Hybrid Working Shakes up the Market, Seen to Stay for Some Time

HR

Katalin Panayotopoulos-Antal

After the impact of coronavirus introduced large-scale working from home, some people are returning to office work partially. With hybrid work molding the Hungarian market, professionals believe this arrangement is here to stay, with all its opportunities and challenges. The Budapest Business Journal deep-dives into the current market sentiment.

When COVID-19 lockdowns kicked in two years ago, businesses had to adapt to new working conditions.

“Nobody expected the pandemic to escalate as quickly as it did in Hungary, where employers had been thinking about possible solutions when the sudden lockdown hit,” Tamás Püski, managing director of IT recruiter IseeQ, tells the BBJ.

Hungarian companies passed the acid test of the new working arrangements in the first lockdown, by and large.

Margit Farkas

“Nevertheless, no one thought that the implications would be so long-term, and lockdowns would follow each other on and off, making it very challenging for organizations to decide on future working models or plan at least months ahead,” Margit Farkas, EY Hungary partner in Workforce Advisory, says.

With the advent of COVID, workplaces changed significantly. The emergence of hybrid working arrangements, where employees mix working from home and a central office, calls for a completely different mindset, work organization and collaboration, and more flexibility.

The changed environment “showed who could work unsupervised, who could be trusted and where the gaps were in management approach, team relationships and empowerment,” agrees Katalin Panayotopoulos-Antal, managing partner at HR consultancy Arsis Global Consulting.

This unsolicited social experiment brought a rich learning opportunity to the business world. “COVID-19 revolutionized office work [...]. Home office has become an integral part of the life of a business,” Balázs Réfi, founder and CEO of Bluebird International, an IT recruiter, says.

The received wisdom pre-pandemic had been that working away from the office environment would be unproductive. The post-COVID experience indicates otherwise.

“Productivity was little impacted. Conversely, 88% of employees and 84% of employers in our 2020 survey said they either saw no effect in their productivity or efficiency improved since home office started,” Lili Simon-Göröcs, HR director of online job board profession.hu, tells the BBJ.

The lengthy pandemic also brought ambiguity to the workplace and loosened relationships between employees and employers. This sentiment needed addressing.

Dorottya Pákozdi

Market Advantage

“Only a few companies started early to design their future hybrid models. These first movers, I believe, had a market advantage, as they reduced the level of ambiguity and uncertainty for people about the future,” EY’s Farkas says.

Hybrid working, and the ability to work from home, are becoming a new standard in the eyes of many employees.

“Now, after two years of working from home, we have built a new normal,” Püski of IseeQ says.

Previously, employees would typically have their desks in offices where they would spend almost 100% of their working time. However, EY Hungary research in November 2021 showed that close to 60% of responding companies had developed and launched their hybrid strategy.

“Most organizations said they are asking their employees to be in the offices two or three days a week, which translates to 40-60% of their time,” Farkas confirms.

Tamás Püski

With the spread of hybrid working arrangements, where employees are only expected to show up in the office two to three times a week, shared desks are becoming more common, fueling office space reduction. Despite no significant work efficiency impact, challenges in managing employees have arisen.

“Flexibility makes coordination difficult; remote workers can feel neglected. Technology requirements must change. And hybrid work raises questions of trust, accountability and measuring productivity,” Panayotopoulos-Antal of Arsis Global Consulting says.

Dorottya Pákozdi, senior HR consultant and team leader at Vision Recruitment Hungary, seconds this view.

“In our experience, those present in the online space are relegated to the background and are less able to enforce their will,” Pákozdi says.

In general, while they respect the flexibility of hybrid work arrangements, managers have concerns about sustaining team performance, productivity, connectivity, and company culture when they supervise work from home.

Balázs Réfi

Collaboration and Creativity

In this context, offices are shaping into a place for meetings, exchanging ideas, and establishing interpersonal relationships. Projects that require creativity and innovative thinking can work much more efficiently in the physical office space.

“It is worthwhile creating a corporate home office policy to lay down a clear employer policy and deal with employees’ various needs uniformly. A home office policy can provide clear, unambiguous, and predictable work-from-home practices that can help increase employee satisfaction and avoid disputes with uncertain outcomes,” Pákozdi adds.

While Hungarian companies are more willing to implement hybrid working models than before, a well-working approach must be implemented to serve people’s needs and business goals, following a well-defined strategy and shifting management styles.

“Given the impact on individuals, employee needs and well-being are higher on the agenda than ever,” EY says. And it should be.

Long-term loyalty to employers has dramatically dropped in the past few years, a trait present even before covid.

“According to our experience, those who work from home are much more likely to change their jobs quite often. Thus, to avoid large fluctuations, it is worthwhile focusing on team building in the hybrid model as much as possible,” Pákozdi suggests.

Lili Simon-Göröcs

Püski of IseeQ adds, “More and more job seekers are expecting flexibility [...] and companies react to this demand, even though building a remote culture is not that easy.”

Simon-Göröcs of profession.hu notes, “Because of the labor shortage, workforce attraction and retention has become crucial.” She adds that jobseekers favor companies that offer hybrid conditions in recruitment.

Companies must be alert and proactive every day in this environment, which delivers ample opportunities among the challenges, especially as the hybrid working arrangement is seemingly here to stay.

“Hybrid workers will continue to be employed in most Hungarian offices in 2022. Hybrid work will continue to be the way of the future,” Réfi of Bluebird concludes.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of April 22, 2022.

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