Hybrid working, productivity, and mental well-being

read time: 4 minspublished 26 May, 2022

The impact of the pandemic on working practices

Thanks to the pandemic, working practices have seen a dramatic shift in terms of employer expectations and employee needs.

Here in the UK, we changed from a nation of full-time office workers to fully remote working during the various lockdowns. As we move beyond the pandemic, work is starting to return to some kind of normality, but does that mean our working practices should go backwards too?

At We Do Code, we’ve fully embraced hybrid and remote working for our teams. Like many other businesses, it was in part because the pandemic forced us to accept that our employees are human beings with life and commitments outside of work. We’ve all sat in those zoom, teams, or google meetings when a small child appears in the background asking for a snack. Or the family dog decides to make a debut on everyone’s screen while loudly protesting about not being taken for a walk…

Suddenly, real life became real. And people became… people.

What is hybrid working – how does it work?

Now we don’t have strict lockdown measures imposed, we can all return to the office. Hurray!

Or not.

While fully remote working might not be practical (or even desirable) for everyone moving forward; there is another way. The hybrid way.

Hybrid working means that people have the option to work from home (remote) as well as work in the office. It’s a flexible arrangement that might need some thrashing out, but if everyone’s onboard and people’s needs, and views are taken into account – it can really work!

Advantages of hybrid working

There’s a lot to be said for not being stuck in traffic for over an hour, or having your train cancelled and wasting half a morning trying to find an alternative way into the office.

Just this one simple example offers an immediate raft of benefits to hybrid working.

1. Time saving

Gone are the wasted hours of travelling to and from a physical location. Hello to easier morning routines where the commute can consist of rolling out of bed and into your chair at the desk in your home office (for some of us, that means our bedroom. Win win!)

2. Reduced stress

If you’ve ever experienced the dreaded school run coupled with joining all the other poor saps trying to get into work post school drop off; you’ll know how stressful that is. Now imagine a morning where you can maybe walk, skip, or ride the bikes to school and meander back home smiling and tutting at the silly saps still choosing to sit in their cars in all that traffic – just to get into an office.

3. More energy and focus at work

We’ve got more time. We’re feeling less hassled by the time we get to work. The result is that we invariably have more energy and ability to focus on work stuff. Anyone who’s ever worked in a busy (noisy) office also knows that being around people can make working harder. Headphones are great but can make you feel a bit … rude. And spending less time chatting to Michael from marketing about how their new kitchen is being a total nightmare, and how maybe he should become a plumber and get paid to mess up other people’s homes – well… sometimes there are just conversations we don’t need to have.

4. Increased productivity?

Then there’s the question of increased productivity. The logical consequence of saving time, reduced stress, and having more energy to focus on work is that our productivity increases. We’ve suddenly got more time to do those annoying admin tasks. More mental bandwidth to see a problem with additional clarity and vigour. We’re getting more done, more quickly.

But is that what really happens?

The jury is out.

Although the majority of studies suggest that productivity certainly doesn’t significantly decline, there is a suggestion that if it increases at all, it might only be by 5% -13%. At the very worst, evidence suggests that productivity remains stable.

Certainly, there’s an argument for embracing a working pattern that enhances work life balance, offers employees greater flexibility and control over how and where they work – particularly when there’s no apparent downside.

Or is there?

Disadvantages of hybrid working

1. Employee visibility

Trust can be a big factor in whether an employer decides to offer hybrid working. What you can do is look to see if things are getting done. Look at the data. The evidence. And if productivity isn’t taking any perceptible hit – well, does it really matter if your employee wanders off to make a cup of tea and gets distracted for 5 minutes by their toddler asking for to be played with? Maybe that mini break gives them a boost and motivates them to do bigger and better things. Or maybe that brief interlude offers the opportunity for a eureka moment they might not have otherwise had.

2. Loss of impromptu meetings and discussions

There’s a lot to be said for being around other people. We can get fast, immediate feedback and input. See people’s reactions. Gauge moods. Hold impromptu “meetings” that are really just quick discussions that can unblock projects. Hybrid working means we lose some of that, but it’s not the same as being fully remote. There are still times to be in the office. There are still opportunities to engage, connect, collaborate 1:1, and bounce ideas off each other.

3. Always being “at work”

With a hybrid model, the fact that your office is in your home can blur the boundaries between work and non-work life. An impending deadline raises the temptation to always be at work. Whether that’s checking emails, quickly firing off that document because your laptop is right there, or anything else. Work life balance can get tricky at times and it’s important to check that you and your team remembers to check out as well as clock in.

4. Reduced connection within the team

There is a danger that the close-knit team you spent months cultivating starts to drift apart and stops engaging effectively with each other. People might hint at feeling isolated or cut off on the days they’re working from home. If that happens, then it might be worth considering two options: 1) increase their time in the office if that’s what they want, and 2) schedule some team building and social events to bring everyone back together again.

Mental well-being and hybrid working

While the pandemic taught us that we can adapt and use technology to make it infinitely more possible; remote or hybrid working isn’t for everyone. Some struggled with their mental health as a consequence. Some still do.

Thankfully, we live in a society that is becoming increasingly familiar and comfortable with the concept of all of us having mental health and the importance of looking after our own well-being.

We Do Code wants to support individual mental health. We know how it impacts everything – from performance and appearance to attendance and enthusiasm for get things done. That’s why as a business, we advocate and encourage flexible working patterns that fit around our team’s needs. And we’re not alone.

The ONS reported that hybrid working has risen to 24% of all businesses across the UK.

And that’s not really surprising with one survey reporting that a whopping 73% of employees would prefer a hybrid working pattern.

There’s also evidence that 40% of employees are less likely to experience mental health problems when working this way - that’s huge! Especially when you consider the cost of poor mental health and stress on absence and performance issues at work.

But research is always a generalisation, and nothing beats talking to your employees and finding out how they’re doing.

The upshot of hybrid working

Hybrid working might be the ultimate approach to creating flexible working that works for your team (and you as an employer) – but it’s not a magic bullet.

Keeping it flexible is essential. It’s no good dictating that people have to take X number of days out of the office if that doesn’t work for them. It’s also worth keeping in mind that there aren’t any hard and fast rules about how hybrid working is managed. You might have people come in once a week or once a month. There’s no rule that says you can’t have different patterns for different people – provided the same opportunity is offered to everyone. And if you’re not sure - ask your team what works for them!

For more guidance (backed by a lot of research) you can check out the University of Central Lankashire’s working principles for hybrid and remote working for SMEs.

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