Leerkracht thuisonderwijs

Hybrid working requires balance and common sense

Science Works 4min. Femke Trommels

Full-time back to the office after corona? No, hybrid working is here to stay, Professor of Work, Health and Wellbeing Marc van Veldhoven thinks: “Teleworking has existed for decades, and was given an enormous boost as a result of the pandemic. That is a good thing, because it has many benefits for employees. However, there are also concerns and quite a few unanswered questions. Properly implementing hybrid working is a matter of searching for balance and a continuous application of common sense.”

At such institutions as universities, ministries, and banks, hybrid working has been around for years. However, the practice has not been adopted everywhere. The percentage of people working from home was never above 50% even at the height of the Covid-19 crisis anyway. Van Veldhoven: “For much of the workforce, it is not an issue at all. The work or context do not always lend itself to working remotely. This already indicates a challenge: the situation is not the same for everyone.”

Diversity

The success of hybrid working hinges on recognizing these differences, Marc van Veldhoven says. “The wishes of workers and those of supervisors and managers may diverge. Approximately 15% of those employed are in some form of managerial position. They can make or break hybrid working: the support of the supervisor has proven essential in making working from home a success. It makes rather a difference whether a supervisor is a people person and hates having to motivate their staff via a video link, or is down-to-earth and rational and mainly manages on targets. There is a lot of diversity. What is more, the impact of the individual and the individual living environment on work is systematically increasing. Working from home is tough if the home situation is very busy and chaotic. Your living space and your internet connection at home may be substantially worse than those of your colleagues or at the office. This has an impact on the quality of your work and well-being.”

Marc van Veldhoven

The impact of the individual and the individual living environment on work is systematically increasing, with all that this implies

Professor of Work, Health and Wellbeing Marc van Veldhoven

Unplugging

Apart from personal aspects, the nature of the work also has a lot of impact on what a hybrid workweek looks like. Van Veldhoven: “Research has shown that, the more autonomy people have in organizing their working day, the less likely they are to observe their own boundaries. Having fixed days for fixed tasks apparently gives you a reason to think: OK, time’s up. Do you have a lot of autonomy in your work? Then choose consciously when you work and when you relax. Teach yourself when you need to unplug.”

Choose consciously when you work and when you unplug, especially if you have a lot of autonomy in your work

Hybride split

“For a software developer, a day at the office may not be much different from a day at home. A university lecturer, however, will use office days mainly for teaching and for meetings. This provides a kind of hybrid split: your job at home is different from your job at the office. Perhaps you enjoy one working day more than another. There’s a danger in the latter case: office days crammed with activities and focused on efficiency provide little scope for informal social interaction. Employers need to consider the importance they attach to the informal organization and accommodate that aspect, too, also on office days.”

The danger of cramming particular tasks into office days is that the informal, social aspect of work is partly lost

Online society

Marc van Veldhoven is a member of a group of policy makers, experts, and researchers that, at the initiative of the relevant Dutch Ministries work on issues concerning the online society ranging from social ramifications and growing inequality to health, wellbeing, and the consequences for the housing and job markets. “Hybrid working is on the table everywhere and there is a sense of urgency to take this matter forward. This is a very multi-faceted issue. There are social implications: society is already divided into ‘bubbles’. Will this trend grow stronger if people less often get information that puts their ideas into perspective, as they now often hear from their colleagues? There are health issues: sitting at a desk all day is a common cause of neck and shoulder pain. Lack of exercise is an enormous social problem. There is also a lot to figure out legally: who is responsible for the home office? Who is going to pay for it? What about liability? If you fall down the stairs during your home-working day, is that a work-related accident?”

Hybrid working in our digital society raises many questions relating to society, health, wellbeing, and legal and liability aspects

Variety and health

“The ever-increasing digitalization has major implications for our working day. We are dominated by digital resources and are increasingly tied to a whole range of portals and software through our internet connection. From an occupational psychology point of view, this primarily affects the degree of variety in the work, and how enjoyable and healthy the work is. Hybrid working further emphasizes already existing questions concerning the increasing digitization of work and its impact on people's work and lives. I have my work cut our for me!”