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Striking a balance: The hybrid work dilemma

Employers only agree with their workers on how much time staff should spend in the office 37 percent of the time.

Remote working / home working, using a laptop. — Image by © Tim Sandle
Remote working / home working, using a laptop. — Image by © Tim Sandle

In the post-COVID world, which send a tsunami through the workplace and the methods of arranging workplace activities, how should work arrangements be balanced? There has been a shift towards employees generally preferring remote or hybrid working and this is leading to a tug from employers towards bringing more employees back into the office.

If some kind of balance is excepted, what should this balance be and how can the needs of employers and employees be met?

One of the areas that needs to be resolved is the perceptions and understanding around productivity. For example, one report shows a disconnect between employees and managers – employees believe they are more productive at home but managers disagree.

There are technological challenges as well, not just in terms of maintaining communications and enabling the worker to do their job, but also in terms of security. Companies need to mitigate the cyber threats of hybrid work with adequate security controls and practices.

Research conducted by Roy Morgan and the Melbourne Institute suggests 40 percent of workers want to work from home more often than their bosses allow. The research, based on responses from almost 4700 respondents who can work from home, found that workers and employers agree on how much time staff should spend in the office just 37 percent of the time.

The article also highlights that while disagreements persist, the gap between what employees want and what employers allow has decreased compared to previous years.

Although COVID-19 was influential, many analysts contend that a “reimagination of the hybrid workplace was in the works well before the pandemic hit. Organizations were already looking for ways to boost employee engagement, satisfaction, and productivity.”

It is perhaps for this reason some employers are keen to meet employees half-way. Certainly, clear expectations need to be set by employers. By clearly defining goals and deliverables during regular check-ins, employees will be aware of timelines and deadlines, keeping projects on track while working remotely.

Looking at the recent research, Dr. Gleb Tsipursky offers his take in a statement sent to Digital Journal. Tsipursky says: “I’m glad to see the gap decreasing between what employers and employees want in regard to work from home vs. the office. It’s an unnecessary conflict: the focus should be on business outcomes.”

Outlining some advantages of ‘return to office’, Tsipursky puts forward: “There are certain things best done from the office: intense synchronous collaboration, nuanced conversations, mentoring and training, and socializing and team bonding.”

On the other hand, home working offers advantages for certain types of work: “Other things are best done at home: individual head-down work, asynchronous communication and collaboration, and videoconference meetings and phone calls.”

Drawing these strands together, Tsipursky observes: “The key is figuring out schedules that minimize wasted commuting time while getting workers into the office to do what’s best done in the office, which will of course be different for each team and needs to be decided on at the team level. Hopefully – while disagreements still exist – the greater alignment visible reflects a more pragmatic, outcome-oriented, and data-driven approach to hybrid work.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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