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Employment

What is hybrid working? Is it the future?

Covid-19 looks to have changed the work landscape for good with a full-time return to offices set to be ditched in favour of hybrid working. Here’s everything you need to know

If you’re returning to the office as Covid restrictions ease, your employer may be adopting a hybrid working model in which you continue to work some days from home.

The move seems broadly popular. In fact, 85 per cent of people who worked from home because of coronavirus want hybrid working post-pandemic, according to the latest ONS figures.

According to recruitment experts, hybrid working is not just a stop-gap model and is here to stay.

James Reed, chairman of recruitment brand Reed, told The Big Issue: “This is a workplace revolution. This is the biggest change in 100 years in how we work, since women entered the workplace.

“Dynamic working was happening already but the pandemic forced us to learn this stuff and it’s really efficient. We’ve learnt so much in the past year about how to work remotely; there’s no going back.”

What is a hybrid working environment?

Hybrid working is a branch of flexible working that has become prevalent during the pandemic. It means a combination of working from your usual place of work and working remotely. The hybrid model can be flexible to suit both the employer and the employee, which could mean anything from working from home two fixed days per week or coming into the office just once a month.

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Why is it prevalent now?

In March 2020, the government urged people to work from home if they could to reduce the transmission of Covid-19. Before this, there was some suspicion about ‘working from home’, according to Reed. He said: “It was characterised as ‘shirking from home’.”

However, homeworking during the pandemic was shown to have many benefits to both employers and employees including improved wellbeing and productivity. Reed added: “What has become very obvious is people who work hard, work hard whether they are home or office. It’s not about the location, it’s the person.”

Stigma around remote working diminished during the pandemic, according to the Centre for Economic Policy Research. Perceptions around working from home improved for 76 per cent of 5,000 working adults in the UK surveyed in January and February 2021.

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Titi Lucas, communications manager at Evenbreak, an accessible job search site for disabled people, told The Big Issue hybrid working is more popular because the pandemic showed remote working was possible. 

She added: “When you see something is possible you can add in as an option for staff. This is really helpful for people with disabilities, as there’s no one size fits all.”

In a press conference on July 12, Boris Johnson recommended “a gradual return to work over the summer” when Covid restrictions ended in England on July 19. The prime minister added: “The rest is really for employers and employees to work out for themselves”, which could mean many businesses will be considering their future working models. 

The Scottish government has urged people to keep working from home where possible until at least August 9. 

Why is hybrid work better?

Giving employees flexibility to work from home can improve staff wellbeing and increase productivity, which benefits both the employee and employer. Other benefits cited by businesses include the reduction of overheads, such as office rent, the ability to recruit people from all over the country, or the world, and reduced sickness levels.

Better work-life balance was the biggest benefit of homeworking for working adults, according to a recent survey by the ONS. Those surveyed also found “a reduction in the time taken to complete work” which the ONS said may be linked to fewer distractions at home compared to the office.

Most people want to return to the office for at least two days a week while the majority of employers want people to come in for three days, according to a survey by recruitment business Page Group.

Kyra​ Cordrey, Page Group commercial director, told The Big Issue that people have missed out on the social interaction of the office, and hybrid working could fulfil that need.

“Ultimately you join an organisation for the collaboration and camaraderie and the culture of that organisation. You can’t replicate that on Teams or Zoom,” she said.

Cordrey also feels hybrid working gives people more purpose and reminds them of the boundaries of the working day. “Some people have been guilty of spillover and can very easily log on early in the morning or after dinner so the benefit is that it does bring back those barriers and ensures that you plan your week accordingly,” she said “There’s no point in being in the office if you’re going to spend that whole day on Teams meetings.”

What are the disadvantages?

Homeworking makes it harder to collaborate with others, according to workers surveyed by the ONS. They also reported having access to fewer job opportunities.

Most workers would like to work from home two days per week, according to the ​​Centre for Economic Policy Research. However, 20 per cent wanted to work from home all the time and 20 per cent none of the time. Researchers said the “huge variation in preferences” would “cause a headache for employers”. The report published on VoxEU added that those working from home in the long run could miss out on promotions, which would be “a major issue for diversity”.

This could unfairly impact working mothers, according to independent think-tank The Resolution Foundation, which noted in a June 2021 report that fewer women than men wanted to return to the office full-time.

Hannah Slaughter, economist at the Resolution Foundation, said: “With the crisis still with us, and the future of home working unclear, the lasting gender impact of the crisis is still highly uncertain.”

According to the foundation, this change “could potentially damage their long-term career progression if office presence continues to influence pay rises and promotions”.

Also, hybrid working does not work for every job, so its introduction could create disparity between those who can work more flexibly and those who can’t. According to the ONS, hybrid working is expected by people on higher incomes, while those on lower incomes were more likely to expect to work exclusively from either their usual workplace or home.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is calling for flexible working to continue across working patterns and locations.

“No one should miss out on flexible working. Ministers must bring in a new right to flexible working for every worker, in every job,” said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady “Otherwise there will be a new class divide between those who can work flexibly from home, and those who can’t.”

How hybrid working could impact the workforce

However, the move to hybrid working could benefit lower paid jobs, according to Reed, who said there were several implications of a new “two speed workforce”. According to data from his job site Reed.co.uk, pay rates for the lower paid jobs are increasing faster than any other group. Pay for jobs that pay around £25,000 is up 14 per cent on average, while overall pay is up five per cent. 

Reed said: “A lot of employers are having difficulty finding people for face to face jobs like care and hospitality. This means the pay for those roles will increase, the power of those workers will increase and people who were often taken for granted won’t be anymore.”

How to ask your boss for hybrid working

When asking for flexible working, communicate your needs as early as possible, said Lucas.

“When you have that open communication it makes it easier to request for flexible working and I think also put in a case for why it’s something that’s great for the company and great for you so everyone benefits,” she explained.

When putting forward a case for what you need, you need to think not only about how it benefits you, but how it benefits the company. Remember to use your HR department if you need to.

Cordrey said: “It’s just about having an open conversation and ensuring ultimately both parties are happy. It’s like any negotiation – making sure it’s win-win on both sides.”

A good working relationship is built on trust – both from the employer and the employee, according to Reed.

“People have got to be trusted and trustworthy,” he said. “Different people have different circumstances – hybrid working might be a lot easier for some people than others.”

If employees have to work from home, then the employer must provide them with the kit so they have the same set up as the office, he added.

For anyone concerned about the future of hybrid working, Cordrey said: “I don’t think it’s a moment in time, I think it’s here to stay. It doesn’t seem productive for people to go back to five days in the office.”

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