Hybrid working: Is it the future of employment?

Working from home is just one of the many ways the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the world as we know it.

When the world was forced into lockdown in response to the escalating spread of the virus, many businesses had to move their employees to the comfort of their own homes to continue their work.

During the past two years, people have adjusted to sending emails from their beds or joining a Zoom call while hanging out the washing, which has prompted workplaces to introduce the idea of working from home, or "hybrid working", on a more permanent basis.

For people who were able to work from home, when cases of COVID-19 began to drop and restrictions lifted, some businesses decided to ease their employees back into the office on a part-time basis - where they could work from home two or three days a week.

Employment Hero chief executive Ben Thompson has incorporated hybrid working into his business, and thinks it has opened up a world of opportunities for people in the workforce.

"Think about all the people who were unable to work or unable to participate in the world of work prior to hybrid or remote working becoming quite commonly accepted," he told Newshub.

"That would include working parents, parents who some of them wouldn't have been able to work just because juggling all of the requirements of their children and also being in the office for eight hours or more is very difficult. 

"Parents juggling the requirements of caring for people but also having to spend hours commuting to and from the office. 

"People living with disabilities, who getting on and off a bus and getting into the city was never a possibility or it certainly wasn't easy."

Thompson also pointed out that people living in rural and remote areas have historically been restricted from getting more highly paid or corporate jobs as they couldn't commute to the office.

When hybrid working started to become more common, Thompson surveyed more than 1000 people in July 2020 and surveyed another group the following year, asking them: 'Do they expect to maintain a level of remote work?'

"What we discovered was that 92 percent of people said they would want to continue working remotely at least some of the time in the 2020 survey and then surprisingly, that increased to 94 percent in 2021. 

Working from home may not be for everyone
Working from home may not be for everyone Photo credit: Getty Images

"I don't think there are many things that 94 percent of people can agree on, to see that rise, to see that increase from 92 percent to 94 percent just tells me that people really value that flexibility."

Thompson said 28 percent of people also would be willing to move from their current jobs if their employer didn't offer the flexibility of hybrid working.

Using the hybrid work structure, the Sydney-based CEO said having people work from home has allowed him to expand the business and hire more people during the pandemic.

Opens up the talent pool

"When you go remote, you can hire people literally from anywhere, the planet is your talent pool. For us, a fast-growing technology business competing against much larger, more competitive hirers, we were always struggling to recruit but as soon as we decided to go remote, we have recruited people from all over Australia, just about every city in Australia, all over New Zealand, South East Asia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, UK - all over the world. 

"We have 600 people and we've grown from 200 to 600 people in the last two years. There is no way we could've done that without expanding our talent pool to become, well everywhere."

Thompson said his employees don't mind working remotely for at least some if not all of the working week.

"We have recruited people with very clear expectations that we would be remote-first, that we would be having a global gathering when we could do it and get together.

"There's still the opportunity for teams to get together, so teams can gather if they live locally, they can get together if they think it's the right thing to do and so we do see teams getting together, just not every day."

So what about Kiwi bosses who believe people need to be in the office to do their work? Jarrod Haar, a professor of human resources management at the Auckland University of Technology, said employers need to have more trust in their employees.

"We are probably just not confident that workers are doing their work from home but my argument would be if you're really worried about your workers getting their work done from home… there's no guarantee that they're doing it at the workplace anyway and I think they seem to kind of forget that logic," Haar told Newshub.

"I think a lot of it is those ones who want to bring everybody back into the office are probably running a more low-trust model instead of a high-trust. 

"They might just be brought into the fact that office real estate is committed to staff who now want to work from home and my personal thought there is that organisations need to embrace reducing their footprint and embracing the hybrid approach more."

Hybrid equals happy 

In research carried out by Haar, he discovered hybrid workers were the happiest - and he thinks the reasoning behind this is because people have got more freedom and trust from their employers.

"If my boss says, 'Yes, you can work from home for a couple of days of the week,' the signal you're receiving from your boss there is, 'I trust you to do your job.' If you think about it, when I show up in the workplace and sit down at my desk, no manager stands behind you the whole day making sure you're doing your job right.

"I guess the hybrid work gives you that much more confidence that your boss is trusting you and thinks you can do your job - I think that's fundamental."

Haar said having total freedom has meant people don't have to worry about commuting to the office every day.

"If it's a miserable day and you don't want to travel, you'll think, 'Great, I will work from home today.' 

"With escalating petrol costs, you might think, 'Actually, I want to stay home for a couple of days and save some money.'

"Those kinds of combinations just allow people to do work in a more individual way that makes them happier."

As hybrid work becomes more common, employees have realised they can look for jobs elsewhere if their boss doesn't cater to their needs, Haar said.

"At the time of this great resignation and the labour market is super tight, I do think it's a danger for companies to demand people by saying, 'You must be back in the office for five days a week.' 

"I think they'll just find talent will go, 'Well, actually, I enjoy working from home and I am going to go to work for somebody else.' I do think, for employers, they have to be a little bit careful about how much they're demanding," Haar said.