We need to talk about hybrid working
I am reliably informed by our marketing taskmaster that National Work Life Week is upon us. It therefore seems like a good time to have ‘the chat’ about hybrid working, working from home, and why we have perhaps not got it right just yet.
As a small-to-medium sized business, operating in the realm of software development, we are in as good a position as any to have a 100% work-from-home team. That’s not necessarily what we want, but there’s no denying it’s possible. All of our team members can irrefutably do their jobs from home (albeit with varying degrees of efficacy).
However, there’s a difference between what’s possible, and what’s optimal.
Working from home – the upsides
Depending on your perspective, working from home is great. There’s no commute. You can either get up later, or do something better with the time; go for a run, get ahead with some of your mundane chores. You can be around to run errands, go and fetch the kids, or start the evening meal prep. You can spend more time with your life partner and soulmate (who might or might not be the same person). You can be winning at life, right!
Working from home – the challenges
WFH is not all roses and sunshine for everyone though. Much depends on individual circumstances. Not everyone has the luxury of space in their homes to properly establish a comfortable working environment, free from distractions. Not everyone, believe it or not, has access to a fast broadband connection. Not everyone has the mental fortitude to endure the same sameness 24/7. Not everyone has the discipline to establish boundaries between work time and home time. Not everyone is okay with being alone; many are even lonely. Not everyone has the motivation to leap out of bed and into their running shoes at sunrise – to go out there, win at life and be sipping their morning macchiato before you can say ‘overnight oats’ or ‘smashed avocado’.
The hybrid myth
So on the face of it, common sense and maybe the wisdom of the crowd suggest that hybrid working should be a good way forward. But what does it actually mean? Presumably it suggests working some of the time from home, and some of the time from the office (or at least ‘an’ office). What should the split be? Two days a week in the office? Three days? One day? Is there any point being in the office on a Monday and Friday if everyone else is coming in on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday?
And what’s the appropriate level of conviction that employers – or indeed individuals – should assign to the hybrid working plan? Should it be mandated by employers? Should it be treated as an edict? Sounds a bit ‘dictatey’. Should you ask employees to come in or tell them? If the latter, at what point does resentment start to manifest?
Many more questions than answers.
Employees would seem to have the upper hand
The Great Resignation? If they are forced to return to the office, then many will decide to take up employment elsewhere, reports the media. And they will demand higher salaries. And a four day working week.
Then 2022 happened and muddied the waters. War, inflation, civil unrest, interest rates, the property market, energy bills, war, inflation, more war. The mini-budget. The pound sterling. Heating versus eating. Recession.
The Great Resignation is no longer front and centre.
So how does this play into hybrid working?
Well, in my view, it’s time for everyone to take the hybrid model a little more seriously. Consider the following situation… The Covid-driven WFH revolution turned the recruitment process on its head for many employers. Take IT for example. All of a sudden, candidates who would have been looking for a job in, say Guildford, might now look for employment anywhere in the world (after all, they don’t actually have to go anywhere). So the employer in Guildford is now competing not just with other companies in the area, for the same talent. They are competing with every similar business in the world to attract that talent.
But there’s another way to flip the situation and it’s one that workers need to be wary of.
Employers are now more able than ever to select candidates from anywhere in the world. Many of those candidates are highly skilled and, importantly, are willing and able to work for a lower salary. They may live somewhere where diesel reliably costs less than £2.00/ltr and a pint of beer costs less than £6.40.
Your willingness to engage in hybrid working and attend the office may end up being the only thing that differentiates you from more cost-effective candidates based abroad. Once you stop coming into the office, the raw numbers might matter more to your employer.
Do it for the right reasons
Look, at the end of the day we need to do what we do for the right reasons. Despite the dramatic and ominous warning, don’t engage with hybrid working because someone else might take your job. Do it to connect with your colleagues. Do it for a change of environment. Do it to collaborate IRL & F2F. Have meetings in front of a real, tangible whiteboard. Struggle to get the pen working. Get donuts in. Or doughnuts. Go into the office to socialise. Chances are, your employer would actually love to see that happening. Do it for the commute (seriously, you might not have appreciated the extent to which it can give you a chance to switch off by listening to music or a podcast). Do it for your own mental wellbeing. Do it to re-establish boundaries. Do it to rebuild your relationship with work/life balance.