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Hybrid working is not a panacea: get workplace connection right

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In this article we’ll draw on some of the early findings of our talentsmoothie 2020-2021 Generation Z: What They Want from Work research, the full report is coming soon.

Hybrid working is not a panacea

If hybrid working is to be central to the post-pandemic future of work, then the complex question is what combination of where, how and when people work will your organisation adopt? Like many, you may still be grappling with deciding on what the perfect future-of-work scenario will be.

Despite some bold decisions and big statements by organisations, we know that any hybrid-working decision is not as simple as deciding how many days in the office and how many days at home. To get to the right solution for yourself or for your organisation, there are many factors to consider – let’s explore.

We’re facing a fundamental change in how we work that will have a widespread impact on our society, perhaps as significant as the industrial revolution. The pandemic has pushed us to discover what really matters, to dramatic effect. People have retired early – 3.3 million in the US (Bloomberg1). A third of all mothers have scaled back or left their jobs (Los Angeles Times2). Almost a quarter of workers are seeking to change roles (Guardian3). “The Great Resignation” is here and cannot be ignored. With 1.17 million job vacancies in the UK, almost 400,000 higher than before the pandemic (ONS4), it’s essential that businesses give the future of work, and the part that hybrid working will play in it, the depth of thinking it requires. Asking and listening to what employees want is more important now than ever.

You can survey your employees to understand how they are feeling about hybrid working, but you need to make sure your survey will give you all the data you need, so you can make the right decisions for your people and for your business. Here are three aspects we think you should consider:

For desk workers – those that don’t have to be at a place of work to perform their jobs – what is the optimum split between office and home? This question isn’t new. We’ve been asking it of employees in our research and in surveys, to help our clients develop Employee Value Propositions, for 20 years.

Pre-pandemic versus now, surveying all employees might show a change in the average consensus, such as a shift in preference to wanting to spend more time working from home. This is what our clients are experiencing. But, if you go further and break that down across different employee segments, you will likely see differences in what people want. One size does not fit all.

For example, our Gen Z research notices this shift, but Gen Zs have a preference to spend more time in the office than at home. While it’s less marked now than pre-pandemic, their preference is still for more time in the office. The 50:50 split of home and office is now preferred by 44% compared with 29% pre-pandemic (early 2020). In addition, Gen Zs still have a very low preference to be 100% at home: 1%, compared with 21% preferring to be 100% in the office. Their main reasons stated for being in the office make total sense. Gen Zs need to learn, build networks, understand cultural norms and expectations; they learn by watching and listening, and also, logistically, some just don’t have a home environment conducive to long periods of home working.

It’s not surprising that organisations choosing to mandate a 100% return to the office are facing a backlash from their employees – people want more flexibility and know they can get it elsewhere. But, mandating any set percentages of time in the office and home, in a blanket way for everyone, might not be the way to go either.

Too much of the current conversation about the future of work focuses on ‘where’ we work. In the midst of pandemic-related change, we have a unique opportunity to rethink ‘how’ we create great work experiences, wherever we carry out our roles. How will we create the connection we need, between the organisation and its people, to achieve a productive, motivated and, essentially, happy workforce? Don’t focus on your hybrid-working policy in isolation, rethink your whole Employee Value Proposition.

Some things are no longer nice to haves. They are essential. Ask your employees, and the different segments of your employees, how they feel about these:

  • Trust. Important for employees for decades, trust needs to be taken to a new level. We want to be trusted to get the job done, but now we also want to be trusted to get the job done using the process that suits us best… including where, when and how we choose to work. This might be easier to accommodate for people who have been in the organisation for a while, and more difficult for new joiners and particularly those starting out in their careers, who haven’t built relationships and networks yet. In our team development work with clients over the last year, we’ve seen instances of high performance being hindered by the lack of trust caused by the inability of people to build relationships through remote working. Where needed, find ways to support the development of relationships, so that trust can develop – build in face-to-face experiences.
  • Listening. It’s even more important to demonstrate you are doing this when teams are dispersed. Many organisations have increased the opportunities for people to feedback how they are feeling via surveys and are encouraging managers to build in more one-to-one time. Listening is a top need of Gen Z who rated “having their ideas listened to” as their fourth most essential quality of a manager.
  • Wellbeing. The pandemic, as well as societal change, has catapulted people’s wellbeing to the forefront of every organisation’s HR strategy. No longer just “health and safety”, we expect the focus to be on our whole health and wellbeing – physical, mental and  financial. We’ve seen companies do some great work, like training mental-health first aiders and offering wellbeing classes, but the biggest difference will be made by living the mindset of ‘putting people first’ and ensuring managers are equipped and supported to deal with employee-wellbeing scenarios.
  • Collaboration. Never easy to perfect even when we were mostly working in the office, we need to work even harder to get collaboration right in a more remote world. How we choose to communicate and connect will determine our success. Technology will support us and, as we gather more data about how our organisations are working in terms of networks and connections, we will organically find new and innovative ways. 84% of Gen Zs said it is “Important” or “ Very important” that the organisation they work for is future focused and innovative, and driving a collaborative, knowledge-sharing organisation is critical to this.
  • Connection on a more personal level. In our pandemic-enforced video calls, it’s become acceptable for the kids, the dog or the cat to make a guest appearance. This kind of human connection has been a positive of the pandemic which people don’t want to lose.
  • A great ethical record. Increasingly important to all of us, this is THE number-one most important factor for Gen Zs when choosing an employer. This covers diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI), sustainability and the environment, and the moral compass and standing of the organisation in society. 84% of Gen Z respondents said it’s “Important” or “Very important” that the organisation “stands for/cares about the same things” as they do.  Being able to align their values with the organisation’s is essential.

Working hours are less talked about than place during the latest new-world-of-work debates, but the topic should not be forgotten when considering hybrid working. We think it’s important. Portugal does too! (Guardian5What does “out of hours” mean to your organisation and how do you treat your desk and desk-less workers, with respect to the hours they either must make themselves available (to the organisation and its clients) or choose to work? Could you create more options for everyone, rather than only for people who have desk-based roles? By introducing greater flexibility around working hours, you might also attract and help more women and older workers back to the workplace – especially important in the face of “The Great Resignation”.

Ask your employees what they think. Two thirds of our Gen Zs would opt for something other than the traditional “9 to 5”:

  • 21% – as long as it takes me to do the job
  • 17% – 8-hour days flexed around core hours (11 to 3)
  • 13% – 8-hour days but you [the individual] choose the hours
  • 10% – whenever it suits me, but a minimum of 40 hours per week 

Employer flexibility on hours demonstrates real trust and empowerment, but, of course, it also has to suit the customers/clients and not hinder the ability of the individual and their teams to get things done in the most productive way.

Hybrid working is not a panacea. Keep your eye on the bigger picture. In the rush to develop a new hybrid-working strategy, don’t create process and a standard approach. Connect with your employees by listening to what they want, then build on this connection by demonstrating you have understood their needs, through flexibility of approach rather than a ‘one size fits all’ strategy.

How talentsmoothie can help

Talentsmoothie can help you define your new-world-of-work experience.

Our insight comes from 20 years of primary research and experience of developing Employee Value Propositions with our global and local clients. We understand the needs of your workforce segments including all the generations. We know how to put people at ease, so we can ask the right questions to get the answers you need. We help you get to the nub of how your business can connect with your people, faster.

Get your workplace connection right. Talk to us today.

References (links will open in a new tab/window):

  1. Bloomberg, October 2021
  2. Los Angeles Times, August 2021
  3. Guardian, November 2021
  4. ONS, November 2021
  5. Guardian, November 2021

Make even better connections with your people. We are talentsmoothie, organisational development consultants and the employee experience experts. We can help.

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