Managing expectations for the future of hybrid working

21 January 2021 5 min. read

Communication is key: as the benefits of hybrid working models come to light, future expectations on the employee side diverge markedly from the perspective of employers, according to a new report.

A product of new age ideals and catalysed by Covid-19, hybrid working refers to flexible arrangements where employees divide their work-week between the office and home. Virtual working began under the lockdown paradigm, and infection containment efforts ever since have pushed businesses to experiment with limited and flexible office hours.

With infection rates under control and the vaccine rollout imminent, Australia enters 2021 poised for an economic rebound. The question remains: will the workplace ever return to its pre-pandemic avatar?

Expected return-to-office timeframe

Pitcher Partners, Bastion Reputation Management and Bastion Insights surveyed more than 1,300 Australians to get their view on the matter. Conscious of the differing perspectives, the study was divided into two surveys – one with 1,000 employees and the other with 300 employers. 

Based on initial responses, hybrid working might well be on its way out soon. Between 80% and 90% of both employees and employers expect to be back in the office this year. That being said, this is not necessarily perceived as the best way forward – only the normal way to go once things are opened up.

Indeed for now, hybrid working is very much enmeshed in Australia’s business environment. Nearly two-thirds of employees are able to work remotely, while more than half are currently doing so for at least one day a week. Many have grown used to it, and want to keep it this way.

Share of employees working remotely

In fact, nearly 70% of employees reveal a desire to continue hybrid working in the future – around 2-3 days a week in office being the golden middle for most. And this is not without reason. The fact is that flexible working over the last year has opened many eyes to the advantages of working from home, at least for some days a week.

Benefits have emerged on both sides. For most employees, hybrid working is valuable for the choice it affords on how to live their life. They save time and money on commuting, while finding a better work-life balance. More time for family and self-care are all contributors to happiness.

Benefits of the hybrid working model for employees

Indeed, some of these factors benefit employers as well – enabling more flexibility, no commutes, less distractions and better work-life balance. Employers also reap their own advantages from hybrid working, such as lower office and overhead costs, staff safety, and a lower carbon footprint. Topping this off is the fact that employees are more satisfied – a good omen for business outcomes.

Benefits of the hybrid working model for employers

An overwhelming majority of employees report being more productive, effective and optimistic in hybrid arrangements. Many even feel more in control, are more motivated, and find themselves more engaged with their work. All this can mark a tremendous plus for employers. 

Managing the future

“Businesses recognise that by giving employees choice and empowering them to decide how and when they work can result in a more engaged and productive workforce, delivering better outcomes for the business and the individual. And as businesses and individuals benefit, so does our broader society,” noted Rob McKie, Partner & Executive Director at Pitcher Partners in Melbourne.

At the same time, not all is positive about the hybrid model. Many employees feel isolated when working from home, and are increasingly disconnected from their colleagues and their overall working culture. For employers, a diluted working culture can be detrimental, as can a decline in employee mental health.

Perceived impact of the hybrid working model

Employers are also grappling with other challenges, such as sustaining employee productivity in a virtual work environment, or preserving cyber security as their company’s IT infrastructure expands to a number of less secure personal devices and home networks.

For some employers, these are decisive factors pushing them to bring workers back into the office as soon as possible. Others are seeking ways to work out these kinks while keeping the hybrid-working model in place. All this while employees are set on keeping things as close as possible to the status quo.

For the researchers, these opposing expectations are a source of friction. The report highlights several other communication gaps – with many employees feeling that they don’t have a say in the future, while employers assure that they are consulting their workers before any decision. Working out these differences through effective communication will be crucial going forward.

“While the steps taken facilitated a relatively seamless transition to working from home, there is now a need to focus on planning for the medium to long-term given that hybrid work arrangements are likely to remain for some time,” concluded McKie.