Last reviewed 16 June 2022

Hybrid working is everywhere at the moment. We are told it will save us money and that since the pandemic restrictions, it is one of the most wanted things by employees. So, should employers be rushing to join this trend, or is an eventual return full time to the office inevitable?

What is flexible and hybrid working?

Flexible working was first introduced as a statutory right in April 2003. It has gone through a significant number of changes since then, including an increased scope beyond parents and carers, and a simplified process for requesting it. Currently, employees with 26 weeks’ service can ask to change, amongst other things, their working hours or location.

Hybrid working is a working arrangement that allows an employee to split their time between the office and another location, usually their home but this could also be in shared office spaces closer to their home or another branch office. It can be either regular or ad-hoc, and it can be company-wide or agreed on an individual basis.

These sound pretty great, right? Giving employees the ability to be flexible and allowing them to balance their work-life commitments much more easily. But is it as good as it sounds?

Summer hours

Anyone who follows Alan Sugar on Twitter already knows he is not a man afraid to say what he really means. So when, on 5 May 2022, he directed his criticism at a PwC hybrid working policy of summers hours, whereby from 1 June to the end of August, employees can condense their hours and finish at lunchtime on a Friday, it caused many to think carefully about their stance on this. Lord Sugar believed these sorts of policies impacted negatively on productivity and the willingness of employees to work hard.

Is this what PwC saw when this was introduced? Well, no, not particularly.

Positive impact on productivity

In their survey of 6000 staff, 90% supported the idea of summer hours, 73% noted a positive impact on their wellbeing, and 93% said it positively impacted their day-to-day work. It went down so well, in fact, they are doing it again this year.

According to research published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), 41% of employers surveyed towards the end of 2021 reported that home and hybrid working positively impacted their organisations productivity and efficiency. Only 18% of those surveyed reported a fall in productivity (down from 23% in 2020).

Other benefits of hybrid working

Other benefits of working in a hybrid way include:

  • reduced real estate cost due to a reduced need for large office spaces

  • ability to hire employees over a greater geographic distance (commuting can look very different when it is only for a few days a week or month)

  • IT upskilling of those previously reluctant to do so

  • increased focus from reduced office-based distractions (if these are not replaced by home-based distractions).

Other ways to work flexibly

It is not just hybrid working that is gaining momentum now. As a result of the pandemic, more and more people are assessing their work-life balance, and wondering if a recalibration is required. So, what else can employers offer?

The four-day working week trial

A pilot scheme of a four-day working week involving over 60 UK companies began at the start of June 2022 and is expected to continue to December 2022. Participation in the pilot scheme gives employers access to support and resources to help them make this work and, through the trial data, be able to see independent measures of its success (entries are now closed to the scheme).

Employers participating in the trial will continue to pay their staff in full, despite them only working 80% of their usual hours. The catch: they must maintain 100% productivity.

What challenges might a four-day working week hold for employers? 

Practical challenges include the following.

  • Employees must agree to this.

  • A reduction in working hours sounds good, but the actual results may not be seen as that by employees. It may involve a reduction in salary or other benefits, and the employee may still be expected to do the same amount of work. 

  • How to measure the success of a four-day working week.

Employees may feel forced to work overtime or during their downtime to continue to produce the same as before. Before starting a four-day week, employers must be clear about their expectations as to the workload and how reasonably this might be achieved. 

Are there advantages to a four-day working week? 

Organisations that don’t go down this route risk losing key staff to competitors or other sectors, as employees seek better balance elsewhere. Balance is, however, not the only issue. As living costs continue to rise, there are also now extra pressures on employers to support employees financially. With a four-day week, employees are saving on commuter costs, lunch expenses and childcare fees. Whilst it might seem minor, these all add up to benefit the employee.

There are also advantages in that employees who feel like their employer fully supports them having a work-life balance and puts measures in place to improve emotional and financial wellbeing will be more engaged and motivated at work. This also contributes to increased productivity, performance and increases retention.

Research suggests a four-day working week would help reduce the gender pay gap and allow women to take on better paying and higher-level positions, as women typically have greater childcare responsibilities than men, so are often limited to part-time working patterns. But, four-day weeks for both men and women would allow both to spend more time at home and balance their childcare needs more equally between parents and partners.

Flexible and hybrid working seems here to stay

According to data released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in May 2022, in February 2022 more than 8 in 10 workers who had to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic said they planned to work in a hybrid way. In May 2022, this rose to 24%, despite the percentage of those working only from home dropping from 22% to 14% in the same period.

Hybrid working in particular has seen an increase. In data from spring 2022 (27 April to 8 May), the ONS said that 38% of working adults reported having worked from home at some point over the past seven days. Compared to other similar (but not directly comparable) data, this is an increase of 26% on levels before the pandemic.

These figures suggest this trend is steadily continuing, and employers are urged to consider if it is something they to can make work in their business.

Summary

Proposed changes to the law on flexible working, which would allow employees to request it from Day 1, force employers to consider alternatives if rejecting a request, and possibly allowing employees to make more than one request a year (currently there is a limit of one every 12 months), are yet to be confirmed if or when they will become law. It would seem, however, even without these changes, employers are already taking steps to meet employees wants and needs in this area.