The Battle Over Hybrid

Almost as soon as Covid-19 restrictions started to lift, the battle lines over hybrid working were being drawn. Now, according to a survey by Microsoft, 87% of employees feel that that they work efficiently at home, while 80% of managers disagree.

In 2022, it has become an issue with implications for many of the foundations of work, including trust, equity, autonomy and control. And the battle is nowhere near won: employees are prioritising opportunities that offer hybrid working, while some employers are starting to mandate office time.

The underlying issue is that, while in the past ways of working were based on whatever was best for the company’s bottom line, today there is an increasing desire to shape them to the needs of individual workers. So, how can leaders navigate this change? Here are three pieces of advice from HSM Advisory founder, Lynda Gratton, on how to avoid turning your workplace into a battleground.

1. Put productivity over personal preference – debates around hybrid working aren’t just the source of divisions between employees and their leaders – they are causing rifts within leadership teams, too. This is because most of our opinions about how we work are rooted in our own individual experience of work. The only way to resolve these divisions is to focus on which ways of working are most productive. For example, focused tasks require the worker to be undisturbed and lend themselves to remote working. Collaborative tasks require input from others and may require time in the office. Decisions based on where and how productive work gets done will always result in positive commercial outcomes.

2. Think of the bigger picture – Remember that inflexibility in one area can reduce your flexibility in others. Hybrid working isn’t just about giving people the benefit of flexibility and autonomy – although both of these things are important. It’s also about increasing the diversity of opportunity in your workplace. According to a survey by Slack, working remotely has helped mothers and people of colour feel a greater sense of belonging in the workplace. Hybrid working also makes it easier for those in the later stages of longer working lives to continue their careers and also supports the parents of young children or those with caring responsibilities to juggle their home lives with leadership roles.

3. Experiment – Rather than rushing to return to familiar pre-pandemic habits, leaders should be seizing the opportunity to learn as much as they can about how work gets done in their organisations. Now – when peers across every industry are also in flux – is the perfect time to develop and pioneer new approaches to designing jobs and using space. Once working practices “refreeze” – as they eventually will – it won’t be so easy.

Ultimately, while it may be unwise for leaders to capitulate to every trend, they can’t push against fundamental changes in the way we work. As we move into an era of flexibility and autonomy, organisational agility will be critical to a resilient future.

For more on the battle over hybrid working, you can read Founder of HSM Advisory, Prof. Lynda Gratton’s latest column in The Times here.