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Hybrid working: striking the right balance

Businees Insights by Gemma Hogg
Gemma Hogg

The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly brought about a new wave of thinking in terms of how working New Zealanders envisage their ideal workplace environment to now look like.

The new buzzword is “hybrid working” — driven by an increased desire to strike the right balance between home and the office working environment. Greater workplace flexibility is seen as a huge attraction to many employees, as it provides the opportunity to prioritise what is important in their personal lives, so that when they are wearing their “work hat”, they can perform at their best.

According to research conducted by employment website SEEK in January 2022, over half (54 percent) of workers surveyed had indicated they would expect a mix of working from home and in the office (hybrid working model) during 2022.

Given the world we are living in now and with the uptake and acceptance of digital technology, employees are wanting to take advantage of greater workplace flexibility. As employers it is important to be open-minded and ready to entertain such conversations.

You might have seen media interviews with Auckland University of Technology Business School Professor Jarrod Haar recently. His research findings from November 2021 highlighted some very interesting figures:

Approximately 39 percent of workers are in the office on a full-time basis; just under 15 percent are full-time working from home; about 48 percent are working on a hybrid basis, with the majority working a 50-50 office/home split.

The findings also provided evidence around a hybrid workforce becoming the “new normal” — making special mention that “hybrid workers clearly benefit from higher levels of trust from their managers, and respond well to the independence and flexibility of hybrid working”.

If the hybrid working model is becoming the “new normal”, then what are some of the key considerations for employers to be aware of?

1. Be clear on what your policy is

What does flexibility mean to your organisation? Clearly define the boundaries and expectations of what it covers, and what it doesn’t. Some points to factor in:

• Are employees required to be in the office for a certain amount of hours/days per week vs working remotely?

• How does the request to work remotely impact other colleagues within the same team?

• Is there flexibility around start and finish times as long as set hours are worked?

• Is the employee requesting a change in the standard terms and conditions of their employee agreement (eg reduction of hours)?

• Is the arrangement to be permanent or only for a specific period? Is there an opportunity to review progress on how the arrangement is going?

Once an understanding of the expectations of both parties has been reached, the arrangement should be formalised in writing — no verbal agreements. The opportunity to review is important, and the arrangement should be revisited at regular intervals to ensure it’s still achieving its original intention.

2. Technology, Tools and Desk Area

Is the employee equipped with the right tools and technology to ensure a good WFH (working from home) experience?

• For example, good internet access, computer hardware such as screens, laptops, headphones, printers, all necessary computer programs/software including cyber security protocols and multi-factor authentication controls, are all key considerations when operating in a remote space.

• Is the desk set-up also located in a separate area of the home and free of distractions? Does it have good access to natural light, and is it ergonomically compliant?

3. Regular Communication

Maintaining regular contact and staying connected with your employees is key for a successful ongoing hybrid working relationship. Regular weekly update or stand-up meetings allows management to have a greater view of workload commitments and priorities, and provides an opportunity to address any areas of concern at the time.

Along with face-to-face meetings, using digital conferencing tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom provides teams with the capability to connect online at any time.

It is important to acknowledge that the world of work is constantly evolving. Organisations that lead with empathy and place a strong emphasis on workplace flexibility not only unite and build loyalty amongst their employees, but help to foster a culture that boosts morale and overall performance.

Gemma is an HR consultant and employment specialist in BDO Gisborne’s People & Performance team.