Welcome to episode 7 in our ‘The Future at Work’ podcast! Today we move onto the final theme in our podcast, hybrid working. Join us to explore how hybrid working might affect the future ways of working.
ELLEN: Hello everyone to the Future of Work podcast series. My name is Ellen Wang from Leeds University Business School and I am your host for the show.
MARK: Hi its Mark [name], student career consultant, University of Leeds.
ELLEN: In the last episodes for this podcast series we focused on the topic of AI selection around recruitment and we have talked to a practitioner as well as an Academic researcher into this field and in today’s episode we will start a new topic around hybrid working. There has been a giant leap in remote working during the pandemic which seems to have foreshadowed a new era of the hybrid working model in which many companies offer employee flexibility in deciding to work in the office or working elsewhere. The hybrid work pace remains a non-territory for most organisations leaving some it and finance leaders fending for themselves when it comes to supporting employees under these conditions. For instance, I read an article where it says only 35% of IT leaders say they have the right IT infrastructure in place to do so. There is plenty of debate and discussions around hybrid working and its benefits and impact on the wider workforce and economy
So we won’t be able to cover everything around this topic today but hopefully we will make a start to explore what is happening right now as well as going into the future as well. So I think a good place to start today Mark is to talk about what’s happening right now with organisations with what is happening in relation to hybrid working.hings have settled down since:
ELLEN: Absolutely, absolutely. And I think we all have to adapt to the new reality so to speak. SO speaking of the pros and cons, what do you think are the benefits and limitations regarding working from home or hybrid working please?
MARK: OK so in terms of benefits, I think what was seen early on was the sustainability pace. So obviously with people not travelling into work.
MARK: So people using cars, or what have you. Obviously that was good in terms of sustainability you know it impacted positively on the environment so that was a good thing. Obviously it saved money as well because people weren’t travelling. They weren’t paying for petrol costs, train costs, etc. So I think the sustainability pace was very big. I think another positive is that a lot of people liked that it was a relaxed environment; they didn’t have to spend so long commuting, so it was less time in travel so they could spend more time sleeping, that is a huge benefit from that. I think a lot of older employees could spend more time with their families.
I know that was something that I benefited from with my son, taking him to school, picking him up. Working that around. So I think there were positives there.
In terms of negatives I think this was a big one for the graduates and obviously our placement students is that they didn’t get to experience life in an office and for some of them that might be the first time they have actually had, you know, not a proper job because, you know, the choice to have worked part-time jobs and they are proper jobs and very important jobs, but maybe in a role that isn’t particularly relevant to what they want to graduate into. So they didn’t get that experience, they didn’t have the [inaudible] moments, they didn’t have the social activities and that is where you really learn a lot and you get a lot of sort of really good knowledge from senior staff. You couldn’t knock on a door, it was all sort of Teams and Zoom meetings. It was very hard for a lot of students that I talked to, very hard for them to sort of put meetings in and that’s because they weren’t confident enough to do that. So I think though that there were sort of cons as well add to that situation.
ELLEN: Absolutely. I mean, just going back to what you said about a relaxing environment for employees, I would probably challenge that because not everybody has got the luxury environment. I think some have provided feedback and saying they come from an environment where it is not actually suitable to work from home, so that could be a limitation as well right? Because it really depends on the home set up for whether it was suitable or not to work from home.
MARK: Yeah, absolutely, I mean it’s not for everybody and equally I suppose, you know, you could look at those [inaudible] and pros and they’re not for everybody and some of the cons aren’t for everybody as well. So you travel for work, I know we have some colleagues who came in during lockdown and they didn’t want to be, so yeah. I take that point. I think for a lot of people they like being at home. Like I said, it’s their environment. You know, they maybe share a desk maybe. Or their kitchen is cleaner. Thinking about our kitchen in the career centre, you know it’s absolutely horrific so yeah. I do see the point. Absolutely. Technology is another one. Some people don’t have access to the technology as well, especially I think if you look at, and I know you’re talking about work, but if you look at the home schooling which impacted on employees. That was very hard for a lot of people as well.
ELLEN: Absolutely. And we see a lot of pets, you know, cats and dogs appearing on Zoom calls more than humans sometimes right?
MARK: Yeah, absoulutely. Yeah. Kids ad all sorts. Yeah, so um. I think people are quite relaxed about that though. I think.
ELLEN: Yeah, yeah. Which is good.
MARK: That can add to being more relaxed in the workplace.
Some employers see that as a benefit actually. If they’re more relaxed with their staff then they get more in terms of work as well.
ELLEN: Right, right. SO I guess the list of the pros and cons that you’ve mentioned. These are not concrete. They’re kind of really relevant to the individual’s situation but given these benefits and limitations. Some of the informal opinion is that people work longer hours when they work from home. Should the employer look to prevent this or do you think this is an employee issue, do you think?
MARK: That’s a really good point. I mean I think it is an issue and I think the majority of people would probably say they are probably putting in more hours. Yeah I mean I think there is only so much an employer can do. I think employers can say ‘We don’t expect you to work past X, we don’t see messages sent out past Y’ I think they do have to take responsibility for that. I think there has been a blur between work and social. I remember you know pre-covid when I was out in China. It was interesting because everything was run through WeChat. Social and business, it was all run through WeChat. It was very noticeable when I was out in the evening with our hosts out in China and how they would literally take calls, you know, nine ten o’clock over dinner thinking it was social but because it was business they don’t answer the call anyway they don’t deal with it. So I think that there was a blurring and I think that might translate over here as well. There may be that aspect. So I think it might be the case that employers will have to put in policy and say ‘we don’t expect this, we don’t want to see this’ you know. I am sure they can maybe put some sort of [inaudible] the sort of stud that goes in through a work email. But I mean and individual sort of has to take on a responsibility as well.
ELLEN: Yeah, I take your point on blurred line because it is quite difficult, isn’t it, where some people would split their day almost to have a huge gap in between because they have other caring responsibilities and that makes the policy very difficult for employers. So for example if you know I decide to work from 8 – 11 and then have a 3 or4 or 5 hours gap and then start picking things up again from let’;s say 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon or onwards. So that makes it almost impossible for the company or employers to keep track of ach employee and their productivity and therefore the rely very much on the employee’s responsibility to work as what they are supposed to work on contracted hours. But at the same time that would also mean that perhaps they work longer or shorter hours as per the individuals circumstances.
MARK: I mean, yeah, they could reiterate the hours they’re meant to work, so they’re contracted hours. So if you do have that, of course you will get that a lot with international companies because of the time difference. I mention China, if you’re working China the time difference is different to [inaudible] get up earlier to work with them or if it’s America you work later. But I think you still got to reiterate the contracted hours and I think if that’s constantly repeated it will go into an employee’s mind that ‘Actually I can’t go there, I should be working that’ so I appreciate, you know, people take time out. Again, having home-schooled my son during lockdown there were times when you had to take time out because you had to facilitate lessons through school, which were online, when you ordinarily you would have been working. So you had to work slightly later.
ELEN: Yeah. So just thinking into the future around this issue then, do you think there is some kind of clever AI system to be integrated to be part of the tracking hours almost every time you log a call or email that this needs to be tracked so that employers know you’re working to the full contracted hours.
MARK: Oh, that’s tricky isn’t it? Because obviously if you’re looking at emails, phone calls, or use of Zoom or Teams that’s one thing. But if you’re someone who, uh…. Let’s say, for example, my job. I have to create teaching slides, workshop slides, I use PowerPoint, sometimes I sketch them out on pen and paper, you know that’s old school but that’s how I the way I see things. No one knows I am doing that. It doesn’t look like… you know, you haven’t don’t anything but, well, I have. If you have [inaudible] films they would use a lot of [inaudible] or copy things. You couldn’t have that with everything. I think that’s a bit policing people a little too much. I’m sure it’ll happen, I’m sure… I’m sure that software will come into play. I’m sure it already happens on certain jobs where you have to be online constantly. You know if you look at banks that are online or travel agencies that are online and they have targets. But with other things, I think you have to be careful.
ELLEN: Yeah you won’t be able to police in the core centre environment at every single job. S I guess relating back to our students and graduates then on this topic. How can online learning assist with graduates with hybrid working, Mark?
MARK: Yeah, so I been [inaudible] along with students about this because it is mainly because obviously over the last few years for them... it’s really not been a great time for them, it’s not been a positive time and it’s not me being crass or being unsympathetic but I think you know the learning that they have gone through, which has been remote learning, you know some of the tools like Teams and using sort of Minerva more or whatever it might be. You know, on reflection it is going to benefit them on working in hybrid environment because they are going to be expected to use software like Zoom or Teams in most meetings. They’re going to be expected to use programs to do their jobs. This isn’t going away. It was always going to happen and the pandemic basically accelerated the working from model, or hybrid model I should say. So I think you know it has been hard. It has been difficult. I do get that. I understand it entirely. I understand why people haven’t liked it I understand why it has been hard. But I think on reflection some of those skills and the way they were learnt will be very, very, important going forward. And again, especially so because employers haven’t gone through this before and so it’s like they are learning together. So actually, they’re going to have a lot of good skills that are relevant to the future of work.
ELLEN: Absolutely. So yeah, that’s positive points and I am sure our current students and graduates will appreciate that. There’s always a silver lining to everything, isn’t it? So I’ve got a follow-up question on this. In terms of working from home or even hybrid do you think that will affect our graduates’ ability to thrive in a company?
MARK: Yeah. I mean it’s gonna be an unusual situation for the students and the graduates. So as I said, they’re learning skills through remote learning that’s going to benefit them moving forward into hybrid or work from home. I think they are still going to be situations where its important you have the face to face and the social skills, the sort of networking. Again they’re gonna learn some of the tools that some of the companies are going to use for selection recruitment methods, so you know if they get so far through as the assessment center and if that assessment center is online they’re gonna be using software the company uses and the company uses the simulated activities that are relevant to that company and again they’re going to learn from those as well, so that’s going to benefit them as well as the learning theyre going to have at the university. However, yeah. There’s still going ot be requirement for a lot of companies that are still going to ant an element of office work, face to face work, working with clients. Hopefully students will benefit from getting out of lockdown now getting back into the swing o face to face work, seminars, activities on campus. It’s important they engage with that as well, not shy away from that. I appreciate ethers still anxiety. I get that. I understand that. And especially maybe with certain students with certain cultures where, you know, maybe in their home country lockdown’s got a bit faceless. So I know I was speaking to a friend in Shanghai a couple of weeks ago where she’s been locked in for about three weeks and it’s not good there. And I suppose if you are from Shanghai and you are a student here you know that and that is your fear an anxiety. So I think it’s still important that students and graduates engage in face to face, in activities as well because it is quite weird coming out of lockdown and I found that. I mean, I’m used to talking to people, standing in front of people and lecturing but it has been weird getting back into the swing of things.
ELLEN: Absolutely. It’s a skill, isn’t it?
MARK: It is a skill, yeah. It’s like networking when we do networking. A lot of students don’t like the idea of it, don’t like the idea of small talk, and how to start conversation and I think that has been affected as well. I mean, what can you talk about? The last two years have been lockdown and what else can you talk about and you don’t really want to talk about that to be honest.
ELLEN: Right. Yeah. I mean speaking of you know online hybrid and versus face to face. I’ve got a side question in terms of… Do you think there’s certain industries that are unsuitable or even irrelevant from hybrid working?
MARK: Yeah. [inaudible] I think some of the things we were talking about that we assume wouldn’t be affected would be. You know, we were talking about shop work, you know fast food restaurants, and what have you.
ELLEN: Right, hospitality.
MARK: Yeah, hospitality, yeah. But of course that at the minute is being piloted or actually there are restaurants and bars that are staffed by robots or maybe use AI as opposed to maybe waiters or waitresses. So you use an ipad you order in and it comes through from the kitchen and that’s it. You don’t need the customer service. There are, you know, people, I think one of the retailers, I can’t remember which one I think it might be Sainsburys but there other retail outlets available to you… who are piloting going in and getting food paying on your phone and going out and you don’t see a check out. I know you’ve got the self-service anyways, so it’s almost sort of a dying breed. So I think yeah, you know, I think it is effecting sectors and jobs that you’d think it wouldn’t effect. I mean, you’ll always have hairdressers I mean I can’t, I wouldn’t want to be sort of with my hair cut by a razor stuck to my neck by a robot. To be honest, I’m a pain on that.
ELLEN: There’s an advert, wasn’t it? Did you see that?
MARK: Yeah, used by Kevin Bacon. But I think generally, yeah, I think a lot of these sort of jobs… I mean, again, we were talking about the fact that a lot of taxi drivers—I was reading an article where taxi drivers jobs could be obsolete in about 5, 6 years. Because obviously driverless technology’s coming in and at the minute we might be anxious about that but people were anxious before the first plane took off, people were anxious before the first submarine went down… you’d argue that there are more accident son the roads than there are in planes. I think there are certain sects and jobs that we think upon that may well be. I think everything will be effected by this.
ELLEN: So I guess we’ll say tuned and see what’s happening!
MARK: Yeah, it’s interesting! Like I said, hair dressing… who knows.
ELLEN: So for now, that industry will stay face to face for you.
MARK: Yes! Yes, absolutely.
ELLEN: OK, so I think we’ve talked quite a bit about what’s happening right now, your observation and your discussion with employers by working with them. Now let’s look into the future. Do you think the hybrid working mode is here to stay and if so, how can we prepare for this everlasting trend?nking about jobs, you know in:
ELLEN: And how many languages do these dinosaurs speak?
MARK: Oh, who knows? I’m sure they speak an extinct language! So interesting. I mean, these things are happening, I mean they’re genuinely happening. But you’ll only know about that if you keep your eye on the ball and youlook at those platforms, if you connect with people at work in the industry. It is an exciting time and I appreciate some people may be worried about this. I know it’s a whole argument about robots and AI will take jobs away. I think the employer argument is that it would take the boring stuff away from jobs and it will enhance. I think one of the skills, I mean we won’t go into this in great detail because well do that for the next podcast, but for one of the skills I think for all employees will be CPD continued professional development. You’ll always gonna be learning, you will always be changing because we’ll always be adapting. You mentioned that article about, you know, the companies that don’t have the IT, that aren’t ready IT-wise. They’re never going to be ready with IT. IT changes every day. I mean, Elon Musk has just bought Twitter. Twitter is going to change a lot because he sees a different way. You will always change, this is what entrepreneurs do. They don’t stand still and I think we can expect that from employees and students so you got to keep your eyes on the ball! That’s the way that works. It’s exciting. It’s interesting and that’s what students are here for, research. It’s part of their course, it’s part of their curriculum.
ELLEN: Yeah no, that’s great. Thank you, Mark. I mean that’s very insightful I would say. And one of the main things I picked up that you said, the importance of commercial awareness. I think, like you say, we say it over and over again to our students. This is not just for students and graduates this is important for everyone really. You need to stay on top of the game if you’re in business. You need to adapt and change with this ever-changing environment and be part of the community, I guess, and society. So I guess, with that one point in mind, just kind of the last thing before we wrap up for the session. Any final words, any final suggestions from you, please, Mark?
MARK: Yes, so I think in terms of new ways of working, again, I would probably engage a lot with some of the platforms, the information platforms. So, World Economic Forum, always be following them. They have the most incredible reports, great research into what’s happening right now. That’s really good. And I would say a lot of the big four as well as McKinsey and Boston Consulting, the sort of consulting companies if you would like, they do a lot of research and work on this. They’re very up to date not only on what’s happening in present but also what’s going to happen in the future. And I think, again, by following them on whatever social media platform that you use I would be doing that as well be looking at that. You know, we’ve got some good staff from Leeds as well, someone like Matthew Davis, Henry Hughes, in LUBS whose been doing a lot of great work on this as well. You don’t have to be a LUB student, you could follow them as well on LinkedIn. They’re doing some great podcasting as well. They’re up to scratch with this, doing a lot of great work ith it. So again, I would follow our own staff as well.
ELLEN: And of course, yourself.
MARK: Oh yeah absolutely. Please, yeha, You can follow me, you could… I am mainly active on LinkedIn, doing a lot of posting on there. Some of the workshops we’ll be running we’ll certainly be looking at the future of work.
ELLEN: Well thank you very much Mark for the summary and all the insight and information and you’re views. I think that’s all we’ve got time for today and you’ve shared so much with us in this podcast, so greatly appreciated. So for the next episode everyone, we will invite industry practitioner who will share further insight on hybrid working and working from home topic where will go a bit more into the future as well so stay tuned for the next episode. Now if you are interested in finding out more on this topic, please subscribe to our podcast series. You’re also welcome to get in touch with us and you and either send us an email or book online appointments via the career center. Our contact details are available I the podcast description. Lastly, I shall leave you with a quote by Michael Maccabe: “If you’re not limited by specific office location, you can look anywhere in the country or anywhere on the globe, so the world really is your oyster. Until next time take care.D%: