For many, the pandemic has caused a fundamental shift in how we work, with work no longer a location, but simply what we do. As offices across the UK continue to open, many companies are starting to embed new ways of working with a hybrid working approach – where people split time between the office and home – seeming very much the norm for those in office-based roles.
It’s clear that hybrid working is here to stay; our latest Business Outlook Tracker found that 88 per cent of mid-sized businesses were adopting this approach prior to the implementation of ‘Plan B’ in early December – and it’s easy to see why. It brings together the advantages of working from home and going into an office, allowing people to work in different ways to achieve their goals, at times that work best for them.
For employees, the end of daily commuting and increased flexibility make it very appealing. Effective digital tools for virtual working also enable employers to make the most of the benefits it offers such as reduced spend on office space and a more agile workforce.
Recent estimates from the Office for National Statistics also show that the shift to home working isn’t impacting productivity levels. In fact, productivity in the last quarter of last year exceeded pre-pandemic levels in the UK for the first time, despite the return of work-from-home guidance in December, with output per hour worked 2.3 per cent above the 2019 average.
People have adapted and are now used to working from home so while the office is likely to remain an integral part of working life, how it’s used has changed. With a greater focus on networking, collaboration and training, it will likely no longer be a daily visit for the majority of people.
While our offices are all now open, our aim is not to encourage everyone back into the office five days a week, but to encourage people to decide for themselves the best approach to take for the type of work they have to do, balancing what works best for their teams, their clients and for them as individuals. We’ve introduced a ‘Framework for how we work’ to support our people in making decisions about where and when they work, with most of our people working between one and four days per week in an office or at a client site, and the rest of the week from home or wherever works best.
We can already see that this hybrid approach is having a positive impact on our people. In a recent internal wellbeing survey, 93 per cent of the 2,206 people who responded said that they believe hybrid working allows them to be more productive, and 91 per cent said that it supports their wellbeing. Every business’s success hinges on its people, and it’s important to listen to what they want and adapt as you can. Boosted productivity, greater flexibility and improved wellbeing all demonstrate the positives that can come from hybrid working, when it is properly implemented.
But it does need time and commitment to be truly effective and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The whole market is on a learning curve to experiment and find the best method that works for them and ensure their people continue to feel connected and supported by their business and their teams, wherever they work.
Such a fundamental change in working style doesn’t come without its challenges. We know that managing the work of more junior staff was one of the top concerns facing many mid-sized businesses when adapting to hybrid working. Steps such as investing in technology to support and better connect a hybrid workforce and providing guidance on how team’s co-ordinate time in the office so more junior members know when in-person support will be available, is critical.
It is too early for approaches to be set in stone. Businesses need to be committed to learning and adapting as they go, taking the best of how they worked before the pandemic and retaining what they’ve learned throughout the last two years to develop an approach that works for them and their people.
But we believe that moving away from the idea of presenteeism and trusting your people to decide how, where and when they work, enabled by an effective use of digital technology, will help you get the best from each other, deliver genuine value to clients and make your business more inclusive.
Perry Burton is head of people and culture at Grant Thornton UK