It’s All About Compromise: Mediating the Hybrid Working Debate


Whilst in the throes of a pandemic, necessity dictated the city to adapt and the world of work moved online. After lockdown restrictions ended, remote working was dialled back in the most part to hybrid or flexible working and now, with the city back functioning in a new normal, some companies are trying to tighten the reins even further and asking employees to come into the office more. Whether this be restricting flexibility or introducing strict return to office mandates, many companies are being met with reluctance from workers who are now used to, or have only ever experienced, the hybrid working lifestyle.  

In fact, in the UK, more than a thousand staff at the Office for National Statistics have recently voted to strike in protest against being told they must go into the office at least two days a week, arguing that they accepted jobs on the basis that they were remote roles. 

For many, flexible working is cemented as the new normal, and in reality it will be very difficult for employers to fully enforce a return to pre-pandemic working. Employees never complained about office presenteeism because they didn’t know about other models of working. Now, it has been proven that remote and hybrid working is possible. However, many decision-makers are becoming disillusioned from the golden era of flexible working, realising that whilst it certainly has its advantages, some elements of office life just cannot be replicated online and there are some aspects that have been falling through the cracks. As the debate continues, tensions are rising and employers are walking a narrow line to strike the right balance between providing the training and development programmes they promised, and ensuring hiring and retention is not impacted.  

Many have been urging their employees to come into the office more frequently for some time, hoping that perhaps free lunches and more social events might help, but their efforts have been to no avail. It seems that executives were hoping for a great return through practice rather than policy, but they have been met with a damp squib of enthusiasm from workers. In fact, a recent LinkedIn poll rolled out to my personal network revealed that given the choice, 35% of respondents would like to come into the office just two days per week, and a further 27% would like the opportunity to work completely flexibly.  

This comes as no real surprise. Many employees have adjusted their lifestyles now that they spend less time commuting and have more time for commitments outside of working. Many parents may feel they would not be able to continue with current levels of work if they were no longer able to work flexibly, or some families may have moved out of the city having weighed up the options of a longer commute for fewer days per week.  

We are seeing many senior leaders decide they must lead by example and come into the office more days per week to ensure sufficient visibility for more junior members of the team. However, take-up across the board is still lower than companies had hoped, and measures are becoming more draconian, but this is an option available to only a handful of businesses; others will be met with revolt. We are currently working with a company who has implemented a 4 day per week attendance rule with no exceptions. Every candidate would love to work for this company, it has the allure to still reel employees in, even if the 4 day a week in office requirement needs to be considered first, but smaller, less ‘exciting’ or less established companies may struggle to do the same. 

The reality is that there are several pitfalls to hybrid working models and it is in fact employees that can be tripped up in the long run. A major benefit of office presence is learning from example, cultivating relationships, and making the most of training and development opportunities. On the other hand, chance encounters don’t occur on Zoom, individuals at home can be excluded from decisions, and daily accomplishments can be overlooked when exposure to senior members is reduced. Technology has come on leaps and bounds, but teams still cannot collaborate or communicate to the same extent online; we’ve taken a few years to try but have now learnt that it will never quite be the same. 

Hybrid working has worked well whilst the dust has settled, but it is perhaps time to take stock and consider whether it is sustainable. There are some cracks showing, and ultimately it could benefit employees as much as anyone to recalibrate their ideas about office working. Whilst the days of full-time office working may well be behind us, there is certainly room for some more structure. Even if employees agree to coming in certain days that align with managers and senior leaders, face time, visibility and learning employees will be boosted. Companies intending on ruling with an iron fist should err on the side of caution if they are to avoid a rebellion, but there must also be a level of compromise and this time, it’s down to the employees.

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