Recent surveys of businesses and workers have identified tensions around what the future of work might look like.
Up to 85% of those who can work from home told the Office for National Statistics and others that after the pandemic they wanted to continue working outside the office. However, while some companies are introducing new, more flexible ways of working, up to a third have reported significant uncertainties about what is commonly referred to as “hybrid working”.
Hybrid work involves elements of teleworking in the office and remotely that are “anchored” by the premises of the company. Hybrid workers will not only work in the traditional office and at home, they can also work in hotels, cafes or designated co-working spaces.
Many of us have worked in these places before, catching up on emails on the commute, doing extra chores around the house in the evenings, or preparing for a meeting in a cafe or a client’s office. With the widespread adoption of remote working during the pandemic, these sites could become more prominent, creating significant opportunities but also challenges.
For some companies, the allure of hybrid work reduces office costs, but it also gives the opportunity to work more flexibly and efficiently. Some tasks are suited to the peace and quiet of the home, while others are suitable for ad hoc collaborations found in the office.
READ MORE: Battles over flexible work threaten exodus of millions
Effective collaboration can also take many different forms. People will want to find different ways of working that are convenient for them and perhaps allow them to fulfill their personal responsibilities. When the use of hybrid work is effectively supported and inclusive, there is ample evidence of significant productivity gains and improved well-being, with benefits for both employees and employers.
As with any new business model, implementation and sustainability are essential. To be successful, employees need support in terms of resources, including technology and equipment, but also in the development of new skills. There has been evidence of the difficulties of integrating into a new job and of training and development when people do not work in the same space.
In addition to providing resources, there are also significant challenges for managers. Organizing people sitting together in an office is a lot different from organizing a team of hybrid workers. Coordination, negotiation and support are necessary to ensure that people are not only working effectively, but working effectively as a team.
I defined hybrid work in terms of the “anchor” provided by the company’s premises. An interesting area of experimentation in large-scale hybrid work is how to effectively use this anchor.
There are options regarding the resources an office can provide, the types of spaces available, and opportunities for training and development. New ways of working and new routines will shape the role of business premises as a central site for communication, interaction and collaboration, but also for forms of emotional support and relationship building.
READ MORE: Hybrid future emerges as key staff motivation tool
With the sudden scale and scope of hybrid work, there is pressure on companies to get it right. This requires more than policies that dictate the number of days in the office or increased managerial oversight through technology.
The key to success will be greater degrees of confidence and autonomy for workers and businesses to experiment to find what works. The complexity involved and the different situations, preferences and experiences of workers mean they need to experiment with what works for them and be trusted to determine how best to achieve their goals.
However, in the organization of such an experiment, there is clearly a need for support, negotiation and coordination to ensure effective collaboration. There will therefore also be a need for skills development and experimentation for managers.
There are significant opportunities for hybrid work to increase productivity, well-being and inclusiveness. These are likely to be achieved by those who are prepared and able to experiment and take risks in an environment of trust and support.
Professor Oliver Mallett, Stirling University School of Management