Women in the TMT industries report that the hybrid way of working leads to poor work-life balance, more stress, and less visibility, compared to in-person or fully remote work.
The pandemic has fueled a dramatic and enduring shift to remote work. According to Deloitte’s 2022 Connectivity and Mobile Trends Survey of US consumers, 47% of employed adults said they have worked from home at least some of the time over the past year, and almost all said they appreciated aspects of working remotely, especially the lack of commute, enhanced comfort, reduced chance of illness, and better focus.1 At least half reported that their family relationships, physical wellbeing, and emotional wellbeing improved. More than 8 in 10 reported that their relationships with supervisors and colleagues had either improved or stayed the same. Moreover, the challenges of remote working, including work/life balance issues, stress, home internet quality, and video conferencing problems, all diminished considerably compared to the prior year, as workers gained more experience and optimised their home networks and devices.2
Not surprisingly, three-quarters of remote workers would like to continue having virtual or hybrid options as the pandemic recedes.3 Although there’s ongoing debate and negotiation between employers and workers on the best working models for the future, it’s likely that hybrid work will become the norm as more workplaces push for a partial return to offices.4
Hybrid work arrangements promise the best of both worlds: the flexibility of working remotely as well as opportunities to engage with colleagues face-to-face. But some troubling indications suggest that this promise is still more aspiration than reality—especially for women working in tech, media, and telecommunications (TMT).
An analysis of Deloitte’s Women @ Work 2022 study shows that a majority of TMT women globally are already working in a hybrid manner (51% vs. 43% of non-TMT women), and another 39% of TMT women are working remotely (vs. 29% of non-TMT women).5 However, the predominant hybrid mode is posing more challenges for TMT women than working fully in-person or fully remotely (figure).
Hybrid-working TMT women are less likely to rate their productivity and motivation at work as good or extremely good. Remarkably, only about a third are satisfied with their overall work/life balance—something more than half of their remote and in-person counterparts claim. Hybrid TMT women are also more likely to report feeling stressed and burned out, and fewer than 4 in 10 rate their mental wellbeing as good or extremely good—well below their remote counterparts. Interestingly, fully remote work seems a strong frontrunner for productivity, motivation, emotional wellbeing, and work/life balance.
Why is hybrid work proving so challenging? The transition to hybrid will likely require an adjustment period, as employees and employers learn and adapt. For employees, hybrid comes with the burden of juggling two workspaces, two different kinds of daily work patterns, and household routines that change from one day to the next. With 86% of TMT women with children saying they bear the greatest responsibility for child care in their household, arranging for care that varies from day to day may prove especially difficult.6 Many workers find the constant switching emotionally exhausting.7 Hybrid also involves the considerable challenge of balancing flexibility with corporate expectations. If the choice of in-office days is left fully to workers, workspace usage and in-person collaboration may suffer. On the other hand, if a company mandates which days to work in the office, employees may resent the reduced flexibility.8
Diversity and inclusion should be a consideration when it comes to hybrid work. On the plus side, some big tech companies regard flexible working arrangements as a powerful tool for recruiting and retaining diverse employees; Meta, for instance, credits remote work for reaching its diversity goals two years earlier than projected.9 On the negative side, hybrid work can lead to “proximity bias”—favoring employees who put in the most face time at the office.10 A recent global survey found that men, white knowledge workers, executives, and non-parents were choosing to work in offices at higher rates.11 If employers don’t guard against proximity bias, hybrid work could reinforce inequities. Indeed, two insights from Deloitte’s Women @ Work study raise red flags: A majority of hybrid-working TMT women (52%) said they’ve experienced exclusion from professional activities (such as meetings, decision-making, informal interactions)—versus 33% of remote TMT women—and nearly half (45%) said they have not had enough exposure to leaders, versus 26% of remote TMT women (figure). Hybrid work may make it more challenging to be in the right place at the right time: When an employer schedules in-person events, hybrid workers—especially those with dependent-care responsibilities—may find it difficult to adjust their already complex schedules.
Just as employees and employers adapted to the challenges of fully remote work, both should address the challenges of hybrid to help ensure it can live up to its promise.
Ensure effective technology tools and connectivity. There’s room to improve virtual work: Employees working from home still need better connectivity, improved collaboration, and techniques for managing distractions and stress.12 Hybrid work creates a need for tools like “hybrid schedulers” that workers can use to share where they’ll be working and to coordinate with colleagues for in-person collaboration. And, to help ensure equitable experiences for remote and in-person workers in hybrid meetings, organisations are upgrading video equipment and meeting spaces, exploring the use of new technologies like whiteboards paired with cameras, and even considering how to use the metaverse.13
Balance flexibility and predictability. Employers should be thoughtful and intentional about when and why they bring people together and consider giving hybrid workers the power to manage their own schedules flexibly but predictably. Transparency of schedules and locations can be key to ensuring that workers won’t miss out on interactions by being in the “wrong workplace at the wrong time.”
Foster fairness and inclusion. A study of 28,000 employees in 27 countries revealed that nearly three-quarters believe their company needs to rethink its “culture and mindset” to ensure that hybrid work is truly inclusive.14 Employers should ensure they’re treating all workers—regardless of work mode—equitably. One leading practice is to provide hybrid ways to attend events, ensuring that hybrid or remote workers aren’t left out. Organisations should also cultivate dynamic leadership capabilities geared towards managing hybrid teams—including empathy and adaptability.15
Help workers manage family needs. During the pandemic, child care availability, staffing, and cost became critical issues: A majority of employed parents in the United States said they struggled to handle child care responsibilities, and 60% of parents who left jobs cited lack of child care as a reason.16 Recognising child care as a competitive issue, some large TMT companies have been innovating new child care benefits, such as providing stipends, extending caregiver leave, subsidising backup child care and tutoring, and helping parents locate vetted “on-demand” child care.17