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Hybrid Working in Tech Startups: The Pros and Cons

The Technology industry has faced many challenges over the past two years. One of the biggest has been hybrid working.

The new normal. The future of working. Phrases like these have made headlines across the UK over the last twelve months as companies have adapted to new conditions in the labour market.

Covid-19 was said to be “accelerating pre-covid” trends, but I don’t think anyone predicted the disruption caused by the rapid shift to hybrid working. Employers and employees alike had to quickly make decisions based on balancing priorities of:

  • Health and wellbeing
  • Productivity
  • Costs

This all happened very quickly, and what resulted was the emergence of a hybrid model. As lockdowns eased and the economy opened up again, companies realised there were benefits to flexible working.

Hybrid working: UK tech’s “new normal”?

A large number of technology companies have stated that hybrid working is going to be normal for their employees. Throughout the UK, large office occupiers such as major tech firms and the big accountancy firms all anticipate flexible working becoming an important part of their operating model. Staff will essentially split their work time between an office and a remote location, usually their home.

At the same time, staff in these companies are increasingly asking for hybrid working to be a permanent arrangement, especially by younger people coming into the labour market. This demographic is comfortable working remotely and has probably experienced a significant amount of remote education.

That being said,’ there are undeniable benefits to bringing people together in a central workplace, especially in technology companies, to build collaboration and develop a strong culture. It’s also important to have a means of training new staff, traditionally this has been done in person in the office. Not only this but thought also has to be given to people who don’t have the luxury of having a productive space to work from remotely.

With these contrasting needs, it’s clear why tech companies have settled on hybrid working in the UK as the best way forward. For example, technology firms such as Google and Amazon have adopted hybrid working models in a way that they feel best supports their workforce while also prescribing time in the office.

PwC, a network of firms covering technology, accounting and consultancy, has rolled out a policy for its 22,000 UK based staff to work in such a hybrid model. They have stated that they “expect staff to spend 40-60% of their time with colleagues – either in the office or out on client visits – once restrictions are lifted, with the freedom to work remotely the rest of the week”.

In the UK, the British Chamber of Commerce released a study of 900 firms that showed more than two-thirds (66%) of businesses offer some form of remote working. The study also highlighted some issues with hybrid working. Among them were the problems that some sectors have in implementing a hybrid model, such as in manufacturing and hospitality.

There were also concerns that the workforce faced issues with accessing and operating IT equipment and the necessary internet connection to perform duties remotely without disruption. In the technology sector, this is unlikely to be as much of an issue, however, even tech companies may have employees that aren’t comfortable with video conferencing and this needs to be taken into consideration.

As we’ve seen, there is no one size fits all approach to hybrid working in the UK. Although there may be obvious benefits there are also nuances, and care has to be taken to be inclusive across your workforce, some of which may not want (or be able to) remote work.

Pros of hybrid working

#1 Efficient use of space

When hybrid working, the reduced footfall in your office allows you to make changes to the layout and function of the spaces you operate in.

Without the need to have fixed, or assigned, desks you can reduce the amount of furniture and hardware you need to have installed. Instead, several hot desks can be provided and the space you gain can be re-purposed.

It may be that you decide that the office space is too large, in which case there is a fixed cost reduction as you renegotiate a lease or move to a smaller property. Alternatively, you may want to include new and more collaborative areas in your office, break-out rooms or social spaces to allow colleagues to interact and create in a more relaxed setting. Meeting rooms of varying sizes might be another good addition, with remote workers then coming in specifically to meet with colleagues/clients to be productive.

#2 Increased motivation

The motivation of employees is difficult to quantify and each individual will be motivated (or not) to varying degrees by different actions and benefits.

A proven powerful motivator is an autonomy. By allowing the workforce to have agency over where they work and when you are empowering them with greater responsibility. This leads to greater job satisfaction, motivation and happiness.

The good thing about technology companies is that the tools to video conference and stay connected are built into the culture of a business. And in this way, the autonomy doesn’t become unwieldy and the employees are hard to manage and direct. Hybrid working by its nature restricts the remote working element to only part of the working week, and so there are only so many hours when employees are autonomous, and these can be managed through shared diaries and video calls.

The hybrid working model, therefore, provides benefits to the employee, without the employer losing out.

#3 Culture

The culture of a company permeates everything you do. Technology companies tend to have a strong culture, that reflects their purpose and helps them to connect emotionally with their audience.

Traditionally, culture in business was set ‘in-house’, and the mindset of leaders was that employees needed to be physically in the building to be able to take it in.

Things have changed though now and people are more relaxed about employees moving between different environments this more relaxed approach adds to the culture by it being a more caring and understanding company. When employees are in the office, they tend to be more focused and purposeful and their interactions with colleagues more meaningful. The face to face relationships built up during this productive time in the office allows for more collaboration and imagination to be brought in. Without the cumulative effects of commuting and ‘meetings for no reason, employees are more relaxed and focused. This all conspires to make the culture of your business more developed and productive in the long term.

#4 Work-life balance

A work-life balance is a really important aspect of being able to maintain personal health and a positive work environment. Hybrid working allows employees to have the chance to better manage their personal and work responsibilities. Reducing stress and improving productivity.

Freedom from the daily commute alone reduces pressure on individuals and gives employees some time back each day.

The benefits of having a healthy work-life balance are self-evident, although in the short term it might appear as if your tech company is too relaxed or gives employees too much freedom. In reality, you’re building a culture of personal responsibility and loyalty.

On the other end of the spectrum is employee burnout, which is a real issue, especially so in the technology industry where there is a sense of immediacy and tasks are often technically demanding. By adopting a hybrid model you’re not only protecting the health of your employees but you’re protecting the medium and long term productivity of your company.

#5 Productivity

Gains in productivity generally come from three areas: reduced absenteeism, increased focus/motivation and greater flexibility.

Hybrid working provides an increase in flexibility as it allows the workforce to manage their own time and location to some extent.

Not being in the office also reduces the distractions often faced in an office environment, unproductive meetings, informal conversations with no clear purpose…these interruptions add up and reduce productivity. By not being distracted by co-workers, employees can stay on task and this increases focus.

Reducing absenteeism can also be achieved by enabling workers to still be productive when feeling a bit ‘off colour’, where normally they may take a sick day so as not to have to go into the office. Marginal gains in this area add to productivity and reduce days lost to illness. It also supports working parents who traditionally may have had to take sick days when their children are ill. Although not perfect, hybrid working supports workers during times like this and still allows them to be productive to some extent.

Cons of hybrid working

#1 Disadvantaged remote workers

Remote workers in some circumstances may start to feel isolated and like they’re not part of the ‘team’.

Managing remote workers is a fine balancing act. On one hand, you want to empower individuals but also you don’t want to leave them alone and under-managed to the extent of them feeling unsupported and withdrawn.

The middle ground between micro-managing and radio silence is where your managers want to be, but it takes a skilled management team to get this right.

Once a colleague feels withdrawn and alone, it can be difficult to bring them back in and motivate them, especially so if remote working skills don’t come naturally. We can take it for granted that video conferencing can replace face to face meetings but for those people who find this uncomfortable or unnatural, remote working will be harder to access successfully.

#2 Boring head office

You have successfully assembled a dynamic and exciting team in your technology company. You have set them all up under a hybrid working model and everything is going great. Except that your company office is boring.

By default, most of the workforce stays away on any one day, and those that are there are purposeful and engaged in meetings.

This might be desirable for some, but if there are employees that work in the office full-time, it may be an unattractive place to work. The hustle and bustle and the energy of an office can be lost in a hybrid model.

It may be that depending on the nature of your business and the number of non-remote workers you have; this is something you have to consider.

After all, any company wants to have an environment that attracts people and makes them want to work there.

#3 Management challenges

With greater flexibility across your employees, the need to manage and control schedules, client priorities and workloads increases.

Not knowing who is where and when can be very frustrating, it can also make organising meetings and in-person activities very difficult. Miscommunications or mistakes can mean people waste time travelling or get stuck waiting for online meetings that never happen, but that they’ve prepared for.

Likewise, people react badly to being overmanaged. It’s important to trust your team whilst still having an element of control over them and ensuring that client work is delivered and of high quality.

Managers need to be skilled in people management to get around this.

To sum up...

In summary, when weighing up whether hybrid working is right for your business, you need to consider these pros and cons.

Pros

  • Efficient use of space
  • Increased motivation
  • Culture
  • Work-life balance
  • Productivity

Cons

  • Disadvantaged remote workers
  • Boring head office
  • Management challenges

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