By Antony Melvin – Architecture & Planning Practice Lead
The biggest digital transformation project ever undertaken happened when politicians and health leaders around the world exhorted their populations to work from home, where they could, in the early months of 2020. The change in working patterns was a welcome justification of a long-held belief for many, but a temporary abjuration of the norm for others. Read on to hear our thoughts on Hybrid Detox Tips.
Hybrid is here to stay
Two-and-a-half years later society has opened up and while some people want to wind the clock back to 2019; others want to embrace the change that was dictated and stay remote from the office. The middle option, that some form of hybrid working is the way forward, will be truly loved by the fewest yet is probably the most likely.
There are of course millions who cannot work from home, and they may well feel that they are getting the wrong end of the stick on this issue. I’ll guide this blog to those who can reasonably work from home when given the option.
Why work from home?
The main argument for working from home is usually centred around the better work/life balance that this enables. Spending more time with your family, less time commuting, and less stress. The additional benefits of improving work and life chances for those in remote locations or who have difficulty travelling seem to make a compelling case for remote first working.
The main beneficiaries of this mass push to remote working are people in settled situations. People with space for working from home. The kind of people who don’t want to go out with work colleagues after work. The kind of people who don’t see the point in offices.
Most remote workers report they are more productive out of the office, a majority also say they are less connected to their colleagues. This lack of connectivity will have implications down the line and there will be opportunities for those smart enough to see them.
Many employers have taken the opportunity to downsize or remove their office space – these cost savings have probably helped to keep employees in jobs. Whether a full return to office work is even feasible is now doubtful.
Why work from the office?
The main arguments for pushing people back into the office is usually around building relationships with co-workers, helping mentor younger people and support for businesses that rely on office worker money. It does seem that younger people are the main losers in this push for remote work, with fewer opportunities to learn in the office, squeezed space at home, fewer hospitality jobs, and less physical interaction.
There is a negative impact of the current situation on staff who enjoy social interaction in the office work should not be ignored.
However, the displacement of spending from the cities to the suburbs and countryside is an economic switch that doesn’t stand up to too much scrutiny. One might as well decry mining closures, the loss of stagecoaches, or the loss of music hall venues. Time moves on. Stuff happens.
Middle management is another employee group to be affected. Surveys are uncovering a ramping up of pressure on middle managers, who are being pressed by senior leaders to get offices full but often without a compelling reason as to why this should help. Equally the push from beneath is often from a baseline that working from home is the new normal – so going to the office should come with a perk like a 4-day week. So, as ever, the middle managers absorb the friction.
Senior leaders, especially ones focused on traditional input metrics e.g. hours worked, and office attendance, are also concerned about remote working. A switch to output metrics like measured deliverables is probably long overdue for this cohort in any event.
In essence, the blunt argument revolves around workers wanting to stay remote, senior leaders wanting people in offices and the managers in the middle taking the strain. It’s more nuanced than that as there are significant chunks of the workforce being disadvantaged at both ends, often regardless of their individual thoughts.
The pandemic has unleashed many unintended consequences. The impact on children’s development and social skills may take decades to be fully understood.
Another unintended consequence is the impact on town planning, especially in commuter towns. Will commuter towns be left behind as they lose purpose like so many coastal resorts that were left behind by foreign holidays?
Finally, consider 2 members of staff. A is happier working from home, but B would be happier if she could work in the office alongside A and less happy in any other circumstance. Whose happiness matters more?
Hybrid Detox Tips: Hybrid is the future
Hybrid working is the runt-in-the-litter here. It’s the ‘None of the above option. If hybrid working is adopted as the most common pattern then how do we make it palatable for at least a working majority?
A return to a 5-day office job for most people seems a backward step. We must embrace remote work. But with an element of office working for those who prefer a group atmosphere. Managers should stop assuming that rules are written in stone. Push back at senior leaders who expect staff to work more often in the office than is productive. In-person mentoring is not a 5 day a week necessity, so work out what is necessary.
I also don’t think that this means everyone should work Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. For everyone’s sake let’s not shift the disaster of the Monday morning commute or the Friday night commute. Companies that stagger their team’s office attendance can still make savings on office space and reduce the strain of commutes.
Maybe 2 days once a month in the office is fine for some teams who need light-touch management. Maybe five days a week is right for those who need intensive grounding in their role. They may then settle on a different hybrid pattern after a probationary period.
My 5 tips for managers to help make hybrid working, work: DeTOCS
- Deliverables: Output deliverables matter; there may be next to no benefit in some people ever working from the office. However, some people may need to spend time in the office when they’d much rather be at home; measured deliverables are a fair adjudicator to persuade people at all levels
- Tailored: Plan for tailored hybrid; different people, and different teams will have a different optimal hybrid balance – one size fits no one; but know the reasons why
- Organise: Managing change is the only certainty in management, so have someone cheerlead the organisational change
- Change: Change is challenging; understand who is likely to object and have your facts clear; person C is disadvantaged, client X wants a face-to-face, and project G needs some all-hands energy
- Synchronise: Ensure that teams work in the office as a group and maximise social interaction. Do extra organisation to build the routine; avoid people being the “only one in the office, again”
The drift back to the office will increase as economic uncertainty grows. That will not affect the reality that the cork is not going back into the remote working bottle. Planning to best operate with this new normal is the correct response.
We hope you’ve found our Hybrid Detox Tips useful. If you want to read more of our blogs on hybrid working, check them out here.
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