Are we on the cusp of facing a hybrid working backlash?

Are we on the cusp of facing a hybrid working backlash?
Published: 14 June 2022

The lifting of lockdown restrictions has created a completely new challenge for organisations as they battle with workplace attendance and creating a truly hybrid working model.

There has been an increased media spotlight on this subject over the past couple of months, from Twitter announcing that their staff can work from home “forever” to the infamous Jacob Rees-Mogg notes on empty desks. Despite the media propaganda on this subject, organisations seem to be wrestling with this subject on a daily basis and there are arguments for both sides. Whether driven by a genuine desire to change ways of working, or trying to save costs of expensive office space, hybrid working seems to be the answer for both employers and employees alike. Despite this, organisations are embarking on an exciting, yet challenging journey where they take the best of both ways of working and create something bigger and better.

Despite hybrid working seeming like the most natural step forward, firms need to be adaptive on how they approach this to ensure retention of their best employees but also to use this as a talent acquisition tool. We are seeing several clients investing significantly in hybrid, looking at ways of working, workplace design, and how hybrid can truly enable inclusion, wellbeing, and engagement. In terms of a potential backlash, the argument lies where organisations are implementing a days-of-the-week split – this can be argued to be too simplistic and is unlikely to work in the long term. Those clients who have invested heavily into hybrid working have taken a deep dive approach into the type of work their teams carry out and what space they need and when. They have embedded their agile working strategy and consulted with their  employees, managers, leaders, customers, and stakeholders. One of the most common mistakes we are seeing is where organisations are delivering their strategy without consulting their employees as this can create a mismatch between the way the organisation want their employees to work, and how their employees actually work.

Organisations need to reframe what productivity means for their employees. There needs to be recognition that there will be a different level of productivity when employees go to the office – there will be more in-person collaboration, more informal catch ups or ‘water cooler’ moments, and  face to face formal meetings. On the other hand, working from home will allow employees to focus on arguably more independent pieces of worksuch as research, planning, and even keeping on top of e-mails. Given these agile work patterns, we all have experience of our work/life balance becoming blurred. Employees can fall into working at their laptop all day at home and it is vital that organisations offer more flexibility and benefits than ever before. When looking for new roles now, employees prioritise looking at future employers’ policies that promote flexibility such as extended parental leave, flexible working hours, and work-from-home policies.

In another conversation with one of our clients, they discussed the need to create a “buzz” when employees return to the office – employees need to feel like they are going to the office with a real purpose. This client has implemented that Tuesday and Thursday are their designated office days, meaning people who choose to go into the office on those days will be able to interact with their colleagues and feel more of a purpose creating positive experiences.

Hybrid working has the potential to offer a much higher level of flexibility, a better work–life balance, and a more tailored employee experience. This in turn can also have a positive impact on D&I efforts. The real sweet spot when speaking with clients who have a high retention rate is around building inclusive, agile cultures and this proves to be an increasingly competitive advantage for organisations when attracting and retaining their top talent. It’s vital that organisations review their D&I strategies when implementing their agile working strategy. Organisations need to have clear and transparent policies that outline eligibility and access to hybrid working which focus on key principles of equality to ensure all employees have the same opportunities for learning, development and progression no matter where they work or their level. These opportunities cannot be based on how often someone comes into office otherwise this will have a huge impact on retention.

Tom Neely is focused on recruiting senior management and leadership roles across Social Housing providers

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