The Pros and Cons of Hybrid Work: 14 points companies should considerBlog / November 25, 2022 / with Christoph Drebes
How long did your company spend considering the pros and cons of hybrid work?
Many organizations have found themselves adopting hybrid work almost by accident. After the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to operate remotely for months at a time, many found that their employees had no desire to come back to the office full-time. Clearly, insisting on a complete return to the office would have been an unpopular move, so most companies adopted a hybrid working policy without really interrogating the pros and cons.
Now, some years into this great shift, some statistics about the benefits and challenges of hybrid work have emerged. This information will help leaders and HR teams to make informed decisions about whether hybrid working is a good fit for them – and what a great hybrid work policy might look like.
Here’s a quick overview of the pros and cons of hybrid work:
7 Pros of Hybrid Working
Let’s take an in-depth look at each of the pros and cons. We’ve provided statistics and links to research so that you can follow up on each point and come to your own conclusions.
1. Increased Productivity
Senior managers often worry that productivity will fall with a move to hybrid or remote work. Meanwhile, employees often state that they are more productive while working from home. To some degree, this is a very personal decision. People’s home lives vary and allow different focus levels and deep work.
That being said, the data supports hybrid and remote working. The most cited example is a Stanford University study that was conducted among call center employees in China. The study set up two groups, one that worked from home for 9 months and another that worked from the office during the same time period. Home working led to a 13% performance increase, thanks to fewer breaks and sick days, and a quieter working environment.
Home workers reported an increase in satisfaction and were less likely to leave their jobs – but they were also less likely to be promoted. When the survey ended, the company allowed employees to choose between home and the office. More than 50% of the workforce decided to switch, which led to a 22% performance increase across the board.
Distractions at home and at work
It isn’t a mystery why managers are worried about productivity. A 2020 report by The Economist Intelligence Unit estimated that knowledge workers lose around 28% of their time to distractions. That’s equivalent to $391 billion every year. The report then attempted to pin down the causes of lost productivity. The top distraction was face-to-face interruptions from colleagues (34%), while the 3rd most common was peripheral distractions and noises in the office (23%). It’s not surprising, therefore, that 36% of people surveyed said that they felt more productive at home.
However, the report showed that 28% of people say that they are less productive at home. However, the most common distractions are different. Top for home office workers is the temptation to relax (28%), followed by household-related chores (25%).
So, what’s the takeaway here? 100% remote doesn’t work for everyone, but for those who take ownership of their productivity and feel that it’s the right choice for them, it can work wonders. Being in the office 100% of the time also has its drawbacks and distractions.
For optimized productivity, therefore, managers should actively consider the right balance of home and remote for their individual employees. Someone with no childcare responsibilities and a dedicated, fully-equipped home office will have a very different experience from someone who has to work from a couch or kitchen table. Flexibility, autonomy, and accountability are key to delivering productivity gains. That’s why hybrid working is a more popular choice than remote-first.
2. Happier employees
So, we’ve established that adding remote work to the range of available working locations can increase productivity. But workers aren’t just more productive when they can choose where they work, they are also happier.
In the US, Gallup data reveal that 9/10 employees in remote-capable positions would prefer some flexibility going forward, while 6/10 would specifically prefer a hybrid working model. Reasons given include avoiding commute times, having more time to look after their health and well-being, and flexibility for family needs or other obligations.
On the other hand, when these employees who wanted flexibility were not offered it, their levels of engagement and well-being declined. They increasingly reported wanting to leave their employer, and their reported levels of burnout increased.
Hybrid working is also popular across the pond: in May 2021, the UK’s Office of National Statistics reported that 85% of adults currently working from home wanted a hybrid approach. Their reasons? Improved work-life balance, being quicker to complete work, having fewer distractions, and improved well-being.
As we’ll see when we get to the cons of hybrid working, employees have their own concerns about the impact of too much remote work. Perhaps that’s why hybrid models are so popular – they let employees build routines that work for their specific context, with the ability to decide where they focus best and feel happiest.
3. Cost Savings
Another major benefit of hybrid working is the potential for both employers and employees to save money.
Even in 2016, companies were researching the benefits of different working models. Global Workplace Analytics conducted their own research and built a savings calculator for employers to use when considering work-from-home policies.
They estimated that a typical US employer could save an average of $11,000 for each employee who worked from home half of the time. This saving comes from a combination of increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and employee turnover, lower real estate costs, and better disaster preparedness.
But it’s not just employers who save when working from home. Global Workplace Analytics also examined the issue from the employee’s point of view, establishing that they could save anywhere between $600 and $6000 per year when working half of their contracted hours from home. These savings predominantly come from reduced travel, parking, and food costs. These costs vary widely from region to region, which explains why the cost savings might vary so much.
But savings aren’t just about money – by eliminating the commute, someone working remotely 50% of the time can save the equivalent of 11 working days. That’s time they can spend with family or on their own physical and mental well-being – or making sure that they get a good 8 hours of sleep per night.
4. Increased health and wellness
Another oft-cited benefit of hybrid working is improved physical and mental health. So far, there are very few medical case studies to support a major trend in improving health – indeed, the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have caused serious harm to mental health in several groups.
Having said that, the conditions of the pandemic are very different from a well-structured hybrid work experience. In this case, many employees self-report seeing tangible health benefits from a move to hybrid work.
In February 2022, Kantar published a report titled “Connecting with Hybrid Workers,” based on responses from 7,985 respondents across eight countries: the US, UK, Brazil, Germany, France, China, Singapore, and India.
Their survey showed that 64% of workers globally feel that their physical health improves when allowed to integrate remote working. The biggest factors that contribute to this improvement are feeling more relaxed at home (69%), having more time to exercise (57%), and getting more sleep (52%).
These physical health improvements are mirrored in emotional and mental health improvements, with 62% of respondents reporting improvements after increased remote working.
However, the improvement is not seen equally around the world. India saw the highest increase in well-being, with 79% attributing better physical health to remote work. In comparison, 46% of Germans reported clear improvements in their physical health. Meanwhile, the mental health benefits of remote working were most felt by workers aged 18 – 40.
Only 8% of respondents reported declining physical health due to increased remote working. However, the issues reported are not to be taken lightly, with respondents reporting changes in weight, poorer posture, and more aches and pains. Gen-Z also experienced increased tiredness and worsening eyesight more frequently than other generations.
Companies pursuing hybrid work policies should bear these risks in mind when communicating with employees. There’s plenty that can be done by leaders to support employees, including supplying good quality equipment for home offices, encouraging frequent breaks from screens, and offering benefits like gym memberships (physical or virtual) to help employees keep fit and healthy.
5. Recruitment benefits
The labor shortage isn’t unique to the US, and it isn’t impacting all industries equally. Part of the problem is the high quit rate in certain industries. Reducing employee turnover is one of HR’s key KPIs, and hybrid work can offer some of the answers.
Gallup found that 91% of US workers hope to continue working some of their hours from home, and 30% of workers would seek new employment if asked to return to the office full-time. Global Workplace Analytics published research that stated the number of employees that would seek to switch jobs if hybrid or remote work wasn’t offered could be as much as 46%.
Meanwhile, Glassdoor has noted that searches for remote jobs increased by 360% between June 2019 and June 2021.
And while those statistics might be frightening for HR departments, applying a remote work policy can greatly impact the talent attracted by a position. Particularly in the tech and financial sectors, the best talent expects flexibility. Having a positive public stance on hybrid work can help you attract a broader range of applicants while increasing employee retention.
6. Accessibility for employees with disabilities or caring responsibilities
Speaking of attracting a broader range of talent, hybrid working can help you to reach your Diversity and Inclusion goals. A broad range of spokespeople for disabled workers have stated that the way the pandemic enforced companies to adopt remote working increased the ability of disabled people to join or rejoin the workforce.
For example, one study of lawyers undertaken during the pandemic revealed that those with disabilities experienced all of the other benefits of remote work – better productivity, reduced costs, reduced time spent on commuting – in addition to other benefits that the majority of the population might not have experienced. For example, they reported having better access to training and networking opportunities, being able to work around their medical needs, and having more autonomy about how and when they work.
One thing that is clear is that most disabled people see remote working as essential to their well-being. The study by the University of Lancaster reported that 80% of disabled workers said working from home would be essential or very important when searching for new jobs. 70% of disabled workers said that if their employer did not allow them to work remotely, it would have a negative impact on their health.
65.8% of disabled workers surveyed wanted to work remotely 80-100% of the time, or 4-5 days per week. A further 16% wanted to work remotely 60% of the time, or 3 days per week.
For employers who want to ensure that their company is accessible to disabled people, hybrid work that is flexible and enables autonomy for workers is an essential step. However, simply allowing workers to choose where they work isn’t enough – disabled people working in hybrid models frequently report only having access to equipment at assistive technology at one location – either at home or at work. To include disabled people in a hybrid workplace, employers must ensure that every member of their team can work successfully wherever they’re based.
7. Cutting the commute: reduced environmental impact
We’ve already seen how teleworking half of a standard working week can save people money and several hours each week. However, that’s not the only benefit of cutting commute time.
In the US, where the dominant method of commuting is the solo car commute, the transportation sector is the top producer of greenhouse gas emissions. 76% of Americans use their own car to commute.
In Germany, road transport is by far the largest contributor to the transport sector’s carbon dioxide output. Like the US, workers in Germany predominantly commute by car, with 65% of Germans driving to work, while 26% take public transport and 23% cycle.
The EPA estimates that the average vehicle releases 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, with 8880 grams released per gallon of gas used. Therefore, reducing the number of days spent in the office (and therefore commuting) can reduce each individual’s impact on the environment.
So, not only does implementing a 50% hybrid policy give employees back 11 days per year on average, but it can also reduce their environmental impact.
7 Cons of Hybrid working
So far, the case for hybrid working is extremely strong. However, as with every issue, there are downsides. Not all these drawbacks of hybrid working will apply to each employee, and there are plenty of tactics that employers can use to mitigate some of these negative effects.
However, if you’re going to implement a hybrid work policy successfully at your firm, these are some of the things you should consider.
1. Hybrid work isn't suitable for all roles and industries
This first drawback is an obvious one – hybrid work doesn’t work for all industries or roles. For example, in the hospitality industry, someone must be present on-site to look after clients. Manual jobs, such as chef, plumber, and cleaner, must be done in person. Other jobs, such as lab-based research, doctor, or engineering, might be able to integrate some level of hybrid working, but with greater difficulty.
When you work in a company where some roles can be done remotely and others can’t, for example, where engineers in R&D might be able to work remotely but workers in factory production can’t, you might be wary of having different policies for different teams.
However, recruiting certain functions in your business may become difficult if you don’t implement some kind of remote work policy. It just needs to be well thought out and well communicated, with particular attention paid to how teams in different locations will communicate.
You may also need to offer other benefits to employees on-site, such as a free lunch or flexible shifts and hours. This could prevent resentment and feelings of unequal treatment.
2. Employee isolation
In July 2020, Eurofond conducted a survey of remote workers to establish what working conditions were like during the pandemic. An average of 14% of respondents from across the EU27 reported feeling increased isolation and loneliness. This figure was likely compounded by the pandemic, with COVID-19 restrictions still in place in many countries.
However, even within the “new normal,” some employees working completely remotely will feel isolated and lonely. This is where a hybrid work strategy can help if it is well thought through.
By bringing staff into the office, at least part-time, those who felt isolated at home can have a more social environment. By encouraging teams to use office time as collaboration time and to work from home for focused work, employees can dial social interactions up and down as required by their work and by their own need for interaction.
It’s also important to have strategies that keep those employees who prefer or need to work from home most of the time engaged. Virtual coffee breaks, social meetings, and hybrid celebrations can all help to bridge the gap between the office and remote.
TIP: If your team needs help with hybrid socializing, why not try Mystery Coffee? Learn more here.
3. Less positive client experiences
Some employers won’t just be thinking about their employee’s response to hybrid work, they’ll also be thinking about their clients’. In PwC’s survey of consumer markets companies’ attitudes to remote and office-based work, conducted in January 2021, employers listed client meetings as joint second in their list of priorities for future office space.
While face-to-face meetings are fantastic, in many industries, the switch to digital formats has enabled greater connection than ever before. Instead of having to travel miles for a single conversation, costing companies money in travel expenses, executives can meet via Teams or Zoom and then catch up in person at industry events.
However, there are still some elements of the client experience that you need to think about when moving to a hybrid working model. Do your client-facing staff members have a protocol for conducting meetings? How can you ensure they appear professional? This could be anything from creating digital backgrounds to sending out headsets for better sound quality. Is your company's technology for online client calls reliable and easy for those outside your organization to access?
And, of course, in a hybrid setting, you’ll still have an office space for the most important meetings.
4. Proximity bias
One concern that employees often have about hybrid work policies is fairness. There are concerns that supervisors will overlook employees who work mostly from home in a hybrid system and focus more on employees that are present in the office.
This fear isn’t entirely unfounded. In June 2021, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted a study on the perception of remote and hybrid work. The results were concerning, with 67% of supervisors stating that they consider remote workers more replaceable than onsite workers and 62% saying that they consider remote work to be detrimental to employees’ career objectives. 42% said that they sometimes forgot about remote workers when assigning tasks.
The employees also noticed this imbalance, with 29% stating that they would have fewer opportunities to develop while working remotely.
As we’ve seen, remote work can greatly benefit a company, raising productivity and increasing employee satisfaction. So how can employers make sure they don’t overlook employees when they work from home?
There are plenty of available strategies. First, you can ensure that all meetings are hybrid-friendly, with space and time for those joining remotely to have their say. Second, you can make sure that you build good relationships with all your employees via regular informal meetings.
Finally, ensure that all of your supervisors and team leads understand the benefits of remote working so that they bring an equally positive attitude towards managing everyone in their hybrid team.
5. Hard to onboard new team members
Starting a remote or hybrid role can be tough. From getting access to all the tools and software you need to getting to know everyone on your team, there are plenty of hurdles for a new hire to overcome.
Even if new hires begin working from the office, if their team operates in a hybrid model, it might be a couple of weeks or even months before they meet everyone. However, there are a couple of things that both the HR team and their hiring manager can do to help.
Here are some ways you could make new hires feel welcome; however they start:
- Ask every member of your hybrid team to come to the office for one day of your new hire’s first week. That way, they’ll meet their closest colleagues early on and in person, making it easier to collaborate once they get into their own hybrid work pattern.
- Make sure that your new hire gets to know people outside their department. Give them a checklist of people to schedule meetings with, or bring in an element of chance with a tool like Mystery Coffee or Mystery Lunch.
- Consider implementing a buddy system so that your new hire has a specific contact person to ask about things like the company culture and doesn’t feel like they always have to ask HR or their manager for small queries.
6. Over-reliance on technology
The only way remote or hybrid teams can collaborate is via technology. Whether that’s virtual meetings, project management tools like Jira or Monday.com, or just a good, old-fashioned phone call, modern work calls for everyone to have access to a few key things.
Usually, that’s fine, but when there’s a problem – for example, an individual without internet access or a cloud-based service that goes down temporarily – it’s nearly impossible to continue working. And if you’re in the office all the time, at least everyone has the same problem at the same time, and you can usually find someone from the IT team who can help to fix the problem.
Whereas when it happens to someone at home, it can be tough for them to even get in touch with support, and to their own team, it might look like they aren’t working. Now, you can’t entirely prevent tech disruptions, but there are some things that you can do to support your hybrid team:
- Provide clear guidance on the set-up people should have at home – suggested internet speeds, guidance on choosing providers
- Ensure that your IT team is prepared to support those working from home
- Give managers guidance on what to do when a team member is “missing”, and suggest that they set up an alternative communication channel outside the company’s environment so that employees can at least communicate that they’re having problems.
7. Data security challenges
One reason why firms in certain industries are often reluctant to commit to hybrid working is that there are more data security challenges when working from home. This is a complex topic, but there are several factors here. One is that, during the early stages of the pandemic, employees often used their own devices for work. These devices may not have had appropriate cybersecurity software installed, making them vulnerable to breaches. They might also have been used by other members of a household, for schoolwork, for example.
The other thing to consider for every device that an employee might work from is whether you can control the company data that each person has access to – and whether they can download it or move it elsewhere. In order to be GDPR-compliant, companies need to be able to state where their data is hosted and stored, and if you have dozens or hundreds of employees whose actions you can’t control or monitor, then you have a huge problem.
Again, there are strategies and tactics that you can implement that will keep your company and your data secure. But it does require thought from the company’s leaders, continuous education of employees, and a thorough remote work policy.
Finding the balance of hybrid working
There are a lot of pros and cons of hybrid working, and it’s understandable that some companies don’t know how to find the right balance for them. If you choose hybrid work, you’ll benefit from productivity boosts and greater employee satisfaction. You’ll also reduce your employee turnover, which is essential in today’s competitive labor market. However, there are plenty of risks as well, from data security to a more fragmented company culture.
However, with all the challenges laid out clearly, senior management and HR departments can think through their options carefully. You’ll probably want to consult your workforce to find out what kind of hybrid schedule would appeal most to them and use that as a starting point. Ideally, you’d also have a way to measure how many days people work from the office or home.
Your hybrid work policy doesn’t have to be set in stone. You can consult your employees annually and tweak it until it works. You can experiment with different tools and tactics to keep everyone engaged wherever they are.
How can Mystery Minds help you to overcome the cons of hybrid work?
Here at Mystery Minds, we have a lot of experience in building company cultures that are self-sustaining and authentic, encompassing employees who work all over the world. How do we do it?
Mystery Coffee is an easy-to-use solution that matches team members for virtual coffee breaks, building internal networks and helping to eliminate information silos. You can decide which departments, job roles, or regions are matched with each other according to your goals.
If you’re looking to set up an initiative that improves collaboration and communication for remote and hybrid teams, Mystery Coffee could be exactly what you need. Get in touch today for a free, one-to-one demo.
About the author:
Christoph is an entrepreneur from Munich and co-founded Mystery Minds in 2016. Mystery Minds' mission is to make the world of work more human by creating meaningful, personal connections between colleagues. The remote-only team already works with over 250 international companies, helping them to strengthen internal networks and overcome silo mentalities.
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