Special Reports
A special report is content that is edited and produced by the special reports unit within The Irish Times Content Studio. It is supported by advertisers who may contribute to the report but do not have editorial control.

Hybrid work: What about promotions and performance management?

As remote, hybrid and flexible working bed in, not being visible to the office shouldn’t be a disadvantage

When you can work anywhere, where exactly is your workplace? The accelerated adoption of remote working has slowed down post pandemic as organisations try to find the common ground between WFH and F2F.

Nonetheless, there is an expectation from many historically office-based employees that they will be permitted to work some if not most of the week from the comfort of their own home and employers are even using the promise of remote working as part of their recruitment strategy. In a hybrid world, however, issues such as performance management and promotional opportunities become slightly trickier.

Sarah Healy is founder CEO of Tools for Better. After more than 20 years in the corporate world before setting up her own company, she has witnessed numerous changes in working practices. In her opinion, hybrid working is “only part of the answer”.

Healy notes that a recent survey by Forbes suggested that one in eight full-time employees work from home, and almost three-in-10 work a hybrid model, while recent data suggests about 71 per cent of companies are permanently allowing some form of remote working.


“The future is flexible,” says Healy. “Adapting toward the individual needs of your employees is the most impactful way for companies to go.”

Career consultant Angela Burke says most of her clients and her social media following continue to prefer remote working, and the opportunity it provides to prioritise their life-work balance.

“I purposely phrase this as ‘life-work balance’ as, through my workshops, I have noticed a shift over the past couple of years where people are placing more weight and importance on their life needs first and actually navigating their career in a direction that supports them to do this,” she says.

According to Burke, people are seeking out organisations that continue to support remote working, with many making the shift from their current employer if remote work is no longer supported.

“Of course, some people prefer to work from an office and in these cases it’s often people who value the social interaction an office brings,” she adds.

As the hybrid model of working becomes embedded, it has been suggested that reduced “presenteeism” could negatively impact promotional opportunities or career progression but Burke rejects this.

“If anything I have noticed that more opportunities than ever are opening up to people due to location being less important and, similarly, there’s more of an interest in global roles given you can manage your time easier from home,” she says.

However, she agrees that new ways of conveying people’s contribution to the organisation are probably necessary.

“It is more important than ever to proactively communicate to your leader what you’re working on and the impact of your work, given there are situations where this won’t be as visible in remote situations,” says Burke. “This is something people can struggle with, particularly coming up to end-of-year reviews.”

“There is still a question about how we ensure there isn’t any bias against people who aren’t visible to the office in terms of looking at promotions and performance reviews,” says Mary Connaughton, director of CIPD, the professional body for human resources. “The HR profession is working hard to make sure it isn’t a disadvantage.”

Healy says that with the influx of technology to support collaboration and connectivity across teams and levels, “the idea of ‘being present’ on the whole, should have shifted accordingly”.

“That being said, businesses need to be aware of this and have procedures in place, as part of their performance-management process, to mitigate this risk,” she adds.

Concrete metrics are necessary, says Healy, to mitigate against the subjectivity associated with presenteeism. “Bums on seat” is not one of those metrics, she adds – companies are now looking at efficiency as opposed to occupancy.

“Across profitability, productivity and employee satisfaction, companies that have implemented remote/ hybrid/flexibility have seen significant increases in all three areas,” she says.

The level of flexibility offered can often depend on seniority within an organisation. But according to Connaughton, in a hot talent market, the carrot of remote working can help employers land the workers they need.

“If it is a really unique skill set that they struggle to find, they will often make an exception to the rule and allow somebody to work remotely,” she notes. “More and more conversations are centring on this at the recruitment stage.”

A good test for how successful or flexible a company is how leadership spends their time. This will likely reflect in their willingness to make hybrid or remote a possibility

—  Sarah Healy

Healy agrees that many companies are embracing hybrid or remote ways to acquire talent, noting that recent research suggests more flexible roles garner as many as seven times more candidates than those that are fully in-house.

“A good test for how successful or flexible a company is how leadership spends their time,” she says. “This will likely reflect in their willingness to make hybrid or remote a possibility.”

Remote working has also opened up roles to people who find it difficult to commute to an office, Connaughton says.

“Overall there is a sense that remote working can suit certain ages or certain neurodivergent people or people with disabilities who might find it difficult to come to the office,” she says. “It’s about understanding what the equality risks might be and what the equality benefits might be and trying to manage the two of those.”

Despite predictions that remote working would become the norm, the percentage of companies that allow their workforce to be fully remote is low, Connaughton says, noting those that do tend to be very small, with fewer than 10 employees. The new Work Life Balance Act will contain the right to request remote working – she says the HR profession is awaiting guidelines on how this will work in practice.

But although where people work is now a focus of conversation, this hasn’t extended to when people work, Connaughton notes.

“We have noticed there hasn’t been much of a shift on when people work,” she says. “In practice most people are expected to be online during normal working hours or within agreed hours and there hasn’t been the same level of flexibility around that in organisations.”

Danielle Barron

Danielle Barron is a contributor to The Irish Times