As we launch into 2022, we are facing a work revolution: an exciting opportunity to reset old and outdated ways of working, and create lasting career, geographical and societal transformations which will serve generations to come.
As we settle into a “living with COVID” world there is no doubt we are charged with creating effective hybrid working structures. It is incumbent on us to carve out the benefits of the previous 9-5 office job and marry them with learning gleaned from remote working practices over the past two years.
The data is compelling. A 2021 global PwC survey uncovered only nine per cent of employees wish to return to a full-time office environment, and 72 per cent would like a hybrid working arrangement. So how do we create a new culture which maximises our lockdown learning from a wellbeing and productivity perspective?
Before the pandemic, managers grappled with concerns relating to productivity in the work-from-home arena. Often, remote working requests were considered the domain of the disengaged or avoidant employee. This concern has been largely unfounded and superseded by the issue of burnout relating to employees’ struggle to switch off at the end of the working day. It turns out remote or hybrid working requires resilience as it introduces a cluster of risk factors, some of which were previously unconsidered.
One risk-factor is timing. Many people experience remote working schedules to be unrelenting, providing little time for breaks or recovery. The notion of time-poor lawyers is not a new phenomenon, though the issue seems to have been exacerbated because activities which once doubled up as “down-time” no longer exist. This includes travel between meetings, expedient coffee catch-ups, ad-hoc water cooler interactions and the like. As such, to make a success of remote and hybrid working we need to closely consider the interplay between work and home. From an individual perspective it is about creating a synergy between personal and work commitments. For instance, consider your energy levels. Many people feel energised at the beginning of the week and this subsides as the week progresses, but for others it may be a reversed trend. With this in mind, structure your professional and personal tasks accordingly. Decide what to tackle earlier rather than later in the week and integrate this with your office and remote arrangements. Furthermore, most people feel more cognitively alert in the morning and would be well advised to use that time to dive into complex, problem saturated cases. Later in the day may be better for dealing with emails, client calls, and procedural activities which are typically less cognitively taxing. Monitoring your own energy levels will give you clues as to how to proceed.
A further risk factor which can often go unnoticed is the power of employee recognition and reward. It has been shown employees who feel unrecognised for their efforts are twice as likely to report reduced mental wellbeing. Reward can come in many forms and is best when tailored to the individual.
Organisational risk-factors vary, though poor job design commonly leads the charge when it comes to burnout and reduced mental health, particularly when the role presents high, unrelenting demands with limited influence over significant job factors. These issues can often go unnoticed in the hybrid working environment. For example, a crowded schedule with restricted opportunity for delegating or re-distributing work creates a situation whereby the individual lacks the agency to flex, mould and influence their routine to create synergies between work objectives and personal needs. A trusting work culture which encourages employee empowerment, autonomy and accountability is the starting point towards addressing this.
A further risk factor which can often go unnoticed is the power of employee recognition and reward. It has been shown employees who feel unrecognised for their efforts are twice as likely to report reduced mental wellbeing. Reward can come in many forms and is best when tailored to the individual. For instance, regular one-on-one check-ins with your team and colleagues can support wellbeing, productivity and reduced absenteeism. Open, transparent and regular communication is highly relevant in remote working arrangements, as the opportunity for face-to-face interactions is significantly lower than in the office environment.
As we begin to crystallise hybrid work practices, firms that best manage the nexus between work and home are likely to emerge as employers of choice in the hybrid landscape. Best practice strategies ideally meet the needs of the firm whilst providing employee flexibility by blending the pros and cons of office and remote working.
As we grapple with hybrid trial-and-error, each firm is charged with working within its specific parameters to best combine on-site opportunities for collaboration, creativity, and knowledge sharing, with positive remote working experiences such as healthy lifestyle habits, regular exercise, self-care, and family time. Open, trusting, multi-level discussions will serve well in landing on the most effective balance.