Hybrid Working is Here to Stay
A recent CIPD survey (1) reported an increase in employers supporting and already providing a day one right to request hybrid working arrangements.
- More than a third (37%) had seen an increase in requests for FW in the previous six months.
- Over half of organisations (56%) believe that it is important to provide flexible working as an option when advertising jobs. They see this as a key way of attracting staff and addressing skill or labour shortages.
- More than two-fifths of organisations (42%) say they will be more likely to grant requests for flexible working compared with before the pandemic (March 2020).
While hybrid working has many potential benefits for organisations and employees, there are also inherent risks that need to be identified and mitigated. While hybrid working can offer flexibility to employees, the individual considerations need to align with the broader business needs and imperatives. Many organisations have evolved rather than designed their approach to hybrid working. This has led to some important unintended consequences including the reduction of psychological safety with subsequent impacts on critical business areas such as innovation and organisational learning.
Psychological Safety Matters
Psychological safety refers to team members feeling able to fully participate, contribute and feel listened to (2). Increasingly organisations state a desire to have employees contribute to the continuous improvement of processes through behaviours and actions that facilitate learning and change (3). Providing an environment where employees feel safe to voice new ideas, give and receive feedback, experiment, and collaborate facilitates individual and organisational learning. Psychological safety is driven by the interactions at three levels: individual, team and organisational (4).
These interactions are fundamentally changed in the hybrid world. During real life interactions we use visual cues to read faces and multi-sensory integration to read body language. These natural cues are significantly reduced in a virtual environment which can materially reduce the social and psychological experience. Technology companies are designing tools that support meeting execution and enrich three key elements essential to psychological safety; making the meeting purposeful and fulfilling, ensuring attendees receive appropriate levels of attention, and enabling others to feel comfortable (5) There are Apps such as MeetCues that attempt to address this issue by analysing the types of conversations during meetings, monitoring emotional states and language markers. However, there are potential ethical and legal issues with using such technologies with concerns around AI solutions being biased, unfair, and lacking transparency (5).
This matters because reduced psychological safety has many consequences. One recent research paper suggested that that virtual communication can significantly reduce team collaboration and innovation (6). A combined laboratory and field study across 5 countries suggested that virtual meetings inhibit the production of creative ideas and collaborative innovation. The effects were found to be caused by differences in the physical nature of virtual interactions and the use of eye gaze technology, recall measures and latent semantic analysis indicated that the participants focus on a screen prompts a narrower cognitive focus with a consequent reduction in creative idea generation.
The Hybrid World has Different Rules
It is not just the challenges of virtual engagement and working that Leaders must address the blurring between work and life that has become an inherent part of Hybrid Working (7). Employee personal circumstances now need to be factored in traditional staffing, scheduling and co-ordination activities. The preference to work from home can be motivated by many different considerations including family priorities, health issues, a non-work passion or by commuting considerations. These topics can be significant to an individual’s values and sense of identity and so can be challenging conversations. There are also potential ethical and legal complexities. Having these difficult conversations however is critical and requires high levels of psychological safety within an overarching framework and approach to hybrid working at an organisational level.
How can we help?
We at Impact help organisations to reassess, reset and relaunch their approach to hybrid working in a way that optimises customer, business, and individual needs. We tailor a structured approach that enables organisations to achieve their goals and aspirations for all key stakeholders. To find out more about how we can support you and your organisation, please click here to get in touch with us.
- CIPD (2022) An update on flexible and hybrid working practices: Report (cipd.co.uk)
- Edmondson (1999) Psychological safety and behaviour in work teams
- Newman, Donohue, and Eva (2017) Psychological safety: A systematic review
- Paper 4 Kolbe et al (2020) Managing psychological safety in debriefings
- Constantinides et al (2020) Productivity is a matter of the senses
- Brucks and Levav (2022) Virtual communication curbs creative idea generation
- Edmondson and Mortensen (2021) What psychological safety looks like in a hybrid workplace