The Adapting to the New Normal: Hybrid Working 2021 report, released by Pitcher Partners Melbourne, Bastion Reputation Management and Bastion Insights, has highlighted a disconnect between employer and employee expectations of hybrid working arrangements, with that gap only likely to grow, as more workplaces transition to a COVID-normal environment.
The survey of more than 600 employees and 300 employers across Australia found that while four out of five employers said that their return-to-office plans were based on discussions with staff, only half of employees surveyed said they had been consulted by their managers.
Workers listed isolation as their number one challenge when working from home, whereas for employers, oversight of staff and managing productivity was their biggest concern.
Hybrid working and return-to-office plans have primarily been about safety due to the pandemic. However, they have forced a new way of thinking about the near-future state of flexible and remote working models for employees and employers alike, which are not necessarily aligned, the survey revealed.
Rob McKie, consulting partner at Pitcher Partners Melbourne, said organisations were forced to rapidly scale up the use of digital tools because of COVID-19.
“While the steps taken facilitated a relatively seamless transition to working from home, there is now a need to focus on planning for the medium to long term, given that hybrid work arrangements are likely to remain for some time,” he said.
The survey revealed that not all organisations are ready or equipped to manage a hybrid model, with IT, real estate and human resources support being key concerns. Organisations like accounting firms are encouraged to direct their new-year planning to ensure a smooth transition to a future hybrid model.
“The findings on cyber security indicate the extent to which businesses are yet to factor in their staff accessing commercially sensitive material from multiple unsecure networks and the frequent travel and movement of such material that may result from multiple work locations,” Mr McKie said.
“We have developed a checklist of considerations that we work through with our clients and recommend this be part of recruitment and onboarding.”
Clare Gleghorn, CEO of Bastion Reputation Management, said it is critical for organisations to continue to communicate openly with staff, and consider actively engaging their workforce in conversations about the most appropriate and effective working models.
“First and foremost, we must acknowledge that safety and wellbeing must be the first priorities as well as complying with relevant rules and regulations,” she said.
“But what the survey highlights is some of the gaps in expectations for what hybrid working models should look like over the long term and, if left unaddressed, could widen further. These include the potential to dilute team culture, connection and engagement levels.
“This is particularly the case for small and medium-sized businesses that are less likely to have the required planning in place, given the sheer volume of challenges they have had to work through over the past 12 months.
“What’s most important is to create a shared understanding by maintaining an open dialogue and engaging with staff about their concerns and preferences, but equally about what businesses need to operate effectively and productively.”
Dianne Gardiner, CEO of Bastion Insights, said that the survey showed there is widespread support for hybrid working models and both employers and employees welcome the flexibility offered.
“But the real insight is some of the gaps identified. For example, the concern over isolation expressed by employees means that employers are at risk of having staff who work remotely grow more disconnected and not realise it,” she said.
The report further revealed that concerns over a hybrid model were more pronounced in Victoria, reflecting the more extensive restrictions in place across the state during 2020.
While employees embraced the flexibility and improved work/life balance opportunities offered by a hybrid model, they identified isolation and the lack of socialisation as the main challenge they would have to navigate going forward.
The survey also revealed the extent to which workplaces had undertaken the necessary planning for hybrid work arrangements, with one in four employers surveyed not having a return-to-office plan. Smaller organisations were less likely to have such a plan in place.
While many organisations responded quickly to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic with measures to ensure business continuity, the survey results indicate that more work needs to be done to manage a smooth transition to a more sustainable hybrid working model.