Five hybrid working myths and why they matter

Two experts explore common hybrid working misconceptions and why they matter to your business

Thanks to lockdowns and restrictions, the surge of Covid-19 initially limited the way we work – our homes became our offices and all business was conducted over Zoom. But now, two years in, the changing nature of the pandemic means there are many more options for how we can work.

In recent months, businesses across the globe have reassessed how to best manage the productivity and connectivity of their teams. Some – the Dropboxs and Spotifys of the world –have opted to go fully remote forever, saying goodbye to the office for good. Other companies, including tech giants like Google and Apple, have been resistant to change, taking a cautious, guarded approach to the amount of time that staff can spend outside of the office.

As is so often the way, the best solution to managing you or your team’s experience at work is finding a median between these two extremes. To prove the point, here are five common misconceptions and myths of hybrid working, complete with useful pointers to help shape a hybrid strategy that works for you and your business.

1. “Hybrid working can only work for small businesses”

Not true, according to Sim Riordan, commercial leader and inclusion champion at talent assessment specialists SHL. “It’s more dependent on the culture than the size,” she says, citing her own company as a successful example. “My organisation comprises 1,500 people and it works very well for us,” she says. “It’s a mindset and an acceptance from the executive board around what is necessary to get work done and attract a diverse workforce.”

Bina Briggs – director of Plain Talking HR, which offers HR support to small and medium-sized businesses – suggests that employees’ wellbeing must be at the centre of these discussions. “Some people relish being back in the office and others don’t, so each organisation needs to consider all perspectives,” she says. “Fortunately, more now understand that employee wellbeing is as important as sales or profits.” 

2. “It’s impossible to create a healthy office culture remotely”

Sometimes it’s hard enough trying to communicate with people in the office, let alone when they’re working remotely. But the consensus from Riordan and Briggs is that it’s possible to build a healthy culture remotely – as long as communication channels are clear both on-and-off-site.

Companies may also need to be extra creative to foster a sense of togetherness remotely. Riordan says SHL hosted virtual events, like a night dedicated to the art of cocktail making. And, she suggests, the technology available can really benefit particular working practices. “We created different groups to work on different projects virtually, and the technology is really helpful in making a specific space to do this, rather than rely on it happening organically in an office,” she says.

3. “Flexible working decreases productivity”

Not at all, according to Briggs. “In fact,” she says, “a number of businesses I’ve worked with have doubled their output in the last 20 months. People realised how much they were able to do when they thought differently.”

Riordan says flexible working makes her even more productive. “When I’m at the office, I’m rarely at my desk,” she explains. “To be able to push all your networking into one day means you’re focusing on ideas, creativity, connecting different teams and joining the dots across different functional areas, which is very difficult to do remotely. I’m much more productive at home when it comes to thinking and execution. It can be stressful when you can’t get into the flow when you’re in the office and need to focus.”

She finds that her team can be so productive when they’re at home she has to make sure they finish for the day and don't reply to messages out of hours. “It’s sometimes a bit worrying that I have to remind them.”

4. “Flexible working only benefits working families”

For Riordan, flexible working is about creating an environment that is more accessible to more people – whether parents, carers or those on their own. “Flexible working helps encourage diversity,” she says. “It allows us to access different kinds of talent that’s not limited to the radius of the office and it also helps people access passions, like going to the theatre or enjoying gigs that might start before the official work day is over.”

Wellbeing, says Briggs, is once again paramount here. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a parent or looking after your own parents, it boils down to the wellbeing of every individual,” she says. “As an employer, are you looking at your employees as human beings? What are you doing to make their lives easier?”

5. “Flexible working isn't here to stay”

Briggs notes that the pandemic has taught us we don't need to be stuck to our desk all day, every day for 10 hours at a time.

Riordan agrees, but concedes that there’s still work to be done in convincing organisations of the benefits of a hybrid model. “The pandemic eroded a lot of barriers and allowed us to be more human, but there are still discussions about whether not being physically in the office will affect your chances of promotion and how you’re perceived by your manager,” she says.

But, Riordan suggests, if companies don’t accept it they’ll be missing out. “We have five generations in a workplace and that brings with it different expectations, and an opportunity to say ‘look, if we don’t evolve our culture to be more flexible, we’re not going to get the best talent’.”

Helene Dancer is a journalist, writer and film-maker who's worked with CNN, the Guardian, Vice and the BBC