Over the last year or so, there’s been a lot of chat about what the ‘future of work’ might look like. The coronavirus pandemic has forced businesses and organisations across a wide range of industries to reconsider what ‘work’ looks like thanks to the necessity of working from home – so it’s hardly surprising that workers are keen to make the most of this shift as the world heads back to ‘normal’.
Of course, one of the biggest topics at the forefront of this conversation is that of mental health. Although many were starting to wake up to the impact their work lives were having on their wellbeing pre-pandemic (especially when it came to stress and burnout), after a year of heightened anxiety and isolation, it’s hardly surprising that more and more of us are looking for ways to put our mental health first at work.
But how do we do that? If the last year has made one thing clear, it’s that working from home isn’t the answer many hoped it would be. While some people have truly enjoyed working from home, for others it’s caused plenty of problems, from being unable to switch off due to blurred work/life boundaries to feeling burnt out as a result of increased overtime and the pressures of ‘digital presenteeism’.
It’s clear that we need some kind of middle ground between the two to create a working culture that puts everyone’s mental wellbeing first. And that’s where the concept of ‘hybrid working’ could come in.
A form of flexible working which involves splitting one’s time between the office and remote working (usually from home), hybrid working is a fairly new concept – but it’s one that’s catching on. Indeed, according to a new report from the health and life insurance brand Vitality in partnership with the RSA, only 16% of homeworkers would prefer to be in a physical work location full time going forward, with 48% saying they’d prefer to split time between home and the office.
So, could hybrid working be the solution to better mental health going forward? Or are there potential problems that need to be addressed? To find out more about hybrid working – and what it might mean for you and your job – we asked Gemma Dale, a senior HR professional, conference speaker, coach and author of Flexible Working, for insight into this potential shift. Here’s what she had to say.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of hybrid working when it comes to mental health and wellbeing?
While splitting your time between the office and home may sound like the best of both worlds, it’s important to note that the problems that exist with both set-ups may still play a part in a hybrid model.
“There are a number of potential benefits to hybrid working – but there are also some potential problems that must be taken into account,” Dale explains.
“One of the main benefits for employees working from home is a reduction in commuting, and the associated times and costs. This time can be used for activities that support wellbeing such as exercise, time with friends and family or hobbies. It can also provide people with more choice and autonomy to schedule their working day and activities in a way that suits them best – and autonomy in this way can support overall wellbeing.”
Dale continues: “However, working from home is not a wellbeing panacea – and remote workers need to find routines and boundaries that work for them when at home to help them manage their work/life balance. Only then can hybrid/remote working be a force for wellbeing and mental health rather than work against it.”
What should you look for when establishing a hybrid working contract?
If you think hybrid working could suit you and your career, there are a number of key things to keep in mind when establishing this with your employer.
First of all, remember that it’s your right to ask for a flexible working arrangement – in the UK, any employee who has 26 weeks of continuous service can submit a request for flexible working, which also includes ‘flexitime’, part-time and job-sharing arrangements on top of working from home and/or hybrid working.
On top of this, Dale recommends drawing up an idea of what you want from your new arrangement and how it might work with your career and responsibilities, so you can ensure you’re getting what you need.
“People need to think about their own circumstances and how these balance with the needs of their role and organisation,” she says.
“When and where are they most personally effective and productive? When can they focus best, and what supports their wellbeing? What are the potential benefits for the organisation or the manager if they support hybrid working? When applying for any form of flexible working it is always a good idea to think through the benefits and potential challenges.”
Dale also recommends making the most of any working from home training or opportunities that might exist within your organisation, so you know how best to organise your time and create a schedule that works for you.
“Getting good working habits and routines is key to making the most of hybrid working,” she adds.
While it’s clear that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to mental health at wellbeing and work, it seems like adopting a ‘hybrid’ approach – and being able to have more control over your working habits as a result – could be a step in the right direction.
To learn more about requesting a flexible working arrangement post-pandemic and your rights when it comes to returning to the office, you can check out our guide.
Flexible Working by Gemma Dale (Kogan Page, 2020) is available to buy now
If working during the pandemic has taken its toll on your mental health, you’re not alone. From the isolation of being separated from colleagues and the stress of relying on technology to the threat of redundancy and the anxiety of applying for new jobs, there are a number of reasons why you might find this time particularly challenging.
So, what can you do about it? We’ve got a plan.
Our Work It Out campaign, supported by Mind, aims to give you the tools and resources you need to take care of your mental health while you’re stuck at home. From completing your Work 5 A Day to dealing with issues including anxiety, loneliness and stress, we’ll be exploring all aspects of WFH wellbeing.
For more information, including how to complete your Work 5 A Day, you can check out our guide to getting started.
As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.