Working from home has its benefits.
Hybrid models of work are becoming the norm post-pandemic

The world is still grappling with the ways in which the pandemic changed professional and private lives. Covid was that once-a-generation black swan event that accelerated the change of pace across industries at a hitherto unimaginable pace.

As businesses scrambled to adapt, this involved virtually overnight changes to the way business is done in the retail sector, the real estate sector, and the logistics industry just to name a few.

As the world of work shifted to this new normal, perhaps the biggest change for the workforce in the UK and elsewhere was the acceleration in remote working. This includes hybrid working, where employees still come to the office part of the week, and fully remote working, where employees are not required to come into an office to do the job.

In fact, a research briefing from the House of Commons from September 2022 revealed that hybrid working - meaning working at least one day from home - peaked at 49 per cent of the workforce at its height in the pandemic.

Post-pandemic, these numbers declined but remained higher than pre-pandemic levels. Data from September 2022 showed that 22 per cent of people had worked at least one day from home in the previous week and 13 per cent worked exclusively from home.

By comparison, data gathered pre-pandemic at the end of 2019 showed that only 12 per cent of the UK workforce had worked from home at least one day the prior week. Similarly, only 5 per cent of people reported working mainly from home pre-pandemic.

These trends were recently confirmed in a new study commissioned by TravelPerk, an online business travel platform. The findings revealed that just 30 per cent of companies are working fully on-site today, as opposed to 58 per cent pre-pandemic.

The results come from an online survey of 1000 UK employees conducted by OnePoll on behalf of TravelPerk in February 2023. The group included full-time and part-time workers at different seniority levels, working from an office or home.

One of the findings was that despite more flexible working arrangements, the office is here to stay. The majority of companies (58 per cent) specify a minimum number of days they expect employees to be in the office.

On the flip side, almost three-quarters (72 per cent) of employees report they are generally satisfied with their current working arrangements - with 42 per cent saying they would not change anything, and the remaining 30 per cent saying they could do with a bit more flexibility.

Of the 28 per cent not happy with current arrangements, the vast majority would prefer to go into the office less.

However, the picture is more complicated than a simple binary preference - employees and employers alike perceive the disadvantages and advantages of both styles of working differently.

According to ONS data from February 2022, almost half of those who worked from home (47 per cent) reported it improved well-being. More than three-quarters (78 per cent) said it gave them an improved work-life balance.

However, according to data cited by the House of Commons research briefing, employers note reduced mental well-being of staff due to isolation as a drawback of home working. Employers also cite other challenges such as difficulty in collaborating with others and staff feeling more disconnected from their organisations.

The TravelPerk survey reports similar findings. Responding to the survey, the majority of employees (79 per cent) said that meeting colleagues in person was beneficial to them. Firstly, the top benefits mentioned by this group were that it created a sense of team belonging. Secondly, it boosted creativity and productivity.

When asked how they used their time in the office, people most frequently cited: one-on-one meetings with their managers, meeting new team members and spending time with the team, arranging strategy sessions with colleagues and participating in social events such as lunch or after-work drinks.

The survey also asked about the frequency of team-building activities and social gatherings. Only 19 per cent of hybrid workers and 6 per cent of fully remote workers said their teams meet at least once a month. A further 13 per cent of hybrid workers said their teams meet more than once a month.

Given the importance placed by respondents on social contact with colleagues, these findings suggest a gap that employers should consider bridging by increasing the frequency of team building or social activities.

In fact, research by McKinsey, a consulting firm, shows that up to 55 per cent of employee engagement is driven by nonfinancial factors. These factors were grouped by McKinsey into three categories that employers should focus on, which include social, work and organisation.

According to this research, social factors such as relationships within teams and with managers were the strongest predictors of employee engagement.

The organisation of work, which refers to flexibility and work-life balance, is another important contributor to employee engagement.

The message across these various studies is clear. Hybrid working is here to stay, but employees still place great value on their time in the office. Companies should pay attention to the complementary issues of employees' experiences inside the office, as well as the flexibility they afford employees through hybrid models of work, in order to remain attractive to top talent and drive high engagement in their workforce.