The carping about hybrid working is beginning, but ‘normal’ working has its drawbacks too. What we need is the will to make different ways of working work better.
There have been waves of articles against homeworking in the last year and now the anti-hybrid working articles are beginning to start.
They warn of imminent catastrophe if people work a few days from home. One such article featured in this week’s FT. It talks of a “ticking time bomb” if hybrid working comes in and employers don’t enforce strict days for homeworking so that everyone works from home on the same days. It cites an expert saying: “Mixed mode is a complete horror.” It talks about people “struggling to hear each other on badly-connected Zoom calls”. “Even when the tech works..” it says. It’s as if no-one has ever done hybrid working before. I’ve done it for years and it definitely has not been a ‘complete horror’. Many companies have international teams which work remotely. Many workers already do hybrid working – sometimes they have days when everyone is in for key meetings; sometimes they don’t. It depends on the work involved, the dynamics of the team and so forth.
The issue is the conversion to mass hybrid working which will, hopefully, force employers to actually do some preparation and maybe even, God forbid, consult people who have already been doing hybrid or remote working for years who have some experience. I could very easily call working in the office and commuting five days a week while trying to get home in time for childcare “a complete horror”. That is not to say working remotely or in a hybrid way is not without its problems. There is no such thing as perfection and it doesn’t, of course work for all people.
The FT article points out the problems of promotion and visibility of remote workers. Well, duh. Yes, you miss out on the after meeting chat and the famed “water-cooler moments”. But you don’t have to be totally invisible. Many of us have been living this for years. The point we are trying to make is that if more people – particularly men – did remote or hybrid working – maybe we would find a way around this promotion issue. If only women do it and it’s kind of accepted that that is the penalty for being nearer your children if something goes wrong or if you don’t want to waste untold hours and stress on commuting then nothing will change.
I remember ringing my partner in tears after one particularly trying experience of dropping off three children at separate childcare places – school, childminder’s and nursery – at different ends of an area marked by lines of temporary traffic lights. I missed the train after a mad sprint up flights of stairs by about 30 seconds – crucial ones because my boss at the time was extremely unsympathetic. “If I do this one more day I will die,” I said. And I meant it.
So forgive me if the ticking time bomb analogy just doesn’t do it for me. I actually work more now than in the past and I already worked hard before. People may well be fed up with Zoom and the odd dodgy internet connection at the moment and, Lord knows, we all just want a break. It’s been a terrible year. But getting the most out of hybrid and remote working is not rocket science. People have done it and survived. There are downsides, but there are big upsides too. It just needs the will to make it work.