Joy and anomie: How hybrid working is working out

New approaches to how and where we work are still being refined after a shock transition.

Illustration of hybrid team colleagues with distant online video call, each person in a bubble
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One of the most intriguing impacts of the Covid pandemic on everyday life has been a pronounced change as to how, when and where many of us work. Like much else in these fractious times, hybrid working appears to have polarised opinion. Many welcome what they see as a much-needed correction to work/life imbalance. Others see it as part of a drift towards practices that will reduce productivity and undermine leadership. And a wise few admit that, as we’re collapsing a system that has pervaded for over a century among white-collar workers, it’s really too early to know...

Ever since the pandemic changed our world, I’ve been talking to people about how work has been altered for them: their hopes, fears and opinions. Many of those conversations were casual, others were formal and on the record. For this article I’ve gone back to check if people were happy to be quoted and conducted new interviews. I hope the result is an interesting kaleidoscope of views.

When it happened

The issuing of stay-in-place orders was a surreal event for many of us: even if we had been following the news cycle closely, the actual day when it took place evoked a strange sense of dislocation.

One immediate impact was a sudden burst in the use of conferencing tools. Zoom was arguably the biggest beneficiary of this as the conferencing service became the conduit for conversations both personal and work-related. In a world where face-to-face interactions were necessarily limited, it seemed that we chased comfort in the next best thing: a simulacrum of our real world. I had interviewed Zoom CEO Eric Yuan in 2018 and soon after the ‘Zoom boom’ he had become one of the richest people in the world with shares steepling at $559 in October 2020, up a multiple of about eight times on the year start. If that felt strange for what had been only a somewhat well-known software company, life was getting pretty odd for the rest of us too.

“It’s weird,” emailed the communications manager of a well-known software company, “but I’m getting everything done faster and I don’t have to do the commute every day. Why were we doing all that stuff to ourselves in the first place? I now have no pointless meetings, no water-cooler chit-chat, no showing up to prove a point…”

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