How to handle the 'hybrid working headache'

Blissful as working from home has been for many, we’re now entering a new landscape that combines working patterns of the last year with pre-pandemic life.

Some have no choice but to go back to the office on set days, while others are negotiating longer-term hybrid solutions.

But hybrid working brings its own set of challenges psychologically.

Readjusting to office life while still having to working longer hours at home can be tough. Nuffield Health’s head of emotional wellbeing Brendan Street says it can increase the ‘psychological load’ on employees.

He says what can happen is continual ‘blurring of work-life boundaries and adding commute time back into weekly routines’, warning that the worst case it can lead to burnout – a now WHO-recognised condition.

The goal is the ‘experience “hybrid engagement”‘, Brendan adds, which sees people making the most of the new normal – without being weighed down by it.

These are his top tips for getting in that mindset:

Embrace flexibility

When there’s an option to divide time at work and at home, Brendan predicts a sense of guilt will rise in people as they fear that choosing to work from home will make them appear lazier than colleagues that favour the office.

‘As a result, remote workers often overwork,’ he explains.

‘It’s an unhelpful habit, which can see us working longer hours and skipping lunch to “justify” our flexible working perks.

‘The long-term stress of overworking can lead to serious health risks, including physical symptoms like fatigue, nausea and headaches, plus mental ill health like anxiety, low mood and depression,’ he says.

If you find yourself logging on early to make up for the missed commute, invest that time into life outside of work instead.

Leave work behind

Not quite free of the shackles of working in the same place we relax and sleep, hybrid working can leave us still vulnerable to taking work home.

We know that the ‘always on’ culture that’s been a symptom of the pandemic is unhealthy, but do you think about how much work leaks into your personal life?

Perhaps your phone has apps on it that are only for the benefit of work or notifications have been left on your personal laptop so that you’re still accessible even while off duty.

‘While one of the benefits of flexible working is the ability to fit work around other activities, it’s important the lines don’t become blurred.

‘If you prefer to take the morning for yourself and work into the evening, make sure you don’t stay online too close to your bedtime routine,’ Brendan says.

He suggests doing things like physically putting a laptop away and out of sight after work, or closing the door on the room your work in or swiftly getting up and going for a walk – anything to signify a change.

‘When we work, our stress levels naturally rise (this is what makes us alert and productive). So, make sure you leave enough time – a buffer zone – for these to return to normal before trying to sleep,’ he adds.

Also avoid what he calls ‘bedmin’ – doing work admin while lounging in bed.

Relish routine

Even within flexibility, we can find a sense of routine to help us stay grounded.

‘Flexible working shouldn’t mean erratic or inconsistent working,’ Brendan says, ‘the novelty of hybrid may see some struggle to create a routine, as we switch between the unique demands of remote working and visiting the office.’

Just as there was routine pre-pandemic, it needs to be recreated in hybrid dynamic.

This could include setting the same working hours each day, regardless of your location, and agreeing which days will be always spent in the office.

‘Instability means we can’t prepare our expectations from day to day and makes it more likely that we ask ourselves “what if?” and expect the worst,’ Brendan adds.

Other places you can find routine are in your lunch break and classes or activities you may do outside of work at set times.

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