Just 15 months ago, the majority of finance and accountancy professionals in the UK were required to adjust to a new way of living and working. Working from home was an exciting, yet hugely challenging adjustment, as many finance professionals had to navigate a new way of maintaining productivity, preserving connections with colleagues, and liaising with clients virtually. Yet fast forward to Summer 2021, and we may all be needing to reassess our working habits once more due to the rise of a new working structure termed ‘hybrid working’. GAAPweb explores the hybrid working model, assessing the benefits and challenges of this new working structure.
What is hybrid working?
The requirements of normal office working is that of huge debate at the moment. It’s no secret that the pandemic has forced businesses to take a look at the way they operate and question whether employees should be expected to return to the office five days a week. The pandemic has shifted opinions and behaviours towards working from home to such an extent that the government is now deliberating a change in law around the right to work from home.
Adjustments in attitudes and opinions around remote working over the last 15 months have given rise to the widespread adoption of a working model dubbed ‘hybrid working’. Hybrid working refers to employees dividing their work time between home and the office. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be doing 50/50 home to office working, just that a proportion of your work will be from home, rather than completely one or the other. You may find that your company allocates a certain number of hours to office work, or it may be flexible and entirely up to you how much time you want to spend in the office or at home.
Hybrid working isn’t an entirely new concept though, some businesses offered flexi-working as a benefit to employees pre-COVID. In a recent survey, GAAPweb uncovered that just over half of respondents were already offered the opportunity to work from home prior to the pandemic (read more here). Despite this, hybrid working seems to represent one of the evolutions from the COVID-19 pandemic, given the widespread uptake that we’re starting to see from businesses across the UK. But how will it be received by employees?
What are the benefits of hybrid working?
Remote working has been brilliant for many office workers across the UK, freeing up more time during the working week and offering huge cost savings. But for others, living and working in the same place and not seeing colleagues everyday has been a real struggle. So is it fair to assume that this hybrid model could be the ideal solution for all office workers, as it seems to offer the best of both?
Many of us have missed the social interaction of the office. In fact, 32% of respondents in our working from home survey reported that the biggest challenge of remote working was not seeing colleagues in the office. Hybrid working allows us the luxury of being able to interact with colleagues on a more regular basis and re-establish the workplace culture, but still retain many benefits that remote working provides.
Of course, one of the major upsides to this model is that we are still able to save both time and money from not having to commute into the office everyday. Our recent survey found that 50% of the GAAPweb audience agreed that the greatest benefit of remote working is avoiding the daily commute. Adjustments have already been put in place for those commuting to the office less regularly, with flexible rail tickets for those travelling to work just a few days a week. Savings also extend to other daily costs such as a morning coffee or buying lunch when in the office. Finance and accountancy professionals working from the office just a couple of days per week or even less will continue to benefit from these saved costs.
Another benefit of hybrid working is greater productivity. Our working from home survey found that some finance professionals felt more productive working from home because they had fewer distractions and less or more effective meetings. However, in the same survey, we found that finance professionals in lower level roles such as Finance Assistants or Accounts Assistants actually felt less productive at home due to less face-to-face direction or direct support from their managers.
Hybrid working could combat both of these issues, as for many organisations who have adopted the hybrid model, it would make sense to reserve the office days for internal team meetings where colleagues can benefit from being face-to-face. This means employees are likely to have more meeting-heavy days when they’re in the office, but this leaves the remainder of the working week meeting free - or certainly with fewer meetings. Therefore hybrid working could afford finance professionals the opportunity to work in peace with fewer interruptions throughout the week. Conversely, those who would benefit from in person contact can do so on their office days through scheduled one-to-ones, which a purely remote working model would not permit.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of hybrid working is the flexibility that it provides. Employees are no longer confined to one space, instead they have the freedom to choose where they want to work from and the luxury to have a change of scenery every so often. The second most popular choice in our survey, when asked about the greatest benefit of home working, was increased flexibility. This demonstrates that a working model that is more versatile is important to our audience. Although arguably less flexible than remote working, hybrid working is certainly more adaptive than purely office based and could offer, depending on the exact arrangement, employees the freedom to fit their office days around their busy lives, childcare or other commitments.
What are the challenges of hybrid working?
Although there seem to be many benefits to hybrid working, there are still a number of challenges to overcome if hybrid working is going to be the future.
We have highlighted greater flexibility as a benefit of this model, but for those who like the structure and routine of a 9 to 5 office job, hybrid working may be more of a challenge. The flexible nature of the model could disrupt schedules and make it difficult to plan future meetings, especially with clients. Those who have regular meetings at a certain time each week, may find themselves having to reschedule more often than they would do now, if they’re required to go into the office on a particular day. This questions how much notice a manager would need to give their team for office days.
Hybrid working may require a lot more planning both on the employees and managers part to ensure teams are able to work in the office together regularly. It may be a real struggle to hold meetings where half the team are in the office and the other half are dialling in from home. This may result in less productive meetings as those dialling in from home cannot be heard or have less opportunity to participate in the conversation. Our survey indicated that of those respondents who do not feel they are more productive working from home, this is because they are unable to collaborate with colleagues. To maintain productivity, it may be necessary to coordinate teams, questioning whether in reality this model will be as flexible as it first appears. Moreover, hybrid working poses a significant challenge to how managers liaise with their team. If a team member opts to work from the office more, but another prefers to work remotely, it may become more difficult to give an equal amount of support and direction to both.
One of the main challenges that springs to mind when exploring the limitations of hybrid working is how to maintain a healthy work life balance. Our recent Audience Insight Report has revealed that 37% of respondents have done more overtime this year. However, this means that at the moment, over half of respondents have not been affected by the changes to their working lives. Therefore we can deduce that working from home, for the most part, has not resulted in working longer hours and that finance professionals have managed to establish a good routine at home that allows them to be able to switch off at the end of the working day. The hybrid model could put more of a strain on this, depending on how often employees are expected to go into the office. For example, if employees went into the office once a week and their days were largely taken up by meetings and other distractions, finance professionals may find that they’re having to cram their workload into four days a week, rather than five. Similarly, if employees are allowed to be flexible on the days they choose to go into the office that week or month, this would naturally disrupt the routine that finance professionals have managed to hone at home.
Similarly, office distractions and hotdesking are two aspects of office life that finance professionals will have to learn to adjust to. Many of us had to go through a period of adjustment when initially starting to work remotely and hybrid working will require nothing less.
Will hybrid working work for accounting and finance professionals?
It’s difficult to draw any conclusions yet on whether this new model will be effective for accounting and finance professionals. Clearly there are major benefits to this model but there are also obstacles that managers in particular will face when adjusting to this new working structure. We can confidently say that planning and coordination will be key to adjusting to this new model. Hybrid working will require adaptability from all - but finance and accountancy professionals and their employers have proved over the past 15 months that they are capable of adapting their working habits seamlessly. In fact, our working from home survey highlighted that 93% of respondents agreed that their employer adapted to remote working well. This survey also uncovered that 93% of respondents would like to work from home regularly post-COVID, yet just 14% would want to work from home everyday. From this, it’s clear to say that the hybrid working model will be a welcome change for many finance and accountancy professionals.