Menu Close

As the world gets closer to the eventual end of the virus pandemic, more than ever, white-collar workers worldwide are working remotely, and last year most said they want to keep that arrangement with employers. Just 3% of white collar workers wanted to return to the office five days a week, according to a poll by Accenture Research last year. But this year, the love affair with hybrid work may be fading.

A full 86% of employees wanted to work from home at least two days a week, the report said after surveying nearly 10,000 people around the world last year, across areas including finance, technology and energy. All age groups felt the same way, they added. Workers reported a preference for commuting into cities on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, raising the prospect of empty offices for the rest of the week.

Many banks geared up for flexible working after two years of COVID lockdowns, with the likes of Citigroup Inc., HSBC Holdings Plc and NatWest Group Plc allowing hybrid working for many staff. Some fintech companies like Revolut Ltd. and Eigen Technologies Ltd. are even allowing staff to work entirely remotely.

NatWest expects around 87% of its 60,000 staff to split work between home and the office in the longer term. For now about 10,000 of its staff, including traders and employees in branches and data centers, still work entirely in the office, Sam Bowerman, one of the bank’s human resources directors, said in an interview earlier this month.

“We’re keen to avoid mandating X number of days per week. It’s customer led,” Bowerman said. “So far we’ve seen no detriment to productivity and the flexibility has produced a lot of goodwill.”

In theory, hybrid offers the best deal for both employer and employee. It combines pre-Covid-19 patterns of office-based working with remote days, in a working schedule that would allow both in-person collaboration and team building, as well as greater flexibility and the opportunity for focused work at home.

But in reviewing the phenomena, the BBC claims in a story reported in January, that emerging data is beginning to back up anecdotal evidence: many workers report, that hybrid work is emotionally draining.

In a recent global study by Seattle based employee engagement platform Tinypulse, more than 80% of people leaders reported that such a set-up was exhausting for employees. Workers, too, reported hybrid was more emotionally taxing than fully remote arrangements – and, even full-time office-based work.

“There was a feeling that hybrid would be the best of both worlds,” says Elora Voyles, an industrial organizational psychologist and people scientist at Tinypulse, based in California. “For bosses, it means they retain a sense of control and that they can see their workers in person. For employees, it offers more flexibility than full-time in the office and means they can work safely during the pandemic.”

However, as the novelty of hybrid working has faded, so too has workers’ enthusiasm. “We found that people were less positive about hybrid through 2021 as the year went on,” explains Voyles.

Optimism among workers soon gave way to fatigue. In Tinypulse’s survey of 100 global workers, 72% reported exhaustion from working hybrid – nearly double the figures for fully remote employees and also greater than those based fully in the office. Voyles says the small sample size reflects a wider trend; she believes it’s the disruption to employees’ daily routines – and the staccato nature of hybrid – that workers find so tiring.

Physically carrying work back-and-forth between home and the office may also come with a psychological impact for some. A recent study found 20% of UK workers reported difficulties switching off from work and feeling ‘always on’; struggling to adapt to hybrid, and the permeable boundaries between home and work, was cited as a major factor.