By: Stuart Duff, Partner and Head of Development at business psychology firm Pearn Kandola
The Covid-19 pandemic has been the biggest disruptor to the global workforce since the Industrial Revolution. The advent of mass remote working as the norm over the past year has made room for our work and home lives to coexist in ways that look different for everyone. But just how will this impact the way we ‘return to work’ post-pandemic?
Post-pandemic, most companies will adopt a ‘hybrid’ work model, in which some colleagues will continue to work from home and others will choose to return to the office. A year of the pandemic has given companies time to experiment with what works for their employees, and productivity has benefitted as a result. Employers will want to maintain this productivity going forward and will use flexible working as a means to boost employee wellbeing.
The hybrid work model also reflects employee demand for greater flexibility in the long term. During the pandemic, employees have developed greater levels of resilience and self-reliance by experimenting with work styles to suit their needs.
What are the risks?
In a hybrid work model, companies will have to own the responsibility of managing a variety of work preferences under one roof, in a way that ensures inclusivity for all team members. Companies will be required to reassess their inclusion policies as it’s highly possible that the variety of work styles within a single workforce could result in inequities. This includes favouritism towards those who choose to return to the office, or a disproportionate number of men returning to the office as women combine remote working with childcare. Organisations will therefore benefit from having a comprehensive understanding of their employees’ experiences during the pandemic, to help them to create as effective a hybrid work environment as possible.
Employers also need to be particularly sensitive to any psychosocial risks within their workforce and how pressure and stress affects minority employee groups in different ways. We are already seeing reports that highlight gender differences in the response to the pandemic, in which women have been pushed out of work due to factors such as childcare, and it could take workplaces years to recover. Likewise, we have seen how COVID-19 has affected ethnic minority employees, both physically and psychologically.
The disproportionate impact among minority groups creates an unconscious fear of job loss, which in turn will promote a disproportionate desire to prove themselves to their employer – to show that they will go “above and beyond” to hold onto their job. This will inevitably mean longer hours or absorbing greater pressure. To manage this, employers need to make more time to understand the mental health of their employees: how individuals manage pressure, the levels of support required to function healthily in pressured workplaces and the major causes of stress.
Effectively managing a transition to hybrid working
The ‘return to work’ on a hybrid model will be a unique opportunity for companies to experiment with their teams’ preferences and most effective work styles, but the impacting factors should not be overlooked. Employers will have to manage the new dynamics between colleagues who work from home and those who return to the office, and these new dynamics will need to be reflected at a policy level. Deeper relationships and open communication between employers and employees will be essential to the effective transition back to the physical workplace, and organisations will have to hold inclusivity as the top priority when creating policies to address the hybrid work model.
Employers can demonstrate that inclusivity is a top priority through creating shared experiences for all employees, regardless of work style. Tools like video conferencing are very effective in creating equal environments for employees and, therefore, promoting inclusive practices post-pandemic.
Employees can manage their personal psychological risks by focusing on priorities during the hybrid work transition. Prioritising personal wellbeing and resilience will help employees to develop the work style which contributes most to productivity. This, in turn, will assist organisations in developing policies that accurately reflect the shared experiences across teams and departments.
The impact of the hybrid model on the global workforce’s return to the physical workplace will ultimately be a positive one. Employees will have the opportunity to seek companies whose work culture has developed to most closely align with their preferred work styles, and employers have the chance to directly address the needs of their employees. We no longer see work life and home life as two entirely separate entities; rather, both can coexist in individual blends that maximise productivity and promote positive relationships between employers and employees.