Hybrid working: what’s the current situation?

The impact of the pandemic on working practices has been well documented – not least by us, in previous blogs including ‘Is hybrid working now the norm?’ and ‘Reimagining workspaces: what happens after COVID-19?’ – but what’s the latest picture regarding the status quo, and attitudes to hybrid work? 

Hybrid working has remained one of the hottest topics within HR and management for some time now, with different sectors, organisations and leaders reacting differently to the shift back into post-COVID life over the past couple of years. Whatever your personal views on hybrid work, there’s no denying its prominence and importance – a recent report by the Hybrid Work Commission found that hybrid working offers huge opportunity in terms of work-life balance, and employment accessibility to both parents and disabled people, as well as productivity and staff retention benefits.

How many organisations are still hybrid working?

In a survey of UK office workers by One Poll and TravelPerk found that only 30% of companies are working fully on-site today, compared to 57% in the pre-COVID era. Fully remote is no longer very common, but is still double its pre-pandemic popularity, jumping from 4% to 8%. The most common hybrid working split is in-office twice a week (24%), with three office days a week a close second (22%), and once a week comes in at 13%. 

How has hybrid working affected workspace choices?

A more flexible approach to the working week has also influenced companies’ approach to their offices. An IWG survey in August 2023 indicated that 82% of businesses have shifted their office space needs to align with their working policies, with 54% occupying offices or co-working spaces outside main city centres, and 38% with second locations in commuter towns.

There has also been a trend towards consolidating office space, so that the square footage works smarter, and real estate overheads can be controlled. This has resulted in higher levels of vacant units, however, certain types of spaces remain in high demand. “There has been a big bias towards the better quality space,” says Simon Brown, head of UK office research at CBRE. “This means we have this odd situation in the UK where there is quite a lot of vacancy in the office market in aggregate, but there’s still very competitive bidding for the best quality space, which is always in more scarce supply.”

Is hybrid working popular with everyone?

Unsurprisingly, attitudes to remote, in-office and hybrid working vary massively, both among business leaders and employees. Some staff relish the prospect of working with their teams in-person, enjoying the social aspects, opportunities for collective creativity, and watercooler moments, while others prefer to avoid the time and cost spent commuting, and enjoy the quieter environment which is conducive to deep work, as well as finding it easier to juggle caring responsibilities. Among business leaders, differing attitudes have much to do with sector, culture, and management style.

This year, many of the world’s major firms have tried to move away from remote and hybrid working, towards a more office-based approach – including Amazon, Google, Meta, Zoom, Citigroup and Lloyds – though in many cases this resulted in considerable resistance from workers. In October, it was reported that KPMG’s CEO Outlook survey found 63% of UK business leaders predicted a full return to in-office working by 2026.

Gartner Research perhaps explains current attitudes to hybrid working in the most useful and forward-thinking terms. The organisation uses the concept of ‘hype cycles’ to understand the evolution of industry trends, where each new idea goes through a pattern of hype, adoption, disillusionment and eventually productivity. As Gartner research analyst Tori Paulman says in a recent Computerworld.com article, “Over the previous 12 months, the number of employees working in a hybrid way has steadily increased, while the number of employees who work only at home or only in the office has decreased. Hybrid work is entering the trough of disillusionment for everyone.” 

So with this evolution pattern in mind, while current thinking among some business leaders might align with the views expressed by vocal detractors of hybrid working, such as Elon Musk and David Solomon, it’s highly likely that the future will not in fact be a return to the past in terms of in-office working. Hybrid may be experiencing a wobble, a crisis of confidence, but the benefits are undeniable.

Perhaps it’s best summed up by Mark Dixon, CEO of IWG plc, who was quoted in the Independent as saying: “So, something very big, and very important, is happening in the world of work as the hybrid model unarguably delivers a win-win for companies and the employees of businesses everywhere. Quit rates are down 35% as happier, more engaged people boost productivity, all while CFOs simultaneously cut unnecessary expense from their bottom lines and more localised working has the potential to deliver significant carbon savings. With gains as valuable as these, there is no going back.”

If you’d like to find out more, please drop us a line at info@aurafutures.com

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