Skip to main content

Should I stay, or should I go? The reality of hybrid working

How does hybrid working impact our employees, influence the hiring and retention of talent, and what are the indirect consequences on diversity and inclusion? In Season 2 of our Humanising the Future of Work podcast, Daniel Hind discusses these important topics with Melissa Bramwell, Director in our HR in our Human Capital practice and Antonia Edwards, Senior Manager in our Human Capital practice.

Where next?

Getting everybody back in the office is seen as beneficial to business health. Some companies, particularly in Financial Services, have asked people to come back full time. In contrast, others have moved to a more permanent remote-first working operation and the majority sit in the middle with a more hybrid approach. Deloitte, for example, gives their employees a choice, whereas other organisations are mandating two or three days in the office.

Looking at recent news headlines, it's evident that the pandemic is far from over. New variants will continue to blur any clearly defined plan of action for the foreseeable future.

So, organisations must put flexible strategies in place that allow their employees to comply with government advice while at the same time taking health and wellbeing into account.

In our recent return to workplace survey, 68% of executives favoured a hybrid model, which is more complex than the polarised all-in or all-out approach. And whilst it isn't new, especially in the knowledge industry, the arrival of COVID has accelerated its acceptance as a permanent way of operating.

Has hybrid work changed?

Essentially hybrid working today is a mix of different working models that have been previously tried and tested. Organisations now need to figure out what works for their business, employees, and customers. They need to adopt a curious mindset, understand, listen, and experiment with different approaches to pivot their strategy for the future.

There are no guarantees that organisations will be able to fix all of the aspects of the hybrid model that had not worked before the pandemic; but the opportunity to reset will help them create best practices, engage with their people, and think about how they can reframe work differently for the future.

Flexibility is at the heart of hybrid working, not only when it comes to where and when people work but also how organisations trust their employees and support managers.

Is the great resignation a threat?

As we move to a post-pandemic world, a more hybrid way of working has precipitated a new shift in the employee mindset. It's becoming a new reality.

Some call it the great resignation, where increasing numbers of employees have started looking at employment differently, reassessing their options, and exploring new possibilities. They are not moving to new jobs but searching out new meaning and experiences.

This development will inevitably have a knock-on effect. Surveys reveal 80% of organisations expect a talent shortage in the next six months, whereas 40% of the global workforce is considering leaving their current employer in the next year – presenting both a challenge and an opportunity.

Leaders are vital in helping shape people's experience at work and in developing their careers. They also need to understand how their employees' roles impact and contribute to the business. So, this shift in attitude allows leaders to respond, nurture personal wellbeing and help their people find purpose by unlocking their potential and growing and developing within the organisation.

One of the things that employers must recognise is that any plan for hybrid working needs to create an environment that supports and listens to their employees. If they don’t then they could lose them. The turnover issue is going to become a big one. Continued retention will be a key quantitative metric that companies measure to track the success of piloting hybrid plans in the coming months.

Workplace needs against political demand

It's evident how the pandemic has affected city centres; walk down any city street, and the proliferation of 'To Let' signs crowd the scene. Cafés, shops, hairdressers catering to our professional markets have all suffered.

These are the visible signs, but some unseen effects are more beneficial, like encouraging more diverse people into the workforce, such as mothers, people living outside city centres and older workers. Remote working also helps a company's carbon footprint by reducing the need for travel.

There are going to be broader changes, like the housing market too. Reduced travel means people can look further out for homes; so, there is less dependence on living in an expensive city. Flexible hours mean people can travel during off-peak hours a couple of times a week, which also helps reduce personal expenses.

However,history has shown us that it becomes difficult to backtrack once people have tasted freedom. Do that, and it might be the one thing that starts to drive people away in search of more flexible options. Conversely, offering those flexible conditions might become a critical factor in attracting new talent.

We have seen some insights into diversity with the virtual onboarding of junior talent and the resulting implications on their career development. Isolation has not helped; they miss the networking and the social interaction of working in an office environment. In contrast, workers who are further along in their professional lives find it easier to work in a hybrid manner. So, differing attitudes often depend on where workers are in their career path.

We need to understand these new ways of working to help develop inclusivity across the organisation and to develop young talent as well as people at all levels. The challenge lies in creating equity across the whole organisation, fostering inclusion, and looking at those different segments of our population to understand their experiences and the moments that matter.

We must use this time to experiment, listen, learn, and adapt as we evolve, and use it as our new mindset going forwards; we're not going to get things right immediately – it's a journey.

Balancing productivity against wellbeing

Focusing on defining a vision and ambition for the future is important i.e. what an organisation aims to achieve and the pathway to reaching those goals. Once clear, it’s vital that metrics are tied back to that.

COVID has prompted organisations to think about their approach to preparedness and plan for multiple scenarios in the future. Organisations need to identify the right metrics linked to the workforce regarding attrition, engagement, wellbeing. Consider workplace data and badge data. What groups of people are coming to the office? How often are they coming into the office? Across the lenses of the workforce and workplaces, we can use several metrics to monitor and track progress.

Ensure that the right data points are collected and looked at in real-time, and feedback the resulting insight and information to strategy and planning.

Can measures be misinterpreted?

When divining insight from data, there are some risks of misuse or misinterpretation when balancing hybrid working and wellbeing. For example, some employers could use the number of hours spent working online to measure success.

However, when it comes to the quantitative and qualitative measuring of return-to-work policies, there seems to be more of a bias towards the latter, where it's more about understanding how satisfied people are within the workplace. Other metrics include the attrition rates of certain groups and the promotion of employees from different diversity groups. Employers are making concerted efforts to measure the success of these pilots and return to work policies to support more permanent ways of working.

To conclude

Keep channels of communication open. Understanding how employees feel and the opportunity to provide feedback will be crucial. Employers need to create a culture of trust because hybrid working won’t work without it. Communication is everything.

Now is the time to use hybrid working as a real opportunity to empower workers and allow them to think differently about work. Reduce the things that we as humans find draining in our work and align more naturally with how people go about their day-to-day; supporting employees to use their capabilities and experience to add the most value and impact to the organisation, well beyond their job description.