively. However, this increase in productivity came at a cost. Blurred work/life balance resulted in an increase in symptoms of grief, anxiety, and burnout.

Companies acknowledge that in-person working can repair some of the damage a solely remote working model can inflict. Many also employ people-centred policies and new HR practices to mitigate the adverse effects of fully remote working.

To avoid the potential for a decline in productivity using a hybrid model, organisations can look at how they measure productivity, measuring outcomes rather than inputs like hours worked etc. Additionally, they could look at tailoring performance metrics by role or function to give more granular clarity on productivity.

Cybersecurity and fraud

The accelerated digital transformation brought about by the pandemic also resulted in a significant increase in phishing attacks, and instances of malware and ransomware reached new highs in 2020. As a result, cybercriminals saw new opportunities to steal data and disrupt critical supply chains. However, external attacks are only part of the problem facing businesses.

While working from home, around a third of employees appear to have picked up poor cybersecurity habits, including using work devices for personal use, finding workarounds to circumvent security protocols, and avoiding reporting any cybersecurity mistakes in case of disciplinary action.

Improving cybersecurity measures is only half the battle. Unless employees take cybersecurity seriously and follow the mandated guidelines, it will never be fully effective. Building a strong cybersecurity culture that incentivises and encourages secure behaviour rather than penalises is part of the answer; complement this with employee security training, and your systems and data will remain protected.

Internal fraud during the pandemic became increasingly prevalent. A study by KPMG found that 62 percent of companies stated that their employees were the most significant fraud risk. To help mitigate this risk, HR leaders can introduce pre-employment screening to identify key risk factors in applicants and rescreen employees periodically as circumstances change; increased debt, medical expenses, or conflicts of interest may increase a person’s risk of fraudulent behaviour.

Health and Safety risks

Remote and hybrid working come with their own health and safety risks that businesses need to consider. Foremost is the risk of overworking and blurring the lines of work-life and homelife. This can be exacerbated by the stresses of caregiving and other domestic responsibilities.

Additionally, poor ergonomics can result in long-term injury and fatigue primarily centred around back and eye problems. Businesses will also need to consider the ongoing threat of Covid-19 and have policies to address relevant issues.

Benefits of hybrid working for businesses

There is a prevalent idea circulating that hybrid working benefits employees disproportionately compared to businesses. This isn’t accurate; it may offer organisations a significant competitive advantage.

Firstly, reduced real estate costs can offer substantial financial benefits. Not needing to provide a desk for every single employee reduces the size of the office footprint. Especially in large city centres where the cost of real estate can be colossal – less space means less rent.

Secondly, hybrid working improves employee retention rates. However, businesses often worry that hybrid working reduces employees’ ability to bond with their colleagues and buy into the company culture. Because of this, when head-hunters approach them, they jump ship. In reality, businesses are losing their employees by refusing to provide the working conditions available at other companies.

Thirdly, when companies use the hybrid working model, they will have access to talent over a wider geographical area rather than just their own city, increasing the availability of top talent.

Finally, organisations can shrink their office footprint and reduce real estate costs as there will be less demand for desks and office space. In addition, if they are tied into long-term leases that preclude downsizing, they can increase headcount without incurring additional office costs. Senior leaders can increase their visibility by adopting virtual meeting rooms for events letting everyone be involved.

Hybrid working benefits for individuals

Employees feel the benefits of hybrid working most rapidly, and these benefits fall into three main areas.

  1. Improved Employee Wellbeing – gives them more freedom and autonomy over how and where they work. Add in no commuting time, and employees tend to be far more content.
  2. Effective Increase in Income – removing the costs of commuting, often twenty or thirty pounds a day, by allowing employees to work from home equates to a tax-free increase in disposable income.
  3. Increased Mobility – has increased the size of the geographical location available for employees to work in. For example, it could be possible for an employee to live in London and work for an organisation based in California, working remotely apart from flying in for large corporate events.

Hybrid working benefits to society

Defining the benefits of hybrid working for organisations and employees is relatively straightforward; quantifying the benefits to society is trickier. However, three main areas benefit society through hybrid work practices.

Firstly, the environmental benefits could be significant. With fewer employees requiring daily office space, the need for large office blocks is reduced, and office pollution goes down. Hybrid working also reduces the number of commuters and overseas business trips, reducing the associated pollution. Rolled out globally, we should see a massive drop in the carbon produced by the corporate world.

Secondly, hybrid working is likely to improve employment rates. If employees can apply for jobs in a broader range of locations and organisations can recruit from an increased pool of candidates, hybrid positions should be filled more quickly than office-based roles.

Finally, if individuals are healthier and happy due to a hybrid working model, then by definition, society more generally will benefit from this, and the positive impact of hybrid working will ripple out to society as a whole.

Hybrid working benefits employees who get to split their time between working from home and the office and offers significant benefits in several areas to both employers and society as a whole.

It’s early days but expect to see more and more companies adopting hybrid working patterns and reaping the benefits.