Hybrid – The Workplace Tug of War
28th June 2023
Around 4 million people have changed careers because of a lack of flexibility at work. Almost 2 million of those have been in the last year according to a recent CIPD report – Flexible and Hybrid Working Practices in 2023. Here are some of the key findings from the report:
- 39% of organisations now offer flexible working from day one compared to 36% in 2021.
- Employees with a disability or long-term health condition are significantly more likely to say they have left a job due to a lack of flexible working in the last year (21%).
- 71% of employees consider a flexible working pattern important when considering a new role, while 69% say the option to work remotely is important.
- 40% of employers have seen an increase in flexible working requests and a growing number of employers (66%) believe it’s important to offer flexible working as an option when advertising roles.
- 65% of employers provide some kind of flexibility to their front-line workers. However, there’s significant unmet demand for more flexible arrangements:
- flexitime (17% currently use, whereas 29% would use if offered and possible in their role)
- term-time working (2% vs 8%)
- compressed hours (4% vs 18%)
- job-sharing (1% vs 4%) and;
- annualised hours (3% vs 11%).
Hybrid or Fully Remote Work?
According to the latest Flexible Working Index, the number of job posts offering 3 – 4 WFH days per week increased from 36% – 61% between January and December 2022. In contrast, the number of ‘fully-remote’ roles advertised, fell from 18% – 6% in 2022, reflecting the shift in employees’ preferences, and the desire from employers to have teams meet in person more regularly.
Flexibility in STEM
Some roles, particularly engineering and life sciences, have traditionally only been carried out on-site. In the US 60% of total jobs are site-specific compared with 49% in the UK. According to the Timewise Flexible Jobs Index, just over one-in-four STEM vacancies include flexibility from day one. Whereas 54% of STEM employees in a 2022 survey rated flexible working options as second only to payments/benefits. 41% of those preferring to work in a hybrid working environment.
Embracing a flexible approach can encourage people to return to STEM. Unfortunately, 61% of STEM professionals on a career break say the process of attempting to return to work is either “difficult” or “very difficult”, according to The STEM Returners Index.
With rising automation and as processes continue to be more efficient in engineering and manufacturing, maybe we will see more room for flexible working and less site-specific roles? The introduction of new tech and as Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things becomes more prevalent, employees may soon be able to communicate with factories and machines remotely more cohesively.
By outlining flexible working options in job advertisements, STEM employers can also open up recruitment to wider talent pools and create fairer and more inclusive workplaces. This transparency supports workers to ask for flexibility and helps to normalise the conversation for all groups.
A World Perspective
The World Economic Forum says that by 2025, an aptitude for flexible working will become one of the top 10 job skills sought by tomorrow’s employers, alongside active learning, resilience, and stress tolerance. Not only will many future employees expect a right to flexible working, but the ability to do so successfully will also be evaluated as a professional competence.
Stanford University research found that fully remote work reduces productivity but results in substantial cost reductions. Organised hybrid work, tends to raise productivity slightly, by 1 – 3%. Productivity gains came from the ability to focus and concentrate and from reduced commuting time, roughly 40% of which goes into working longer hours. However, such gains in productivity only occur when hybrid working is well managed. The research found that hybrid working raises employee happiness and that, for the US, the ability to work from home 2 – 3 days a week is equivalent to an 8% pay increase. A further US trial in 2021 – 2022 found that hybrid working reduced resignations, by 35%.
We can’t extrapolate US or UK experience to the rest of the world. Canada, Australia and the Netherlands have high levels of hybrid working. According to one survey, university-educated workers in these countries work an average of about 2.5 days per week from home after the end of lockdowns, in late 2001 and early 2022. Rates of home working are lower in most European countries and lower still in China, India and Japan.
Flexible working is a still developing process in the world of work. Successful hybrid working takes time, planning and effort. It involves the coordination of mandatory days in the office for in-person meetings, events, training and social events. Performance management tends to be more difficult in a hybrid environment. Informal, face-to-face interactions are reduced and input-based evaluations, based on observed hours and activities, happen less. That makes output-based evaluation, drawing on data and discussion, more important. For new joiners a specific day in the office for mentoring helps dramatically with network building.
To tackle the skills crisis in this tight labour market, enable productive scientific results and reduce burnout, employers will need to embrace and deliver flexibility in ways that meet business needs – Including flexitime, compressed hours, hybrid working, job-sharing and term-time working.
There’s no doubt flexible working is becoming the workplace “tug of war” and with demand for STEM skills outstripping supply employees are understandably using this to their advantage to broker better working arrangements. On the other hand many employers are keen (although would likely not state publicly) to get teams back together to recover a perception of reduced creativity, productivity, culture development, increased management overhead etc. As long as demand for STEM skills continues to exceed supply employees demand for flexible working will continue and result in continued workplace evolution with positive outcomes for many employees with businesses having to be more and more creative in providing flexible working arrangements.