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The future of work - hybrid

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Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, working from home has become commonplace. An ONS survey found that 46.6% of employees worked from home at least some of the time during the pandemic, compared to 5% prior.

Research also suggests that this shift in work practices is here to stay: an employers’ survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) shows that, on average, 37% of the workforce are expected to be working from home on a regular basis which is roughly double the pre-crisis incidence average of 18%. Just this week, FTSE 250 company Premier Foods announced it would adopt a hybrid working model for its 800 staff – offering staff the opportunity to work “wherever they work best”.

Such a shift in working practices will require preparation and investment on the behalf of employers – especially in the provision of technology. With so much of the workforce expected to continue to work from home, the CIPD survey showed employers plan to take additional measures or to increase investments to enable greater homeworking in the future (44%), with a mix of employment practice changes and technical changes such as increasing both the quality of new technology (59%) and increasing the quantity of laptops and computers available (51%).

Yet while homeworking has often been associated with greater productivity, the survey found that there was little overall impact during the crisis: about 37% said it made no difference, and only 11% a strong positive effect. However, looking ahead it is possible that the link between working from home and higher worker productivity post-crisis will strengthen. Many employers have learned how to effectively manage people working from home and identified the main problems that need to be addressed during the crisis.

But better technology can certainly help.

According to a McKinsey report, there are three long-term outcomes of COVID-19 on the future world of work:

  • the increase in potential for remote working
  • the increased adoption of digital technology (online tools, virtual platforms, e-commerce, and videoconferencing)
  • the automation of many routine back-office jobs using robotic process automation and other AI

Hybrid working arrangements also enable employees to have flexibility to complete their work. This includes a combination of office and remote working, but also flexible start and finish times and flexible days of work (see our research on the four day working week). Here too, technology is vital. An integrated tech system that can support managers and employees to navigate through all heterogenous working patterns, to create some automation, and support the work-flow and organisation is a whole new quest.

Yet while building a robust technology infrastructure that can accommodate the pressing needs of businesses moving towards hybrid work, we should not forget that the increase in productivity that businesses hope to see also depends on personal circumstances of ‘hybrid workers’; on the strength of their social relationships with the management, work colleagues and customers/clients’ base.

So will we continue to work from home? It seems like it, and this will change the priorities of managers, tech companies and policy makers to ensure there is equitable access to the digital infrastructure.

Dr Miriam Marra

Associate Professor of Finance
Published 26 August 2021
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Leading insights