Clearer picture of hybrid working begins to emerge

Last month the Office for National Statistics published Is hybrid working here to stay? It provides a comprehensive analysis of hybrid working patterns in Britain since the work from home guidance was lifted, based on data gathered from its fortnightly opinions and lifestyle survey.

As widely expected, the ONS survey results show a significant growth in hybrid working over the past quarter (rising from 13% of workers in February to 24% in May). However, that still leaves almost half the workforce (46%) traveling to work every day.

There are variations in the take-up of hybrid working from sector to sector (with information and communications showing the highest prevalence and accommodation and food services the lowest). In addition, higher earners are much more likely to benefit from the flexibility of hybrid working: 32% of those earning between £30,000 and £40,000 are estimated to have been doing so in late April/early May compared with 8% of workers on less than £15,000.

The ONS report does not explicitly answer the question posed in its title (ie whether or not hybrid working is here to stay) but it is clear that most people responding to the survey saw it as a largely positive experience, with the most commonly reported benefit being improved work/life balance. Other recent reports have been more bullish. “Work after lockdown: no going back” is based on research led by the University of Southampton and concludes:

“Our key finding is that there has been a permanent mindset shift about how work is organised among the UK’s formerly office-based workforce. British workers don’t want a daily commute to the office.”

However, a more detailed consideration of the Work after Lockdown Report shows that hybrid working – even in jobs which lend themselves to that kind of flexibility – is no panacea. There are a number of challenges for employers to address if it is to be implemented correctly. These include mitigating the risk of “work intensification” and “social deficit” as well as working out how communication within teams is to be managed, and on-the-job learning delivered.

There is also the obvious fact that office working is not the norm for many roles. That has led to calls from the TUC for employers to do more to promote other types of flexible working. Its most recent analysis concludes that while regular homeworking by UK workers has trebled since the start of the pandemic, “other forms of flexible working are being left behind, creating new inequalities”.

It follows that for almost all employers, the increasing popularity of hybrid working presents two distinct but interrelated challenges. Hybrid working needs to be made to work for those workers who can benefit from it, while other ways need to be found to enhance the wellbeing of workers in face-to-face roles. One radical solution – which involves reducing workers’ hours for no loss of pay – will be explored in a separate blog.

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