Why hybrid work might not be the future of office culture

Hybrid work enables the employees to focus on collaboration and team-building with their colleagues on certain days of the week, while also focusing on their busy home and family lifestyles during the remaining days.

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Office culture saw a major shift by the onset of the Covid-19pandemic. What once was a bustling space of employees attending meetings and working their way through Excel sheets became a desolated place where computers had only desks and overflowing stacks of paper to keep them company.
After working from home for months on end, many companies decided to offer a hybrid work culture system to their workers so that they could experience the best of both worlds: blending pre-pandemic patterns of office-based culture with the newer, more remote ways of working.

“We have seen some benefits of hybrid work culture after initial apprehensions about how it will work out,” Ashish Chauhan, the CEO of Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) told Times Now. “It allowed flexibility and saved substantially on travel time for Mumbai employees. In Mumbai, during normal time, office workers spend more than 90 minutes every day.”

Hybrid work would enable employees to focus on collaboration and team-building with their colleagues on certain days of the week, while also focusing on their busy home and family lifestyles during the remaining days.

“Employees have been craving for flexibility for a long time and the pandemic accelerated and validated that demand,” Madhuri Mhamankar, the head of the human resources department of Yotta Infrastructure Solutions told Times Now.

For quite some time, this model of working seemed preferable to employees, too, as they felt more in control of their daily schedules.

“Having a permanent hybrid set-up initially came as a relief,” Klara, whose surname is being withheld for job security concerns, told the BBC. “After years of full-time office work, it felt like I finally had control over my work schedule and busy home life.”

However, after working in a hybrid model for a few months, Klara said that she faced more hassle in this mode of working rather than relief.

“I feel settled and focused on the days that I work from home,” she said in the BBC report. “But by the evening I dread having to go back in: sitting at my desk for eight hours a day in a noisy office, staring at a screen, readjusting to exactly how it was before Covid.”

Employers, for their part, also noticed that working hybrid was emotionally exhausting and demanding for their employees. In some cases, employees could slack in progression with their work while operating remotely, as well.

“When in person, my team is more at customer sites and interacting with ground teams, which is more fruitful,” Pulin Shroff, the Founder and Director of Jan-Pro India told Times Now. “I have observed some employees taking guise of the virtual system by procrastinating their work. It feels futile to continuously remind people of the work and ask for reports.”

Emerging data is beginning to back up such emotions expressed by office workers. According to a global study by the employee engagement platform TINYpulse, more than 80 per cent of people leaders reported that hybrid work was exhausting for their employees. Workers, too, expressed that such a set-up was more emotionally taxing than even a full-time remote and full-time office-based work.

“Work is emotionally exhausting at home since there’s no interaction with colleagues and no way to vent out frustrations if any. Also, in an office, there are non-work activities too that provide a break but not so at home,” Gautam Khanna, the CEO of Hinduja Hospital told Times Now.

By constantly being in a state of work and with lines between personal time and office time blurred, there’s more chance for burnout and fatigue to affect workers.

“It’s difficult to focus on too many things at one go. It consumes more energy and there’s poor focus and long stretched time with low productivity,” Sudhir Mateti, the head of the human resources department at Syntel Telecom – A Division of Arvind Limited tells Times Now.

Elora Voyles, a people scientist at TINYpulse told CNBC that one of the reasons driving the exhaustion could be the lack of certainty and control for the employees. “Hybrid requires frequent changes to daily habits. One day a worker is in the office, and then the next day they’re working from home and there’s no consistency or rhythm to their week. When a company tells you which days to do that, all the back and forth can be exhausting,” she said.
A TINYpulse survey of 100 global workers found that 72 per cent of office workers reported exhaustion from working hybrid, which was nearly double the figures for fully remote employees and also greater than those based in the office full-time. Moving to hybrid work has the potential to disrupt someone’s working routine, and because working hybrid is a fairly new system, it requires even more energy, organisation and planning.

Small decisions that employees have to make while working hybrid ranging from thinking about whether a task requires their office presence to coordinating where other team members are working from on a given day can all pile up and increase stress and burnout. Moreover, modes of communication between employees constantly shift between face-to-face interactions and technology-based exchanges, demanding cognitive adjustments each time.

But hybrid work isn’t going anywhere because it still remains a preferred choice by many businesses. “In the hybrid model, remote working opens up for many positions. It actually throws open a huge talent pool for the employer as in this case, the employees get to work out of the city of their convenience. The employer is able to reach out for the best at a low cost of hiring,” Rahul Pandey, Managing Director of India and South Asia of UTStarcom India Telecom Private Limited told Times Now.

The problem for hybrid work to be successful lies in forming a clear hybrid work strategy that’s going to work for both the employers and the employees. AT&T’s ‘Future of Work’ study revealed that 72 per cent of businesses lack a definitive hybrid work system, which only blocks hybrid work from becoming the new normal of office culture.

An investment in producing strategy and building office culture remotely along with an emphasis on the application of technology, specifically AI, can be critical for firms to successfully transition into hybrid-first work environments. AI can transfer data from remote conversations to construct new models of operation in targetted business functions.

“There’s been a non-reversible shift in the way business is done thanks to the constraints of Covid-19. It’s clear that a successful talent program now requires a hybrid work policy, but that policy needs to be supported by a strategic tech-first cultural reset, to ensure business growth and competition. Firms need to ask themselves if they have the in-house expertise to achieve this, or whether it’s now time to go beyond a partner in remote infrastructure rollout to a partner in tech-first remote business strategy,” Alicia Dietsch, the Senior Vice President of AT&T Business Marketing says.

Hybrid work can still be the future of office work, but there needs to be flexibility and boundaries set between employers and employees. Granting employees the autonomy to self-dictate their schedules and going further than the hours the employee heads are setting for their workers can change the game for the future.

“Having the understanding and work pattern agreed right at the onset is key. Making sure that individuals are supported well through this phase, and people managers are trained to handle work taking in an enabling approach as a part of the hybrid work model are all key to success,” Anupam Kaura, the President and Global Head of CRISIL tells Times Now.

Kaura says that CRISIL has asked people managers and employees to discuss a working system that suits their needs. They asked employees which days of the week they prefer coming to the office and those on which they wanted to work remotely, among other measures.

“Through our employee assistance program (EAP), we have also ensured that there is an active emphasis on holding sessions on coping with new hybrid work arrangements and making the most of it, how does one handle fatigue and stress and building resilience,” Kaura adds.

Workplace culture is evolving and if hybrid work is here to stay, then so is the demand to put the needs of the employees first.


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