Since the pandemic, attitudes to flexible and hybrid working have changed among both employers and employees. However, there are also considerable challenges.
We should probably not be surprised by this. The change in the numbers working from home has been enormous. In one of the Freakonomics Radio podcast episodes, Nicholas Bloom, professor of economics at Stanford University, commented that working from home was doubling about every 15 years before the pandemic. We have therefore seen around 50 years of progress compressed into a mere two years during the pandemic.
It is interesting to see how companies are embracing the challenge. We caught up with a product manager at one medium-sized global company to talk hybrid working in the wake of the pandemic.
What was your company’s attitude to remote working before COVID?
Remote working was allowed in some locations, typically for one day a week. However, it was not really widespread. I work in Belgium, but report into a team in the US, so I already had a lot of conference calls and engagement with colleagues there. There was no real need for me to be in the office, but I used to be there every day. Post-COVID, we can choose whether we go back to the office. I’m currently working from home, which I really enjoy. However, some teams, especially in R&D, have agreed a policy of working from home three days a week, and being together in the office for two days each week.
Have views changed about hybrid working?
I think many people have realised that we don’t need to be in the office to do our jobs. There are fewer physical meetings, meaning less business travel. Our participation in external events has also radically reduced. To compensate for this during the pandemic, we organised a lot of webinars and participated in many online events. It’s interesting that this year, we are finding that people are no longer interested in attending virtual events. They want to return to face-to-face industry and marketing events, but business travel is still restricted, and the presumption is that meetings will be virtual unless it’s absolutely necessary to meet face-to-face.
How did your company invest in technology to help employees work effectively and comfortably from home?
No, not really. Before the pandemic, we were already using Teams, so there was no change. There wasn’t a big investment in hardware for employees. We were allowed to take our monitors home, but other than that, we got no additional facilities. My feeling is that the company could have made a bit more of providing support, and also of adapting virtual meetings to build and maintain relationships, but generally everyone seems reasonably happy.
Now that the company has shifted significantly towards hybrid working, are people making more effort to stay connected?
I don’t think much has changed, really. The company has always engaged with employees virtually, through emails and video newsletters. It is now encouraging people to come to the office, but other than that, I don’t think there are any significant changes in communication. I have seen a bit of a change in the role of the office, though, which has become a place to go and meet others, rather than to get work done.
Have your working behaviours changed much in the past few years as a result of working from home most of the time?
My days have become more flexible, and I have a better work–life balance. All my meetings are scheduled in the afternoon and evening because of my US colleagues, which is the same as before. However, pre-pandemic, I was going into the office every day for 9am and then working late. I feel more relaxed and in control now. I get most of my work done in the mornings and run any personal errands, and then do calls in the afternoons and evenings. I don’t mind working late, because I don’t have to drive home.
How has the overall, this shift towards a more hybrid approach has affected the company’s productivity?
Our financial results have improved, so there hasn’t been a negative impact. I haven’t seen any discussion about the impact on the company, or on individual performance, although I feel I’m happier and more productive. That said, in terms of career progression, I do very much appreciate chances to meet senior people face-to-face.