The age of experiment: why hybrid work strategies need to evolve
Companies instituting strict hybrid work polices have been facing backlash from employees who feel their needs aren’t being met. Leaders need to experiment, learn and evolve their policies to bridge this gap
While a number of influential figures might have publicly denounced remote working — including New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who earlier this year said: ‘You can’t stay home in your pyjamas all day’ – the majority of workers across the world have embraced the opportunity to take charge of their time.
Two years ago, only a handful of businesses would have actively promoted remote working; others offered working from home as a benefit. For many, remote working was a concept which was frowned upon. However, this changed during the pandemic and now hybrid, or flexible, working has become a necessity, not a benefit.
Today, hybrid working is understood to be a set of flexible guidelines that gives employees the liberty to choose to work from where they feel most productive. Workers are no longer tied to a central location but are empowered to work in multiple ways, across different locations.
In reality, each organisation has a unique approach towards flexible working which may depend on which sector a particular business operates in so hybrid work policies will vary substantially across different industries and companies.
But is the rise in companies dictating the number of days one should spend in the office the best way to go? Defining an approach to hybrid working might seem to be straightforward but putting it into action while retaining a healthy work culture is a much bigger challenge.
Getting on the same page
When businesses set anything new in motion they will face new challenges. And in the context of hybrid working, businesses may have defined their respective working policies, but these won’t necessarily tally with employee expectations.
A recent survey by messaging platform Slack found that 76 per cent of employees want flexibility in where they work and 93 per cent want control over when they work. But despite this, some companies are reportedly ending their work from home offers or dictating when people should or shouldn’t be in the office.
’93 per cent of employees want control over when they work…’
Convincing staff back into the office has required extraordinary effort. With some people, such as British Member of Parliament Jacob Rees-Mogg, taking things a step further by leaving passive-aggressive notes on empty desks of civil service staff.
Unsurprisingly these notes were circulated and derided on social media for missing the point of the benefits of flexible working. But they clearly illustrate a disconnect between what employers want and what employees prefer.
The biggest challenge for business leaders in conquering the new working world is in trying to bridge this disconnect. While business needs took precedence over employee needs in the past, we’re now seeing the two on a level playing field.
According to research by Microsoft, more than half of their workers in the UK would consider leaving their company if hybrid working was scrapped. And, more recently, an Apple executive quit the tech giant in protest over the conglomerate’s demand for their staff to return to their desks three days a week.
‘More than half of their workers in the UK would consider leaving their company if hybrid working was scrapped…’
The next two years are crucial in defining what future ways of working would look like. If there’s one thing leaders should keep in mind it’s not to set policies in stone and to embrace the constant evolution of working practices. While this process might involve several rounds of trial and error, it’s important to keep the ports of communication open.
Leading by example
There are a few businesses that are already leading the way: in April, Airbnb’s co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky, sent a company-wide email setting out the company’s ‘Work from Anywhere’ policy. For Airbnb this didn’t mean saying goodbye to the office, but giving staff the ability to choose how, when and where they want to work.
Ultimately it is up to business leaders to lead by example. If, for instance, a CEO advocates coming into the office to collaborate, and to work from home on days when one needs to conduct focused work, they should lead by example. If not, their staff could presume that the unspoken rule is to be present in the office every day and they might also fear being overlooked if they choose to work from home, even when they are given the choice to do so.
For some offices, this leads to more effective use of the office space and a less formal office environment which empowers employees to choose the right working environment for them.
We can’t expect every business to have their unique definition of hybrid working finalised, but we can expect them to experiment, and openly listen to their employees at every level to develop a robust and considered hybrid policy.