For some leaders the impact of hybrid working is unilaterally positive, offering major boons for productivity, engagement, and retention. For others, hybrid working brings more problems than opportunities, eroding culture, hurting collaboration, and threatening wellbeing. There’s a strong case on both sides and no easy answers. Let’s explore that.
Weighing up the impact of hybrid working
Plenty of evidence suggests that hybrid working is here to stay. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) reports:
- Workers value hybrid working the same as an 8% pay rise
- Hybrid working reduced quit rates from jobs by a third
But the impact of hybrid working isn’t unilaterally positive.
Hybrid work isn’t possible for everyone, firstly, which risks exacerbating skills shortages issues if employees choose to switch to a more flexible career.
Even for individual employees, hybrid working isn’t always a net positive. There are plenty of vocal advocates for returning to the office, and booming office occupancy rates suggest many employees are flocking back to corporate spaces.
In truth, many of the opportunities of hybrid working are also its biggest challenges—and employers are stuck navigating an enormously complex situation without any easy answers.
The dual challenges and opportunities of hybrid working
As the truism goes, one person’s rubbish is another person’s treasure. Some of the most compelling benefits of hybrid working are also some of its biggest drawbacks. Let’s unpick that.
3 opportunities of hybrid working
These are three big advantages of hybrid working.
Improve diversity and inclusion
One of the biggest opportunities of hybrid working is the chance to build a more inclusive working environment. Hybrid work has the potential to offer more flexibility and a more personalised employee experience—to better accommodate employees with different backgrounds, perspectives, and challenges.
Case in point, a 2022 study from McKinsey found that 75% of employees prefer a hybrid working model—and traditionally underrepresented groups demonstrated an even stronger preference:
- Employees with disabilities are 11% more likely to prefer hybrid work
- Nonbinary employees are 14% more likely to prefer hybrid work
- LGBQ+ employees are 13% more likely to prefer hybrid work
McKinsey’s research also found that 71% of employees would look for other opportunities if their preference for hybrid working isn’t met. Again, this figure was higher among traditionally underrepresented groups:
- Black employees are 14% more likely to leave than White employees
- LGBQ+ employees are 13% more likely to leave than heterosexual employees
- Women are 10% more likely to leave than men
- Nonbinary employees are 18% more likely to leave than men or women
- Employees with disabilities are 14% more likely to leave than employees without
This data suggests hybrid working policies could be an easy win that allows organisations to build an inclusive culture and retain a diverse workforce.
Protect against burnout
More than half of workers in England and Wales report work is becoming more intense, with 61% of employees saying they felt exhausted at the end of the working day. Ciphr research shows that the average British adult feels stressed for eight days each month.
The UK’s burnout epidemic is a big problem for lots of reasons:
Offering the potential to improve work-life balance, increase flexibility, and reduce commute times, hybrid working could go a long way to helping resolve the burnout situation.
One recent study by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health found that hybrid working arrangements are the best way to prevent employee fatigue.
Alleviate financial pressure
It’s been a tough year financially for most employees. People Management reports that more than two-thirds of workers have felt stressed, anxious, or depressed due to their financial situation.
This has a knock-on negative impact on employers, as two-thirds of managers believe poor financial wellbeing is hurting performance, absenteeism, and engagement.
Hybrid working offers some major potential cost savings, with research showing working from home can save workers thousands of pounds annually. This could be invaluable to release some of the pressure that’s burdening employees.
3 challenges of hybrid working
Let’s look at the same three opportunities of hybrid working, through the opposite lens. Here’s how the impact of hybrid working can easily become negative.
Exacerbating existing inequalities
As we’ve explored, hybrid working holds plenty of promise for building more diverse and inclusive work environments. However, it also brings challenges that could turn hybrid working into a liability for inclusion and belonging.
Proximity bias means business and people leaders might inadvertently and unfairly favour employees who are physically close to them. For example, leaders might make assumptions that remote workers are less productive—when the data says the opposite.
That risks creating new inequalities and exacerbating current ones among the traditionally underrepresented employee groups with the highest hybrid working preferences.
When employees are dispersed, social connection can take a hit. Research by the British Red Cross found that 26% of workers who moved to a home or hybrid working model had become more distant from their colleagues.
The study also showed how workplace loneliness is often a diversity issue, with workers from minority ethnic groups 44% more likely to feel they have no one to talk to at work.
Hybrid working arrangements might be touted as an answer to increasing burnout—but they can also cause their own issues. Since the pandemic, one in ten employees work at least 20 hours a week overtime. Remote work has blurred the boundaries between home and work, and 30% of remote workers have found it harder to switch off from work.
At the same time, a recent report found that 87% of working parents who work from home also regularly look after children while working. Nine in ten parents say they find it stressful juggling work and parenting duties, with one in three saying working full time in the office meant they were able to concentrate more on work.
One of the challenges of making hybrid working work for everyone is helping employees set good work-life boundaries, to prevent burnout from escalating.
Increasing financial pressure
We've discussed how the financial impact of hybrid working could be positive but there are negative implications too. Right now 56% of UK employees are favouring returning to the office for four days a week or more because of soaring home energy prices. One-fifth said free heating in the office had encouraged them to return to the office full-time.
With many employers offering perks like catering, travel subsidies, and financial support and education, returning to the office could prove to make better financial sense than working from home.
To support employees to work however they’re engaged and productive, employers could review their financial support offering. Is it helpful for all employees, irrespective of location?
There are both challenges and opportunities to hybrid working, and what’s positive for some employees might be negative for others. However, hybrid working arrangements are by nature much more flexible than either fully remote or fully home-based work, allowing employers to sensitively accommodate different employees’ needs. The impact of hybrid working is likely to be extremely variable depending on each individual employee. Employers must practice compassion, empathy, and flexibility to build a best-fit hybrid work model that caters to diverse needs.