Hybrid work – ‘Yes’ or ‘No’?

Hybrid work – ‘Yes’ or ‘No’?

MAIN IMAGE: Stella Fleetwood of IPSOS

Danie Keet

Companies considering a permanent switch to a Work From Home (WFH) policy to save on overheads should take note of research by global research organisation, IPSOS, which shows they risk losing competitiveness as productivity slumps, employees lose motivation, cohesion of teams is eroded and managers struggle to keep their finger on the pulse.

Business growth is also placed at risk by WFH, according to many respondents. Managers reported concerns with WFH, saying they found it more challenging to manage their teams remotely, and they were sure employees were not fully focused on their work.

This corresponds with the responses of employees themselves, with more than half (55%) reporting that teams don’t collaborate as well, that they take more frequent breaks (55%) and that they experienced more interruptions at home (49%).

Just over two thirds (67%) said they were spending more time on domestic chores and errands and close to three out of ten (27%) admitted they were not disciplined enough to work from home.

Respondents also highlighted issues of trust, the absence of on-the-job training and a sense of isolation, which could lead to the decay of the organisational culture that many companies depend on for superior business performance.

“While many people say they prefer their home environment to the office and enjoy the flexibility of working from home, it’s quite clear that their performance can suffer and teamwork, especially, becomes much harder,” said Stella Fleetwood, Service Line Lead at Ipsos.

Managers said they found it more difficult to monitor their teams’ performance (54%) and that their teams weren’t fully engaged with each other (52%). It is also more difficult to provide effective training (56%), and it is more difficult to execute day-to-day team functions (53%). Managers also reported that team members tended to be less punctual (55%), and teams communicated less effectively when working remotely.

Younger employees were especially adversely affected by WFH, with respondents between the ages of 18 and 28 reporting that they experienced more distractions and interruptions at home, were not disciplined enough and were less motivated, leading to being less productive.

Those aged 30-44 said working in an office built trust and made them feel more important to the business, while late-career respondents, between the ages of 45 and 55, found working from home easier and said they still made themselves presentable, despite not going to the office.

Women, meanwhile, said they struggled with routine and other commitments and that they were taking more frequent breaks and felt less important.

Men said they found teamwork more difficult, there was inadequate communication, and they had difficulty keeping teams motivated, while also spending more time in meetings. Both men and women alike found completing tasks more difficult, requiring more effort.

“Executives should be considered of what employees are experiencing while working remotely. The new way of working does not necessarily mean better work-life balance, or a happier, more motivated workforce,” said Fleetwood. “Working from home could be putting productivity and business growth at risk.”

“In fact, less than a third (29%) expressed a preference for working from home, while about half (51%) find it more stressful.

“We could also see higher churn within the workforce as employees lose their organic connection to colleagues and the business culture, and experience a loss of motivation, feelings of isolation, lower morale and stunted career development,” Fleetwood concluded.

According to Global Workplace Analytics, however, hybrid working saves money. They calculate a typical employer can save around R 150 000,00 every year for every person who works remotely half of the time. When multiplied across a whole organisation, this can amount to a significant sum of cash that can be redirected into growth or training, for example.

It is common knowledge that economic growth comes from increased productivity, and the hybrid model gives workers the opportunity to choose when and where they’re likely to be at their most effective.

And hybrid working also boosts productivity. Research by IWG found that companies are realising that their workforces can be both highly engaged and productive while working according to a hybrid model of home, local office and corporate HQ. According to IWG’s survey, three times the number of FTSE 250 companies are currently looking to employ a hybrid office model compared to those looking to carry on in the same way as pre-pandemic.

Mark Dixon, Founder and CEO of IWG, said: “Over the last 18 months we’ve seen businesses not only recognise the benefits hybrid working has on their productivity and their bottom line, but this report demonstrates its growing importance to local communities too. Throughout South Africa we are seeing previously inactive towns and villages come back to life as workers split their time between home, a local workspace and corporate HQ.”

Productivity

The productivity boost of hybrid working comes from combining the best of both worlds. On the one hand, some work requires quiet and focused thinking free from interruption. Sometimes the home can be the best place for this but, if there are distractions such as children or other family members on hand, the quiet areas of a local flex space are more appropriate.

South African employers are becoming more open to the new working philosophy, and the workers themselves are learning to come to terms with it as the new norm. Unsurprisingly, workers are keen to enhance their work-life balance, and their experience during the pandemic has shown them that they are able to perform their jobs just as well while working from home.

Microsoft’s newly launched Work Reworked research initiative conducted jointly with Boston Consulting Group, KRC Research and Dr Michael Parke of the Wharton School, found that South African employees still see value in working from a main office at least some of the time, findings show that on average, people would now like to spend just less than half (42%) of their time outside of the traditional office setting.

In fact, the study found that people still see time spent at the office as a powerful way to maintain bonds with their colleagues.

The challenge around increased remote working has not been related to business continuity or productivity. Rather, the issue is around ensuring teams continue feeling tight-knit and connected to the pulse of a company’s culture, says Colin Erasmus, Modern Workplace Business Group Lead at Microsoft South Africa.

More than a third of South African business leaders admitted to struggling with creating a strong and unified team culture as remote work has become more common.

“When people are physically together five days a week, it’s easy to bond – whether it’s sharing a joke at the watercooler, having a casual team lunch, or hunkering down together to meet a deadline. In an office setting, it’s also easy for senior staff to ‘walk the halls’ and talk with employees in a more informal way. All of these seemingly little things add up and have a big impact on the health of a business and team culture”, he adds.

The potential knock-on effect of a “less cohesive company culture” is significant, not only when it comes to employee engagement and retention, but also future innovation.

Hybrid workplaces are not only important for convenience. They might, some studies show, have the power to overcome talent shortages in a variety of spheres around the world. While the workforce is seemingly flooded with qualified candidates, a significant number of posts are going unanswered. Hybrid schedules can solve the problem and turn freelancers into viable workforce additions.

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