Hybrid working is an organisational approach to managing remote work. This is where staff who can and want to, work some of their time in the office, and some of the time at home, and/or where people work in a different city/region to the main location of their organisation or team. 

Scope of this guidance

Although hybrid working is part of a broader discussion about the future of work, the scope of this guidance is narrow for 2 reasons:

  • we want to create some consistency across the Public Service in its approach to hybrid working as part of a flexible-by-default approach
  • the future of work literature is still evolving, as is the research on hybrid working. This guidance is intended to provide a starting point for agencies — as our experience grows and the research provides more evidence around the costs and benefits, we will update and refine.

The Public Service will continue to be physically accessible to ensure we maintain our relationships with the communities we serve. This is essential to supporting the Crown in its relationships with Māori and to ensuring New Zealanders have trust and confidence in their public institutions.

The future of work

This global discussion also includes the impact on work of new technology, longer life expectancy and better health in older age (at least in the developed world), and changed expectations about patterns of work, education, leisure, and family commitments during a person’s life.  All these factors indicate that work will be different from the pattern that has been in place over the past 100 years in terms of the types of work done, as well as where and how work is done.

The impact of the COVID-19 response

By working from home during the COVID-19 response, Public Service employees did their bit to prevent and slow community transmission. Many agencies will be reflecting on the lessons learned from working remotely during the COVID-19 response. 

This experience is replicated in public and private sector organisations around the world and has increased demand for flexibility in where and how people work. Even though we are still in a recovery phase, we are already in an operating environment that is different from the one before COVID-19.

We do not want to return to the pre-COVID-19 state of ad hoc and reactive approaches to flexible working, in which employees working non-traditional hours and/or remotely may be perceived as less committed to their work, their team or their agency.  What we want is to ensure that the future work experience of public servants enables them to thrive and do their very best work in service of New Zealanders.  

It is also important to remember that:

  • demand for flexible working has been building for decades, and regardless of its scale, the impact of the COVID-19 response is part of a longer-term trend
  • because the experience of remote working during the COVID-19 response was coupled with heightened stress and additional caring responsibilities, it is not representative of remote working in general 
  • agencies have told us that the main elements of a successful shift to flexible-by-default, including increased levels of hybrid working, remain the same as they were before the COVID-19 response.

Thinking about hybrid working enables us to shift the focus from the way we had to work at times during the pandemic, when everyone who could work from home did, to creating a sustainable operating model that enables the delivery of high-quality services to New Zealanders, fosters innovation and meets the needs of our workforce. 

We need to learn as we go, and iterate our approach

In the New Zealand Public Service, many agencies already have teams with members in different locations. In addition, our regional footprint is evolving in response to customer demand. Some agencies are also placing staff in the regions to attract and retain diverse talent.

While there is an increasing volume of literature about hybrid working, it is still an emerging field, and heavily influenced by the pandemic experience. Qualitative data and the research base about the costs and benefits of hybrid working is limited although emerging. While we can learn from the international literature and emerging best practice, we recommend that in these early stages, agencies remain adaptable by not locking themselves into indefinite hybrid working arrangements.

Agencies should ensure that their hybrid working approach enables them to adapt over time. They should clearly communicate to staff that changes to hybrid working will be made as more is learned.