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The hybrid working debits and credits must be balanced to avoid crashing into the red

remote working
(Image credit: Image Credit: llaszlo / Shutterstock)

The last eighteen months have been a tumultuous time for tech leaders and their teams. Demand for digital solutions and services has rocketed at the same time as IT has had to support and enable a mass migration to new forms of remote working, connectivity and collaboration. They have also, of course, had to embrace remote working themselves and keep connected during a period of heightened critical demand.

Now, as the dust begins to settle and something like normality returns, the working from home revolution is evolving into a hybrid model. Our Digital Leadership Report, the world’s largest and longest-running survey of senior technology decision-makers, finds today that nearly six in ten leaders expect their teams to work from home most of the week going forward (three days or more). Eight in ten tech leaders say that their staff are comfortable with this level of homeworking.

There’s no doubt that remote and hybrid working can work. After all, it’s largely proven itself since the pandemic began and most organizations (and staff) have got better at it as they have gone along. It’s something we’re all used to now – the Teams/Zoom generation!

Debits and credits

However, at the same time our research shows that the new model does raise a number of issues that tech firms and leaders will need to address as a priority to make it work on a long-term basis. Otherwise, there is a real risk that the debits of remote working will exceed the credits.

On the positive side, there is a broad consensus from the digital leaders we surveyed that remote working has boosted productivity. As we all know, working from home (depending on your circumstances) tends to mean fewer distractions and the ability to simply get on with what you need to do. The absence of a commute to and from the office also hands back valuable time. That said – and I’m sure this will resonate with most people – the ability to get on with work does depend on cutting back on endless video calls! They should only be scheduled when they’re actually needed.

Another positive, that ties in with this, is an improvement in work/life balance. Over six in ten digital leaders believe it has got better due to remote working. It has become much easier for staff to build time for personal or family responsibilities into their day without their work suffering. 

However, tensions under the surface (the debits) are not hard to find. Firstly, mental wellbeing. Nearly six in ten digital leaders believe it has worsened over the last eighteen months. Amongst the population at large, according to the Office of National Statistics, one in five (21 percent) adults experienced some form of depression in early 2021 - more than double pre-pandemic rates (10 percent).

Mental health was already a very real concern even before Covid-19 began. Our own research at Harvey Nash Group carried out before the pandemic found that half of tech professionals had been concerned about their mental wellbeing in the present or the past. There is no doubt that the pandemic has heightened the problem, for a variety of reasons. It has simply been a stressful time in itself from a health perspective of course, with everyone worried not just about themselves but their families and loved ones. It has also been a very uncertain time in terms of what the future holds, which raises stress further. For some, working from home has been a lonely and isolating experience. For nearly everyone – and particularly within tech – it has also been a time of increased workload and pressure. The video calls and the growing to-do list can seem relentless. It’s no surprise that mental health is under strain.

Another crucial challenge is that more digital leaders believe staff engagement has dropped (43 percent) than believe it has increased (24 percent). While opinion is almost equally divided on whether cross-organizational collaboration (as opposed to just within team) has improved, worsened or stayed the same.

New model solutions

Clearly, if businesses are to reap the benefits of hybrid working, then solutions need to be found. If mental wellbeing continues to suffer and engagement falls, that is no recipe for success.

It’s something that digital leaders need to urgently address. Many are focusing on better communication and increasing their investment into mental health and wellbeing support. But our research found that only a third have formally redesigned their employee offer for the new model of work.

Strengthening networks and resources to support staff is certainly vital – but it won’t solve the problem by itself. Apart from anything else, experience shows that staff take-up and usage of support resources will naturally tail off over time. It’s rather like gym membership: someone may go five times a week to start with but within a few months they may hardly go at all.

For me, so much of it comes down to good leadership and management. Quite simply, don’t forget the human element. Take the time to ask the people in your team how they’re actually doing. Talk to them, and listen. Follow up on anything you discuss. Thank them for their work – notice what they do.

Reward is an important feature in this of course – but it’s not just about money. Rewarding people fairly is a hygiene factor. Giving a pay rise, for example, is an immediate satisfier, but the effect wears off as someone gets used to their new take-home pay. Real job satisfaction is about a whole combination of things – stimulating and challenging work, a sense of purpose, team spirit, the sense of being valued, supported and cared about.

Enabling a ‘second renaissance’ of tech

These are the factors that will enable the new model of working to work. Those that get it right have an opportunity to create a truly winning model. Those that don’t will see their people increasingly struggling and, indeed, exiting to join elsewhere. 

Our research suggests that, with record levels of investment in tech planned, we stand on the cusp of a second renaissance for the industry. But for that to happen, it’s essential that digital leaders get the employee proposition and working model right.

Bev White, CEO, Harvey Nash Group

Bev White, CEO, Harvey Nash Group.