NSM Focus | Stéfanie André: ‘Hybrid working is here to stay’

During the pandemic, it was mostly highly-educated people who discovered the advantages of remote working. Many of them aren’t keen to return to the office full-time. Hybrid working is the solution for the future, says Assistant Professor of Public Administration Stéfanie André.

Together with her colleagues, Peter Kruyen, Beatrice van der Heijden, and Marieke van Genugten, André carried out an extensive study among civil servants. “We wanted to know what they saw as the main advantages and disadvantages of remote working. Commuting time turned out to be a major factor. Many people really enjoyed not having to commute every day from and to work. For others, the commute was a pleasant buffer between work and private life. And there was also a group that missed the colleagues, creativity, and collaboration of office life when working from home.”

Hybrid working can provide a solution for all these different preferences, says André. “COVID-19 acted as a catalyst, giving hybrid working a big boost. I expect that it’s here to stay. A growing number of organisations see that remote working works fine and that it helps employees be more productive. Our research also shows that most people enjoy hybrid working. Those who work five days a week, for example, would like to spend three days at the office, and two days at home. At home, people can often work on their own tasks with a lot more focus, while at the office, they can take part in meetings and work with others.”

Fixed meeting days

Hybrid working requires planning, flexibility, and clear communication from employees. André is putting this into practice in her own life. “For example, I don’t plan in any meetings when my children have swimming lessons. My husband takes them to the swimming pool, but if he is unable to for some reason, I can easily take over. I also have colleagues who put the days when they pick up their children from school in the team calendar. That way you know that they are temporarily not available in person, but may be contactable online. It’s important to keep each other informed about these things.”

Employers should be equally flexible, says André. They should convey the message that physical presence is not a holy grail, and trust that people can also be productive at home. “In addition, it’s important that managers clearly communicate what they expect from their employees. For example, you can set fixed meeting days and agree that everyone who is not on leave will be in the office on those days. In that way you can make sure that people have enough freedom, while also maintaining cohesion.”

Not a game changer

Women especially are using remote working to combine work and private life, for example to pick up their children from school. “I hope that men will feel encouraged to do the same,” says André, who has been studying for years how people – in particular fathers – combine work and childcare. “During the pandemic, men also experienced that by working from home, they could, for example, spend time with their children in the afternoons, instead of relying on after-school care.”

In practice, these habits turn out to be deep-rooted. “The hope that COVID-19 would be a game changer when it comes to emancipation has failed to materialise so far. Women still take on the majority of care tasks. If hybrid working becomes more normal, men could maybe find a different balance between work and care. Continuous schedules might help in this context: fathers could, for example, work until 2 p.m., and then pick up their children from school. That way they could take on more care tasks, while still making enough hours, so they wouldn’t have to fear potential career consequences. And their partners could have more flexibility to go to work. In principle, this could reduce inequality between men and women in terms of both working hours and care tasks. But it really is a long-term process.”

Stéfanie André awarded Veni grant

In April, Stéfanie André was awarded a Veni grant for her study of how fathers combine work and childcare. The Veni is awarded by the Dutch Research Council (Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek, NWO) and is intended for excellent researchers who recently completed their PhD. André will use these funds in coming years to develop a new instrument for measuring the work-childcare ambitions and work-childcare behaviour of fathers with pre-school and school-age children. She will also be studying the opportunities and obstacles that fathers face in translating their work-childcare ambitions into work-childcare behaviour.