Hybrid working – the perfect work life balance?
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week (10 – 16 May 2021) and since the UK’s Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday of the next stage of loosening up on post lockdown restrictions in England it’s also the week of even more articles and interviews with business leaders on what returning to the workplace might look like.
Hybrid working seems to be the favoured term now – as Harvard Business Review puts it, the focus now is on ‘doing hybrid right’.
As employees settled into their new routines, Hiramatsu (Head of Global HR at Fujitsu) recognized that something profound was happening. “We are not going back’’ … “The two hours many people spend commuting is wasted – we can use that time for education, training, time with the family’’… ‘’We are embarking on a work-life shift’’.
The connections between mental health and plotting out new working arrangements are inextricably linked with an undeniable synergy between the two making this a bit of a special week.
Let’s remember though, Hybrid working isn’t really new, it’s always existed, but as TIMEWISE emphasise,
‘Its prevalence has been turbocharged by the pandemic and subsequent remote working experiment’. In simple terms, it’s an arrangement in which an individual, team or organisation work part of their time at the workplace and part remotely.
Some prefer to describe it as the principle of dynamic working with a key focus on the output and performance of an individual, rather than the number of hours spent at work.
Ultimately, if output levels are high and all responsibilities are taken care of, then it doesn’t really matter where and when they are achieved.
Hybrid or dynamic – the success of this way of working has to be dependent on the establishment (and buy in ) of a high-trust, high-performance operating culture.
‘One where employees are enabled to integrate work seamlessly into their day-to-day lives by operating at times of the day when they are more productive and are able to devote the necessary time, and effort into their projects’.
Sounds rather wonderful, particularly when coupled with the qualities described here;
The hybrid working model is a work style that enables employees to blend working from different locations: home, on the go, or the office.
An effective hybrid work system encourages:
Hybrid (or dynamic) work can provide employees with more flexibility, free time, and autonomy. This potentially harmonious work life balance allows employees to give more attention to their personal lives or families while still bringing in their income.
As this new approach to work evolves, companies have the opportunity to harness it for their benefit and shape a fluid, dynamic, and positive work culture.
Who wouldn’t want a bit of that in their working lives we ask, for many it must sound like a complete transformation of former working life practices.
And for those organisations working with care and integrity in designing new work arrangements with ‘individual human concerns in mind, not just institutional ones’ (HBR) it really does feel full of positive potential and opportunity.
But it doesn’t take a wellbeing guru genius to spot where mental health awareness pops fully into view. The possibilities of burn out, blurring of boundaries between home and work, limited respite and possible exploitation of good will spring instantly to mind.
Some issues to watch out for;
- Fairness: Will you be able to offer a hybrid arrangement to everyone in your team or organisation? If you don’t think you can, what will the impact be?
- Inclusivity: Unevenly implemented hybrid working and behavioural bias can lead to an influence gap between an office-based ‘in-crowd’, and their more remote-based peers. This could have a knock-on effect on diversity and inclusion with more women, or carers, or people with health issues, or introverts, opting to work from home. How will you make sure their voices are heard?
- Collaboration and innovation: Zoom calls aren’t the best forum for creativity and there are some tasks that work better when people are sharing a desk, rather than a screen. And sometimes new ideas pop up from an impromptu conversation around the coffee machine. How will you facilitate formal and informal collaboration if people aren’t in the office together?
- Inequality: Not everyone has space for a home office or super-fast broadband; for employees living in flatshares, for example, homeworking might not be productive at all. How will you support these teammates to do their best work if you expect them to be homebased for part of the week?
“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candour, more unashamed conversation.”
Mental Health Awareness – tread carefully & considerately
In line with Mental Health Awareness Week (10th-16th May 2021), Natalie Rogers, Chief People Officer at Unum UK has shared 5 top tips to help employers understand how they might better support their employee’s mental health and stress levels as we all enter this next transitionary phase into hybrid working.
Ask & Listen
Listen to staff and ensure they feel safe and supported. This next transitionary period may be very stressful and could leave many feeling mentally vulnerable. Taking the time to listen to individual’s feedback about ways of working day-to-day and how they envisage their future working pattern is key.
Be conscious about return to work anxiety
While some of your team may be enthusiastic about returning to pre-pandemic working patterns and will welcome the opportunity to return to offices for a percentage of the week – this won’t be the case for all. Over the past year we’ve seen reports highlighting the impact of remote working. Indeed, a recent study found 44% of staff are finding working from home much harder – physically, mentally, and emotionally – than being in the office. Find out how people are feeling ahead of restrictions easing further to identify the needs of your staff going forward, which could help manage stress, burnout, or sickness absence down the line.
Communication is key
Most businesses will find their staff in favour of adopting a “hybrid” working model this year onwards. This will mean managers may have a reduced team working “in the office” whilst others continue to work some or all of the time from home. Having clear communication strategies mapped out ahead of time – with a range of people’s inputs – will help create an inclusive and positive working environment for all.
Consider post-pandemic health issues
Whether your employees are dealing with grief over losing a loved one or other stress related issues caused by the pandemic, it’s important to recognise the need for compassion, understanding and empathy.
There will be some who still feel overwhelmed by the events of the last year and are not ready mentally or physically to reintegrate with their social and/or professional networks.
Show then the way
While GPs are generally very supportive of mental health issues, lockdown has proved how valuable having easy access to remote GPs is for remote staff. Employers can also help by pointing staff to professional mental health support when it’s needed.