This section summarises the key considerations for agencies as they approach hybrid working, in the context of their own circumstances.

Hybrid working is a topic under frequent discussion in our workplaces, the media, and in the academic and professional literature about work. What is clear from the literature is that defining ‘pros and cons’ is too simplistic. Something that works well for one person or organisation will not necessarily work for another. There are a range of considerations that organisations need to take into account — some have the potential to be benefits, and others have the potential to be downsides. 

We’re all different — every agency will need to consider hybrid working in their own context

The Public Service is diverse in terms of the size, function, and location of agencies. The image of the Wellington-based public servant working in a CBD office is not our current reality. Around 45% of core Public Service staff are based in the Wellington region, 20% are in Auckland, 9% in Canterbury and nearly 7% in the Waikato, with the balance located across other regions. The 41% of public servants in customer-facing roles work directly with the public, external customers and clients or people in their care.

Government agencies range from small, Wellington-based policy shops to large service delivery agencies with a presence around the motu. Some agencies have had a hybrid working model for many years, with staff working in teams based in different regions. These different sizes and functions will drive different organisational operating models and require agencies to think about how to operate hybrid working in their own context. 

What’s in it for staff?

Several studies have shown that workers around the world had an overall positive experience of working from home during the pandemic. Increased flexibility in working locations and hours has enabled people to reallocate time from commuting to/from work to time spent with whānau or other activities such as exercising or supporting their communities. 

The avoided cost of commuting is also of benefit to staff. A recent Irish study concluded that increased costs related to working from home, such as heating and electricity, would be outweighed by reduced commuting costs.

An Evaluation of the Impacts of Remote Working — Government of Ireland

What’s in it for agencies?

Workers are placing an increasingly high value on flexibility. In a globally competitive labour market, organisations that offer flexibility to their staff will have more success in attracting and retaining high-quality staff than those that do not. Showing our people that we value their time and enhancing the time they have to spend on the things they love doing can create loyal, enthusiastic employees. Anecdotal feedback from some agencies’ recent engagement surveys show that flexible working is highly valued by staff. 

The Public Service Act 2020 requires chief executives to consider the needs, aspirations, and employment requirements of their Māori staff in their employment policies. Employing people in the place where they live can enable the employment of more Māori staff who cannot move away from their whānau/hapū/iwi/whenua. A significant advantage for agencies is that these employees can bring knowledge, understanding of the community and the region, with connections and relationships already built in an area.

The regional presence of Public Service agencies in communities can be a significant strength for agencies, and can improve the diversity of staff, reflecting the makeup of society, and connect them more to the issues for those communities. 

Equity — hybrid is not available or suitable for everyone

Not all work can be done in a hybrid way, and many workers will not be able to access this kind of work flexibility. There is currently no data available for the New Zealand Public Service, but other data (see Appendix D) indicates that less than half of Public Service jobs are able to done in a hybrid way. 

Appendix D: How much work can be done from home or remotely?

Agencies need to ensure they aren’t creating a lack of equity among their staff in the way they implement hybrid working. They can do this by:

  • continuing to build a flexible-by-default culture that supports other flexible work options for workers who cannot work from home or remotely
  • being transparent about what work they consider is (and isn’t) suitable for hybrid working, and why.  

In addition, some people will have personal reasons for not wanting to work remotely. For instance, not everyone will have a home environment that supports working from home. A supportive home environment will likely include things such as having dedicated working space, being able to be free from interruptions by other members of the household, and adequate heating and lighting. People living in households with lots of other people, such as flatting situations, may find working from home is challenging. Except for people who have been hired on the understanding they will work from home, working from an office should still be an option available to workers, for those who lack the appropriate conditions at home or who prefer to work in an office environment. The reasons for not wanting to work from home may be deeply personal, and organisations and managers need to respect the privacy of staff.

Agencies also need to consider their ability to support people wanting to work remotely with appropriate technology, processes and leadership support. This support may look different at different agencies. 

Supporting inclusion and diversity

The Public Service Act 2020 requires chief executives to foster a workplace that is inclusive of all groups, to recognise the aims and aspirations, employment requirements, and the cultural differences of ethnic and minority groups, and to recognise the employment requirements of women and people with disabilities.

All forms of flexible working, including hybrid working, support our efforts to create a more diverse and inclusive Public Service that reflects, understands, and meets the needs and aspirations of the public we serve. Hybrid working, whether that’s working from home or working outside the main location of the team/organisation can increase access to a Public Service career for those who might otherwise be disadvantaged or not consider it because of their location.  

Hybrid working may provide more opportunities for disabled people by removing barriers to work and enabling those staff to better control their working environment and schedules. Working from home can open up opportunities for neurodiverse people and people with other impairments including those experiencing mental distress. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for disabled people but being able to work in a calm, quiet space at home may be game changing for some, reducing stress levels and supporting the production of high-quality work. It is also important to ensure those employees can continue to access the workplace and does not remove the need for Public Service employers to provide workplace accommodations. 

Hybrid working supports gender equity by giving people of any gender more flexibility around caring for children and other dependents. Home is likely to be closer to schools and childcare facilities than work, so parents and carers can take advantage of reduced travel time and cost between home, work, school, or care facilities. It can also be easier to attend school events or medical appointments than travelling to and from a workplace.    

Agencies should also take care to ensure that people who are new to the workforce are not disadvantaged by being fully remote or working from home and have well-supported opportunities to learn work practices and culture, and to build professional networks and connections that will have a longer-term impact on their careers.

Building trust and addressing bias

Trust is central to the success of hybrid working. Hybrid working challenges traditional notions of what productive work and workers look like and can lead to an assumption that people working at home or remotely are not really working. The literature is clear that a high-trust environment is essential to support hybrid working. 

Leadership bias about hybrid working can lead to behaviours that reward those who are physically present and visible and can disadvantage hybrid workers (and all people working flexibly) in ways such as:

  • being given less interesting and challenging work
  • not receiving credit or recognition for their achievements
  • being left out of some meetings and decisions
  • missing out on formal and informal training and development opportunities

All of these factors can impact on an individual’s career progression.

Conversely, a hybrid working environment can also lead to an expectation of being ‘always on’. Agencies and teams need to establish clear protocols about disconnecting from technology and expectations about sending and responding to emails, calls, and messages outside working hours. 

Personal preferences

Personal preference is very important in determining the suitability of hybrid work for individuals, and in determining how the hybrid arrangement should be structured. Some employees prefer to undertake complex and creative tasks in quiet environments, while others find these tasks best undertaken when physically with other members of their team. Some people find busy workplaces stressful where others prefer face-to-face engagement and find incidental communication easier than formalised communication. Some people want a clear physical and temporal separation between work and life, where others prefer the flexibility of working where and when they want and need to. Hybrid working moves us away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach, to structuring work in the way that works for individuals and for organisations. This is challenging, because we also want to ensure consistency in the way people are treated and in what people working in the Public Service can expect.

Our people are diverse and have different needs and backgrounds, family arrangements, commitments outside of work, and so on. To implement hybrid working well, managers, teams and agencies will need to think about and identify any biases they may have.

Mental health and wellbeing

Working physically alongside team members is an important way to stay connected. It helps generate social cohesion, inclusion, builds shared trust and creates a common culture. Feelings of isolation can be harmful for mental health. Equally, hybrid working can support mental health by increasing family and community connection. It is clear from the literature that a balance of working physically in a team, and working alone, works best for most people.

What is most important is that workers and employers work together to find ways of working that manage risk and support wellbeing. Agencies need to consider their duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and consider how hybrid work may pose a risk to the psychological health of workers and how this can be managed. When work is designed, organised, and managed well it can reduce the likelihood of psychological harm occurring, and may also enhance wellbeing.

This means agencies must be aware of the risks to the mental health of workers associated with hybrid work and make sure they have a plan to manage these. These risks may relate to a poor work environment, a lack of social connections or poor work design.

Find more information on these websites: 

Staying mentally healthy when working from home — WorkSafe

Resources — Government Health and Safety Lead

Supporting workers to work from home — Health and Safety

Wider community and economic impacts

Hybrid working in the Public Service also has potential impacts for the wider economy and communities more generally. Media reporting has generally focused on the impact on central city areas of people working from home. This has largely been in the context of the pandemic where workers have been either directed or encouraged to work from home, so it is difficult to assess the long-term impact. 

It seems likely that reduced carbon emissions will be a benefit of hybrid working. A 2020 calculation by the Energy, Efficiency and Conservation Authority concluded that hybrid working reduces carbon emissions due to those travelling to work by car making fewer trips.

An Evaluation of the Impacts of Remote Working — Government of Ireland

Gen Less ways of working and travelling can cut climate emissions dramatically – immediately and at no cost — EECA

While there will be energy costs related to working from home, these appear to be outweighed by the reduction in car travel. Reducing emissions through hybrid working, and measuring and reporting on these, supports the work of the Carbon Neutral Government Programme, which is a cross-agency group that has been set up to accelerate the reduction of emissions within the Public Service. All government agencies have obligations under the Carbon Neutral Government Programme.

Hybrid working also has the potential to create job opportunities for people already living, or wanting to live, outside the main centres of government employment. This has the potential to increase wealth and spending in those communities, and can also bring people into the Public Service, who might not have otherwise joined. 

Customer service and outcomes

Agencies need to ensure that hybrid ways of working enhance, and don’t detract from, providing excellent customer service and outcomes. Customers can continue to be well-served in a hybrid model as long as agencies have a good foundation in place (See more advice on this point in Part 4).

Part 4: Implementing hybrid working to ensure productivity

Security implications

Agencies need to consider the security risks to their people, information and assets that may occur from hybrid working and apply security measures that reduce these risks. Agencies should ensure people are appropriately briefed and trained to comply with security and safety requirements and procedures.

Home — Protective Security

Specific guidance to staff may be required on IT security, as well as on records management. This includes transporting and storing hard copies of information created in the office, whether hardcopy information may be created at home, and how this information will be stored, incorporated into records management systems, or archived/destroyed as appropriate.