Hybrid working may solve the trade-off of home versus office working, with benefits for both employees and employers, writes ULSB’s Professor Stephen Wood.
Boris Johnson’s description of his homeworking behaviour is at odds with my research findings. He said, “My experience of working from home is you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee and then, you know, getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing.” It was translated by Kwasi Kwarteng Business Secretary (on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme) to be less cheesy as “people’s concentration isn’t as focused perhaps at home than it would at work”. But employees typically report precisely the opposite: that they are more focused working at home, not least as they get less interruptions. At home they may develop more of a rhythm to their workflow, focus more on priorities and give more in-depth consideration to tasks, and thus improve the quality of their work. This will not, however, necessarily, amount to increased productivity, as people may be working longer hours to complete the same amount of work. This illustrates that the issue of the productiveness of homeworking goes far beyond the Prime Minister’s fear of “forgetting what you are doing”. Moreover, the more valid argument in favour of some return to the workplace that face-to-face communication is vital for sharing experience, developing ideas and integrating new recruits adds to the complexity, as it means we must differentiate short-term and long-term performance effects.
Such considerations point to the value of hybrid working, as it enables one to balance out countervailing forces and long- and short-term effects. This is the conclusion many business leaders are coming to. For example Maria Levitov, Director and Co-founder of Snow Hill Advisors, is reported in myGrapevine (17.5. 22) as saying, “Long periods of isolation … made us value our interactions with colleagues much more than before. The best ideas often come from talking things through informally, not to mention the magic of office camaraderie that’s so hard to achieve via Zoom. All of this made me realise that a hybrid working schedule is the best and perhaps the only way forward now.”
Professor Stephen Wood is Professor of Management at the University of Leicester School of Business.
Professor Wood can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org