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Why are we still grappling with hybrid work?

Why are we still grappling with hybrid work?
Submitted by Sayoojya on

The debate on the merits and downfalls of hybrid work patterns continues. But why four years after the pandemic are we still discussing this issue?

In part, this is due to the "remote rewind" we’re witnessing, with many organisations mandating everyone back in the office. Many employees are still resistant to this request and need a compelling reason to return to the office.

It’s also exacerbated by more challenging economic times, and companies are focused on increasing productivity. Many cite lower performance levels from a remote workforce, complexities in real estate management and occupancy, and just understanding how to manage teams that have a variety of work patterns.

The future of work paints a nuanced picture. While some may opt for full-time remote or office environments, the majority of them choose to embrace a blend of both - the hybrid work model, with the benefits of both worlds: the focused productivity of the home and the collaborative spark of the office.

The disconnect between employers and employees continues

Morgan McKinley recently conducted a Global Workplace Study to gather insights about various hiring and workplace trends by surveying over 3400 professionals and 650 employers/hiring managers globally. We found that;

“56% of companies globally are asking staff to come back into the office more regularly than this time last year. “


But when looking more specifically at certain countries, whilst only 40% of employers in the UK, 40% in Canada, and 42% in Ireland are now asking their employees to be in the office more regularly, the picture is rather different in Hong Kong (91%), Australia (65%), Japan (62%), Singapore (61%), and China (59%).

The report from Resume Builder states that;

“9 in 10 companies plan to return to office by the end of 2024. Respondents whose companies have already returned to office say they have seen an improvement in revenue, productivity, worker retention, and more. “

There are several reasons why companies are making this call, including the most prominent being ‘to improve collaboration between employees’, followed by ‘to reinforce culture’ and ‘to improve performance’.

Going further into the details of the study and analysing the working preferences of professionals, it was quite evident that;

“professionals working in a hybrid manner are the most content with their current work patterns, half of them would even skip a pay raise if it meant they got their desired flexibility.”

Professionals who are currently working full-time onsite, however, seem to be less happy with their work schedule. Only 12% of them would prefer to work full-time onsite, while the majority (66%) would prefer a hybrid work arrangement.

This is backed up by data that shows a higher proportion of onsite workers are actively job hunting in comparison to hybrid and remote workers.

Job hunting actively in next 6 months

Clearly, there's a disconnect between the flexibility of employees' desired work patterns and what most companies offer. This misalignment underscores the need for a significant effort to bridge the gap and devise a strategy that meets the needs of both parties

Managing return to work: Steps for a smooth rewind

If your business is facing the challenge of encouraging remote and hybrid workers to return, the ‘why’ needs to be clearly expressed to existing employees with compelling benefits of in-person interaction for them.

Simply mandating a five-day-a-week office presence would likely encounter resistance and productivity dips. Companies, therefore, need to implement a strategic and mindful approach to this rewind.

Leaders can certainly walk the talk and set the tone by being visibly present in the office. Leading by example will foster trust among employees and demonstrate a genuine commitment to the chosen work pattern.

Clear guidelines will be needed for leaders, if there are different approaches across departments and locations, being able to explain that rationale will be key.

And if you’re hiring, it’s wise to set expectations early in the process for any recruits if you want people onsite for a set number of days.


Step 1- Gradual Integration Approach

Forget grand pronouncements and abrupt changes. Begin with a gentle two-step, introducing a couple of in-office days per week. This allows everyone to enter the rhythm, testing the waters without feeling overwhelmed. Many businesses have had to U-turn their decisions when aiming for 5-days in office. Be prepared on how hard it can be to implement.

Zapier, a communication software company, implemented a "colocation bonus" program, incentivising employees to move closer to regional hubs for enhanced collaboration.

Step 2- Clarity in Purpose Communication

Be upfront about the "why" behind this shift. Is it about collaboration? Innovation? Share the vision, the goals, and how their in-office presence contributes to the bigger picture. Transparency fosters trust and understanding, making the rewind less like a forced march and more like a shared journey.

Dropbox, despite offering a flexible work-from-anywhere policy, encourages employees to spend at least one day a week in the office, emphasising the importance of "building relationships and community."

Step 3- Listen and Adapt

Listen actively to your team's feedback. Concerns about commuting, childcare, or home office setups? Acknowledge them, empathise with them, and offer solutions. Be flexible, consider adjustments, and make the transition a collaborative effort.

EY created a benefits package to tackle the challenges employees raised around returning to the office (childcare and commuting), implementing an “EY way of working transition fund”. Removing the barriers to office visits.

Step 4- Celebrate Milestones and Create Incentives

Incentivise, recognise and celebrate the small wins: successful in-person brainstorming sessions, collaborative projects completed seamlessly, or simply the courage to embrace the new rhythm. Positive reinforcement keeps the team motivated and fosters a sense of shared accomplishment.

Step 5- Individualised Support

Transitioning to hybrid work isn't a one-size-fits-all routine. Some may adapt quickly, while others might need more time. Be patient and understanding, and offer individual support where needed.

Lfyt puts the choice in the hands of its employees “Lyft is now a fully flexible workplace. Almost all new and existing team members will now have the choice of where to live and where to work — Lyft employees can work from the office, at home, or any combination of the two.”

Tailoring the Hybrid Approach

A complete return-to-office policy may not be the best solution. Striking the balance between flexibility and practicality calls for close collaboration with HR teams to guarantee that policies are fair, transparent, and practical. How can we reconcile employee wishes for mixed work patterns with company expectations that may be at odds?

It begins with fostering open communication channels, allowing employees to express their preferences while ensuring that company objectives are clearly understood.

Understanding the motivations driving employees' desires for flexible work arrangements, whether for better work-life balance or increased productivity. This could be particularly advantageous for smaller companies with limited budgets, as it gives them a competitive advantage against larger organisations.

While the trend towards full-time remote working may be declining today, the demand remains for hybrid work patterns, and organisations that can adopt a more remote-first mindset see this as a strong strategy for attracting and retaining top talent in a competitive market.

2024 will be a pivotal year to see if organisations see flexibility as not just a perk but a fundamental aspect of progressive workplace cultures.