Hybrid working could backfire because of fatigue

Simply replicating habits from the office, such as meetings, is driving fatigue, according to Gartner
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Organisations that fail to execute hybrid working well could end up asking for all employees to return to the office because they feel the new modes of working are ‘too hard to pull off’, according to analysts at Gartner.

Unveiling its research on hybrid working strategies in the UK, it claimed that too many organisations resorted to “virtualising what they did in the office” when pandemic restrictions hit last year.

This has led to 42% of employees feeling drained from working remotely, according to its research. Women were 39% more likely to feel emotionally drained from this mode of working than men, it found.

“The pandemic has been a chance for organisations to rethink how we work but the majority are not – and this is driving fatigue,” said Alexia Cambon, research director for Gartner.

“[Virtualising the office] made it possible for employees to stay productive, but it also had a significant impact on their health. Putting lots of virtual meetings in the calendar increases the likelihood employees will be emotionally drained, for example.”

Gartner’s research also found that employees who knew they were being tracked by their employers were more likely to display presenteeism behaviour, with 62% saying there had been an increase in the length of their working day since operating remotely.

Only around half (46%) of employees who work remotely said their manager took their views into account when making decisions.

Cambon said organisations were now at an “inflection point” where they could rethink the way work gets done, moving away from an office-centric approach to a more human-centric one. “The future success of organisations hinges on redesigning these structures. If today is day one, how do we design work?” she added.

Brian Kropp, chief of HR research at Gartner, said that the complexity of hybrid working could not be underestimated.

Gartner found that fewer than 10% of organisations wanted proof that employees returning to the office had been vaccinated against the coronavirus, despite many strongly encouraging it. More than 60% of employees, on the other hand, expected to return to a workplace where most of their colleagues had been vaccinated, and situations such as this might prove difficult to navigate.

“On top of that you’ve got workplace management,” he said. “A hybrid strategy needs to be inherently flexible so creating policies makes no sense.” Instead, he urged organisations to develop a set of philosophies and beliefs that guided managers and employees on how they designed working patterns.

He added: “Be clear with employees what needs to be done at home, what needs to be done at the office, what with other people, what can be done alone.

“This develops an understanding of what they should be doing where, so they know whether to come into the office that day.”

Empathy would be a crucial skill in navigating this complexity, said Kropp.

If we’re not effective at managing the transition, the muscle memory of senior executives will be to get rid of it and we could see them asking for employees to come back” – Brian Kropp, Gartner

“During this past year we’ve built more humane relationships with employees, seen inside their homes, their health situations, their family situations. That genie cannot be put back in the bottle,” he said. “In a hybrid environment, around 75% of time the manager or employee or both will be working remotely, so you won’t have that same visibility into what employees are doing.”

Employers that got this balance right would have access to the best talent and could be competitive in the labour market, Kropp concluded. But those that struggled with the complexity of it could end up throwing in the towel. Fifty-six percent of the UK’s remote workforce said that flexible policies would impact their decision to stay at an organisation, with 70% of Gen Z employees indicating a preference to work in a hybrid fashion.

“There will be a lot of experimentation and it will be critical to track, monitor and get feedback. If we’re not effective at managing the transition, however, the muscle memory of senior executives will be to get rid of it and we could see them asking for employees to come back,” he said.

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