Hybrid Working: An Opportunity

As urban centres worldwide grapple with congestion, pollution, and the demands of a rapidly changing work landscape, Athens stands at a crossroads. The bustling Greek capital is not immune to these challenges, as the city’s streets are often clogged with vehicles during rush hour, contributing to increased air pollution and a decrease in overall quality of life. This is unsurprising; Athens is the second most densely populated region in Europe and home to a third of Greece’s total population.

In this context, a move towards a hybrid work model could prove to be a pivotal solution, not only transforming the way Athenians work but also addressing the city’s congestion issues.

Is hybrid working popular in Greece?

The term hybrid work generally refers to situations in which (tele-workable) work is partly carried out at the employer’s premises and partly from the employee’s home or other locations. Work From Home Research (WFH) on the state of hybrid work across 34 countries in 2023, based on a sample of 42,426 workers, shows that the average number of days worked from home per week was 0.9. English-speaking countries were at the top of the list (e.g., Canada 1.7, UK 1.5), while in Greece hybrid working was limited to 0.5 days per week, ranking at the bottom of the European countries sampled.

A similar pattern is observed regarding fully remote work, a term that refers to situations where people work exclusively from home or elsewhere away from the office. As of 2022, 10.2% of people employed in the EU stated that they usually worked from home, with Ireland leading the group (25.3%), and Greece ranking among the bottom three countries (2.5%).

Is it desirable?

From an employee perspective, the WFH studies show that Greeks wish to work 1.8 days a week at home, almost four times as much as they do now.  Similarly, a recent study by Adecco, the global human resources consultancy, showed that the majority of employees prefer the hybrid work model, which improves their work-life balance and mental health, and is a key criterion for choosing an employer. By working remotely, employees save 60 minutes from commuting and 9 minutes from personal grooming on a daily basis. U.S. data show that employees value 2 or 3 days of working from home as much as 8% of their pay. Clearly, most employees prefer more hybrid working (although not 5-days a week), in Greece and worldwide.

From an organizational perspective, WFH research comparing different types of work models shows that hybrid work leads to a significant reduction in quit rates, lower office space costs, and better access to talent. Organised hybrid work appears to make no significant difference in terms of productivity, relative to working fully in person or fully remotely.

In addition to the benefits for people and firms, a key advantage of transitioning to a hybrid work model is the potential to alleviate traffic congestion in Athens. By allowing employees to switch to hybrid work, the demand for daily commuting will inevitably be reduced. This means fewer vehicles on the road, reduced traffic, lower emissions, and a more sustainable urban environment. With fewer people commuting daily, there is an opportunity for communities and neighbourhoods in Greece to thrive, as residents spend more time and money locally, leading to a more even distribution of resources and opportunities.

Is it feasible?

On the surface, the structure of the Greek economy might not seem ideal for the hybrid working model. The use of hybrid working is particularly high among professionals, and in industries such as technology, finance, insurance, and professional services, and low in retail, transportation, and hospitality. In Greece, more than 95% of firms are micro, small, or medium enterprises, employing approximately two thirds of the country’s workforce, while the hospitality sector is dominant, suggesting that a large proportion of jobs might require physical presence and not be ‘tele-workable’.

However, even if the ‘roof’ might not be as high as in countries such as Ireland, there is still significant potential for more hybrid work. While some private sector firms are preparing or implementing such models, others have returned to old habits. The opportunity to work remotely even some days of the week presupposes trust by the employer towards employees. Greek employers often doubt their employees’ ability to perform effectively in a place other than the company’s premises, absent the supervision that comes with physical presence.

In the public sector, the government recently authorised civil servants to work from home for only 44 days a year, which should all be used within a three-month period. This is a preliminary step for the public sector, though it falls short of entrenching hybrid work routines and culture.

Several practices can help organisations facilitate and accelerate the use of the hybrid working model. Those that reap the benefits of hybrid work tend to coordinate their teams to come in on the same days each week, and promote in-person meetings on those days. On home days, they encourage cross-office zoom meetings to sustain collaboration, and sharing resources such as data and readings. They utilise output-focused evaluation tools, as employees’ performance is not monitored through physical presence.

Athens and other big cities in Greece grappling with the challenges of urban congestion can leverage the changing paradigm to hybrid work models to their advantage. A shift towards a hybrid work model can be beneficial for people, firms, and the environment. The time is ripe for Greece to do more in terms of the future of work while simultaneously enhancing the quality of life for its citizens.

* Dr. Tasoulis, is Professor of Strategic and International Human Resources Management, Business Strategy, Leadership, and Organizational Behavior at Deree – The American College of Greece.  His research interests include strategic HRM, leadership, talent management, CSR, and organizational culture.