While CEOs sound off, HR departments are preparing for hybrid

In a new podcast for the Financial Times, Jeremy Myerson and Philip Ross, authors of the book Unworking, explain why the return to office needs a better rationale to succeed

Company bosses may be making loud noises about getting everyone back in the office, but behind the scenes their HR departments are busy preparing for the future – and that future is hybrid.

That is the message from Jeremy Myerson and Philip Ross, co-authors of Unworking: The Reinvention of the Modern Office and co-founders of WORKTECH Academy, speaking with Financial Times global business columnist Rana Foroohar on the FT podcast Working It.

Flip-flopping on policy

Jeremy Myerson remarked that no clear settlement has yet been reached on how to make hybrid work. Companies have tended to flip-flop between different policies and the only consensus around hybrid right now is that it is difficult to get right.

Philip Ross explained that the return-to-office debate has the same dimensions globally. Even if one company starts functioning as fully in-office, its clients will still require hybrid meetings, and this is where the issue of digital equity comes to the fore. Offices can lack appropriate technology and provide acoustics that are less than ideal. Bringing people back to an office that hasn’t changed is recipe for disengagement and unrest.

Bringing people back to an office that hasn’t changed is recipe for unrest

In conversation, the authors suggested that there needs to be careful consideration regarding why employees should come back to the office at all. If they are travelling in only to spend their day sitting on video calls, they will likely see no benefits to this.

As the book Unworking recognises, companies are now repurposing their office assets. Whilst there has been a clear trend in favour of a ‘flight to quality’ – where companies seek office space with a high technical spec and great sustainability criteria – that might not be enough in the future. Instead, employee needs for meaning and purpose will drive what has been termed a ‘flight to character’ in which repurposed older heritage buildings may play a growing role. And with copious amounts of data available to inform us how companies should return to the office, data insights will increasingly feature in planning the future of work.

Jeremy Myerson and Philip Ross were joined on the FT Working It podcast by Kevin Ellis, the UK head of PwC, who explained why he encourages younger workers to come back to the office. Available to listen to here, the podcast offers plenty of insights into how we might crack the hybrid formula.

Coming down hard

This FT podcast has been launched at a time when several large employers in financial services are still mandating their people back to the office. It is reported by the FT that Bank of America has sent ‘letters of education’ to employees, warning them of disciplinary action if they don’t show up more in the office. Recruiters confirm that banks are generally starting to come down hard on stay-at-home staffers, enforcing policies in a tighter labour market which has seen layoffs in the sector.

If you want to gain an inside view of what large companies in different sectors around the world are doing to implement hybrid strategies, check out our Hybrid Working Radar in WORKTECH Academy’s Innovation Zone for members and partners only.

Join the Academy here.

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