December 8, 2023
Hybrid working changes everything it seems. To make it work successfully we need changes in the way people need to be managed, trained and inducted. It changes the needs for communication and social connectivity, goal setting and connection to vision. It requires greater clarity on what is acceptable and what isn’t. Employees must take on new grown-up obligations and organisations are required to ‘trust’ and employees to be ‘trustworthy’.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that nearly two-thirds of bosses want all their people to return to the office five days a week within the next three years. There is a clear disconnect between what the bosses want, and what employees desire. They want the world of work back where it was back in early 2020.
In AWA’s most recent Hybrid Work Index, where 120 workplaces across 22 countries were surveyed, 46 per cent of offices reported having no hybrid working policy in place. Since working practices changed as we know them three years ago, just half of businesses have managed to reach a conclusion on what new work policies look like for them.
Those that don’t have a policy have ‘let the sails flap’ choosing to have their people and managers develop rules on the hoof. The consequence? Inconsistency of treatment from one team to another is mostly dependent on the preferences and pre-disposition of the leader. This leads to a feeling of unfairness and lower morale.
Those that have set ‘number of days in the office’ policies have found that their people are not conforming to those policies, yet few organisations are prepared to take disciplinary action with ‘non-conformant’ staff.
What’s needed is for leaders and teams to take a blank sheet of paper to work out how best the team can operate to increase its performance, whilst attempting to accommodate the needs of individuals where possible. Of course, team discussions need to be facilitated by leaders who understand the science of leading hybrid teams and are competent to facilitate (as opposed to dictating).
These newly enlightened leaders need some clear guidance on the definition and rules associated with hybrid working, underpinned by guiding principles that have been agreed upon at the highest levels of companies.
Policies alone won’t enable the smooth and sustained implementation of hybrid working, but perhaps the process of developing policy can be used to consider much more deeply how hybrid working can be used as a tool to attract the best talent and inspire the existing expertise.
A hybrid working strategy needs to be totally joined up considering principles, practices, policies, skills, places, and technology all in one conversation. The key question: what do we need to do to keep our people safe, happy, and on their ‘A’ game? It needs to join the dots between different disciplines and its primary purpose and consider the worker as a ‘consumer’ and not just a ‘resource’.
The right policy
The Hybrid Work Index also revealed that hybrid is becoming established as the norm, with people coming to the office on average one and a half days a week. Organisations that resist and continue with rigid office requirements will risk damaging employee morale and losing their top talent.
Whilst I sympathise with the leaders who remain stuck in their ways, addicted to the old hierarchical, low-trust, presence-based models, I think there must be a recognition that the future lies beyond what they always knew to be true.
The new generations entering the workplace are bringing fresh talent and ambition and will likely never comply with five days a week in the office. Don’t miss out on the future by being stuck in the past.
The businesses that have already set up successful policies can make better decisions around real estate needs and desk usage. The Index revealed that nearly two-fifths of organisations would be looking to consolidate their office space due to demand, or lack thereof.