It’s been 3 years since the Covid-19 pandemic brought hybrid working into public discourse and it became a viable working practice for many businesses around the world.
But even now, as hybrid working has seemingly become the norm, many question – what is the impact of hybrid working and is it here to stay?
Keep reading as we discuss remote working 3 years on, including its benefits, shortcomings, impact on productivity, and whether we think it will remain a long-term policy.
Remote working: the pros and cons
For workers, research indicates that they perceive both benefits and disadvantages to hybrid or flexible working. Remote and hybrid working can lead to increased wellbeing, self-reported productivity, work satisfaction, reduced work-life conflict, new ways to collaborate and more inclusive ways of working through technology.
However, challenges can include increased work intensity, longer working hours, distractions, health issues, decreased social interactions, less promotion and learning opportunities and an inability to disconnect from work.
Organisations also perceive both benefits and disadvantages to flexible working. Benefits include increased staff wellbeing, reduced overhead costs, productivity gains, reduced sickness absence levels and more efficient allocation of labour.
Challenges can include reduced mental wellbeing of staff, difficulties in staff interaction, collaboration, engagement and connection, negative impacts on working culture and productivity losses.
The impact of hybrid working
Assessing the specific impacts of remote and hybrid working is challenging, as pre-pandemic studies focused on voluntary remote working, whereas during the pandemic, it was enforced. Thus, pandemic-specific studies cannot establish long-term outcomes and the available evidence shows mixed findings on impacts.
It has caused significant changes to the way we think about working and there are some tangible effects. For example, a survey found that 9 in 10 jobseekers say hybrid working is now as important as financial benefits , which will subsequently have a significant impact on employee retention.
Below are some shorter-term impacts and observations for organisations to consider.
Ergonomic impact of homeworking
From an ergonomic perspective we have seen marked increases in pain and discomfort, particularly in the lower back, neck and shoulders, mainly driven by the use of non-ergonomic equipment such as sofas, dining room chairs and tables. A lack of training on the importance of ergonomic equipment and DSE best practices have likely resulted in an increase in discomfort at home and long-term studies may reveal a positive correlation between homeworking and musculoskeletal disorders in years to come.
Read our article on how to reduce musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace.
Impact of homeworking on employee wellbeing
In the UK, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) data show that in February 2022 more than three-quarters (78%) of those who worked from home in some capacity said that being able to work from home gave them an improved work-life balance.
However, remote and hybrid working can lead to the blurring of work-life boundaries and a feeling of pressure to always be available online, as well as an increase in unpaid overtime work hours. Use of information and communication technologies to engage in work-related tasks outside of work time can also make it difficult for workers to ‘switch off’.
Positive and negative health impacts also vary by socio-demographic characteristics, as well as individual factors, such as an employee’s work satisfaction and personal circumstances – meaning the impact of homeworking on wellbeing is relatively subjective.
Impact of homeworking on productivity
The true impact of remote and hybrid working on productivity are still inconclusive, with more specific employee surveys needed to better understand what is happening. However, in self-reported surveys, around two-thirds or more of employees working at home say they got as much or more done as pre-pandemic in the workplace.
Yet not all workers thrive in a remote work environment and there can be challenges associated with working from home such as social isolation and difficulty separating work and personal life. This is particularly true for younger workers, who rely on social cues and face to face training to effectively integrate into a team and who report feeling less productive working from home as a result.
Likewise, different industries will experience different levels of productivity for homeworkers. For example, IT and telecoms businesses are most likely to work from home, with the ability for workers to carry out tasks independently. In contrast, healthcare workers, who rely on face-to-face encounters and collaboration with patients and colleagues will likely experience less productivity working from home.
Environmental impact of homeworking
Other potential wider impacts but with even less available evidence, include those on energy and the environment. Increased remote and hybrid working could improve air quality, reduce plastic pollution and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, it could also increase energy consumption and electronic waste.
So, is hybrid working here to stay? There are reports that some large organisations are re-looking at hybrid and remote working, with the likes of Apple, Goldman Sachs, Google and Salesforce all demanding a minimum of 2 or 4 days in the office – citing the enhanced benefits of face-to-face communication and collaboration.
However, with just 30% of UK companies working fully on-site in 2023, as opposed to 57% before the pandemic, there are no signs of hybrid working slowing down. 
As a result, the jury is still out on hybrid working’s longevity and employers must prioritise employee wellbeing for a productive workforce both in and out of the office.
How to effectively implement a hybrid working policy
Experts suggest that supporting remote and hybrid working in the longer term will require more inclusive approaches to remote working, including providing more training and having a better understanding of ergonomics and how to manage musculoskeletal risks.
Areas such as cybersecurity and increasing access to digital technologies and infrastructure are also a growing concern. Employers have a responsibility to provide adequate training to their employees to ensure breaches are mitigated.
At Cardinus, our award-winning Healthy Working DSE solution is fully compatible with hybrid working patterns and provides a range of customisable training and DSE risk assessment software to support your employees whether from home or in the office.
We also have a new employee wellbeing and productivity tool, Healthy Working Analytics, which uses a series of evidence-based questions to gather confidential feedback on the factors that are preventing your employees from delivering their best work. This data will help you to make the right interventions to increase employee wellbeing and performance. – https://hrnews.co.uk/nine-in-10-jobseekers-say-hybrid-working-now-as-important-as-financial-benefits/  – https://www.travelperk.com/blog/top-hybrid-work-trend-stats-from-global-companies/