Hybrid, Remote and Flexible Working

Hybrid, Remote and Flexible Working

Work exists wherever and whenever a digital device is used for work purposes. 

Hybrid / remote working culture, policies and practices - why they matter and how they impact us

The perspective of, and ability to, work remotely took over 30 years to shift quite dramatically to a place where it was possible to work as efficiently outside the office as being located onsite.

Home Office - pre 1990's

Some workers had access to a desktop computer at home and were able to download work documents onto a floppy or stiffy disk. For all others, work was geographically tethered and bound to an in-work role. At the end of the day, workers left to spend time at home and in their community.

Mobile Office - up to early 2000s

The launch of the Blackberry and then Smartphones

in the mid-2000s, meant that emails followed workers home and on holiday.

We were able to be more efficient with our responses. But, what was originally a competitive advantage for a few quickly became the expected norm for many.

Most workers now upload work emails to the App on their phones and pick up those emails throughout the evening – even reading them just before bed, in the middle of the night or upon waking in the morning.

It’s not really FOMO. It’s the fear of missing something important.

It’s also feeding our sense of feeling important, needed, and valuable.

  • If we send messages and receive responses, this validates our value as a worker.
  • Being included in messages showcases that we are recognised as important and have some element of status.
  • Responding to others means we are good team players and good workers – signalling our productivity value to others.

Because if are viewed as having and adding value, we are less likely to be included in the next round of redundancies and more likely to be considered for that next promotional opportunity. 

Smaller, faster, cheaper laptops

were continuing to be launched which meant it was easier to equip more of the workforce with a mobile office – which meant more work could be done on the commute to and from work, and at home.

More workers had access to work-based laptops. Workers were able to access work systems from their docking stations at work, download any necessary files and emails and take this work with them. Access to office files was sometimes possible through telephone socket-based  LAN connections.

Virtual Office - our current option

Cloud technology and wifi

meant you could easily connect to work wherever you were, so you no longer had to wait until you got back to the office to work on or download an updated document.

The more devices and online options we have connected to work, the more its ‘stalkability’ increases – making it more and more difficult to hide or escape from it. 

Cloud-based solutions allowed us to carry the office around in our pockets and at our fingertips – wherever we – Always On, Always Available – where tech overuse has become the norm.

These progressive innovations have simultaneously shifted workplace expectations on availability at home outside of working hours, without necessarily shifting biases and perspectives on work done at home during office hours. 

Although the technology had already made it possible to conduct business more remotely, very few had the option to work in a remote or hybrid format.

It was mostly only available to those in a particular profession, those who had ‘earned’ the right to do so from their elevated position in an organisation or were self-employed – raising expectations of responsibility and fostering the need for remote workers to be continuously available. 

This resulted in them often working longer hours and constantly engaging in ‘productivity signalling’  behaviour – sending emails and messages throughout the day and generally indicating to managers and co-workers that they were not slacking off at home.

Work flexibility lagged behind innovation

Normative values, biases and culture outpaced innovation potential.

In the 1980’s only 1.5% of employees in the UK worked remotely. By 2016, this had risen to 9% who daily (and 38% who sometimes) worked remotely. 52% never worked remotely – despite the 2014 UK legislation making it easier for all workers to negotiate a more flexible working practice.

Even with the flexible work legislation, companies still had the right to refuse flexible work to any employee who requested it. So, although it was ‘legally’ possible, it was rarely practised.

Many companies, policies and managers felt it was impossible for workers to work in a sustainable, productive way from a remote location.  

Even mothers struggled to justify the option of remote working – limiting the ability of many to go back to work or face increased stress levels due to juggling multiple work and home responsibilities and having to manage work within a time-restricted day.  

Remote, hybrid and flexible work is here to stay

The Work from Home Mandate and further Lockdowns in the early ’20s have also forever shifted this perspective – transitioning remote or hybrid working from the exception to more of a normative option.

Research is still catching up with how remote and hybrid work will impact us as individuals and as a collective.  

But, it is important to note from a psychological point of view that the definitions and expectations of flexible and remote work are unique to each of us.

What flexible work practice looks like for one team member is potentially disastrous flexible work practice for another. e.g.

  • Some parents need to dedicate specific hours each day to active childcare like feeding, homework plus bed and bath times. So, a 37.5-hour 4-day work week (with extended hours each day) would dramatically decrease stress levels in trying to manage home and work responsibilities during those 4 days. What would lower stress levels for them could be to layer chunks of hours each day towards work time and chunks of hours to family time – allowing for more flexible management of both work and home responsibilities. 
  • A person may live some distance from the office and prefer to keep stress levels low by going to the gym in the morning and staying late in the office. That way they can get exercise in while avoiding peak hour traffic both ways. 
  • Another may prefer to shoehorn 5 days worth of hours into 4 days, so they can spend the remaining ‘work’ day on a hobby they love or improving their professional qualifications. 

So, we do need to be very careful of imposing our own flexible workplace ideals onto others, as we may inadvertently cause higher levels of stress than we may realise.

There are up and downsides to working from home (WFH)

There are benefits of WFH, that include*

  • We’re able to work a more flexible schedule (50%)
  • There is less of a commute (43%)
  • We can engage in caring responsibilities – for family or pets (34%)
  • Saving in commute costs, food, coffee (33%)
  • There can be lower levels of anxiety/stress (32%)
  • And improved mental or physical health (25%)
  • There is a lot less exposure to office politics (19%)
  • And we have greater freedom to travel or relocate entirely (18%)

But the downsides are, we*:

  • Struggle to unplug at the end of the day (27%)
  • Find it more difficult to collaborate and communicate (16%)
  • Can experience loneliness (16%)
  • Find more distractions at home (15%)
  • Struggle to stay motivated (12%)
  • Find it challenging to work with teammates in different time zones (7%)

And WFH makes it too easy for us to engage in work means and allows us to log on to quickly check on work, follow up, respond, just finish that email, quickly check after dinner if there are any responses to messages or check if any emails have come through  as you walk past your workstation on your way to bed… and we can find ourselves with very little separation between work and home life.

A few things we learnt during Covid
  • Business mindsets can change quickly when needed – remote working went from ‘for most workers is impossible’ to ‘the only option for most workers.
  • We have all become a lot more proficient and confident in our IT use since March 2020
  • We have shifted our behaviour around how we use technology and how we communicate with others
  • New office cultures and expectations of others’ communication via technology is going to continue to shift going forward, we need to be adaptable and open to this
  • Remote and hybrid working will require different management and leadership skills for remote teams (or a mixed office-remote team approach), greater challenges in new staff inductions and new ways to encourage team building over time.
  • Businesses may need to do more to help employees separate out work and home spaces – to ensure all employees have enough mental, emotional and physical recovery time from work and tech-based work tethering.
  • Remote workers will need to become better at is finding the right balance between when to engage with work activities and when to engage with home activities outside of ‘normal’ office hours and finding personal strategies to help keep home and work life separated as much as possible in order to aid daily energy recovery. 
Psychological transitioning between work and home

Remote workers tend to work during their traditional commute times. This is counterproductive. Research on this shows that there is no increase in productivity by doing so. It is better to start and stop working at the same time at home, as you would if you were going into the office.

The time between work and home is an important one for switching our headspace and persona between work and home. We often also use that time to catch up on work emails from the previous evening or clear out emails and messages we didn’t get a chance to work on during the day. 

Spending transition time working does not make our day more productive, but rather makes us more tired and reduces the chance of us mentally moving from one life realm to another. 

Hints and Tips to be more productive and focussed when working from home

There are things we can do to help keep work and home separate if we often WFH: 

Create rituals and habits at home – especially around work start and finish time.

Have a routine at one or the other end of the day – both are preferable. Not having a routine and a boundary at the beginning and end of the day, allows us the opportunity to let work slide into personal time – meaning we work longer hours (reducing energy recovery time), resulting in an increased likelihood of distractibility and lower levels of overall focus and productivity.

This is especially so when there is no dedicated office space in the house. Only around 30% of us have a dedicated home office.

So, creating rituals and habits that facilitate a cognitive switching between life roles is important in maintaining the boundaries between work and home.

It allows the brain, body and emotions time to prepare for, and recover from the energy drain of the workday.

Agree on time boundaries with your supervisor and team.

Have clarity on when they are fixed and the specific circumstances when they need to dissolve.

Building an understanding of when you are available to work and when you aren’t, allows you to stick to down-times and helps to ‘train’ others on your working times and availability.

Try to stick to these times yourself – as much as possible. When they are dissolved, return to them as quickly as possible.  

Without proper time boundary management, flexible working arrangements can become overwhelming and lead to overwork, stress and burnout.

Duplicate work rituals across domains.

This includes commute times. Keep commute times as … ‘commute times’ rather than working longer hours. 

Because we generally work within the time that is allocated for the work – whether we are given a 5-day or a 5-hour deadline, we still get the work done.

So, rather than starting work when you normally leave home for work, spend that time doing similar things to what you would if you were commuting into the office.

It helps you maintain the habit of emotionally and mentally shifting between your home and work personas.

So, if you read a book on the bus to work, sit in a chair at home and read a book before starting work. If you plan your tasks for the day in your head as you drive into work, sit down with a drink or breakfast and do the same thing at home.

And then do a similar thing during your traditional home commute time.

Have the same work-tech set up at home as in the office – as much as possible.

One of the concerns of those who hybrid or remote work is that they will be seen as being less productive, then be forced to go into the office more often and have to give up the benefits of a more hybrid life.

Having the same or similar work set-up helps our brain to quickly recognise the world technology setup and shift into work mode when we are at home, allowing us greater focus and productivity.

Power down work tech at the end of the day.

This is especially the case if your office set up is in a communal area. Shutting tech down at the end of the day reduces the option of ‘just quickly finishing that report’, ‘that email’ or ‘that project’.

Separate out work and home technology.

Don’t load work-based emails and messages onto your personal mobile.  Even if it means getting a self-funded separate work phone. Hand out your work mobile number to colleagues and clients so you can switch that phone off or leave it in another room when not working.

Create as many barriers as you can to will give your conscious mind time to consider whether or not you really want to be looking at that email or message in your non-work time.

The office as places of connectivity

One interesting insight now coming out of research is that the physical workspace is shifting to a place for connectivity and relationship building – and not just about active or passive face-to-face time.

  • More of us are viewing the workspace not so much as a place to ‘get work done’, but more as a place to engage with others and build relationships with key stakeholders – to achieve our work objectives.
  • The mindset seems to be shifting towards: ‘Work needs to provide me with a reason to go in, not just expect me to go in’ – especially when commute times to and from work are either expensive or time-consuming.

We seem to be living in the ‘messy middle’ of the transition between the industrial and digital working cultures.

Remote work and individual differences

We’ll talk more about remote and hybrid work in Chapter 8.

But, here are a few things to consider: 

  • Our flexible work style is unique to us and may not work for others – expecting others to conform to your definition of what ‘flexible working’ means could become stressful and overwhelming for someone else who has other commitments and life priorities 
  • Our definition of a 4-day work week is, similarly, unique to us. There are many options for this, which are explored in this article. 
  • Remote work can also be isolating for extroverts. They can find themselves feeling lonely and need to engage with others after hours by responding to emails and messages.
Remote work and leadership styles

Leading a remote or hybrid team takes different skill sets and expectations to an in-person team. Remote and hybrid teams need

  • More communication that is clear and concise
  • Less monitoring but focussing on objectives and vision.
Some questions to consider
  1. What can you do to build healthier individual and team hybrid work behaviours? 
  2. What needs to change in my home-office set up and what rituals can I implement to bookend my workday?

  3. How can our team optimise time in the office to build better working relationships with key stakeholders?

Notes:

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