Is Workplace Culture at the Heart of the Hybrid Debate?

Multiethnic business team having discussion in video call. Rear view of business woman in video conference with boss and his colleagues during online meeting. Senior woman making video call with partners using laptop at home: remote job interview, con

The world of work remains shrouded in uncertainty. On the one hand the general unlocking of Covid restrictions has meant businesses can operate almost as normal again. On the other, despite the government assuring the public that there will not be a new lockdown given that so many people are vaccinated, there are still cases….. and winter is coming.

As things stand, workers can return to their offices – if they are not already back there. But is a complete return to normal (i.e. everyone in the office Monday to Friday, 9-5) the future? Or should organisations be planning on an altogether different workplace?

The security company Kaspersky recently published research suggesting that 67% of workers are now more comfortable working from home.  However it also points to hurdles that organisations betting on a predominantly work from home (WFH) model need to address. 36% of those surveyed said that they were more tired when WFH, and 33% said that it made them more anxious. 

The research highlights a dilemma that many organisations feel. With so many people preferring WFH, it clearly doesn’t make sense to force everyone back to the office. Yet, as of today, that’s not always a realistic option. Not, at least, until businesses can adequately address the WFH issues people are reporting – from a lack of private home workspace, to health and well being concerns. 

Nevertheless, the Kaspersky findings suggests that 45% of companies have already decided to go completely ‘hybrid’. Companies such as IWG have also seen a large number of companies signing up to their office packages – allowing employees to generally work from home, yet with access to city-centre offices when required.

HR Director magazine likewise suggests that, although only 12.4% of teams are going back to the office every day, there remain significant challenges ahead. It argues that ‘remote’ team members must build connections and have some way of accessing and feeling the culture of their organisation – while managers must avoid a twin-track culture where in-office employees are front-of-mind for promotions and bonuses. The article suggests throwing the rule book away – arguing that everything we think we know about HR no longer applies. I think that is a fair statement. It is far easier to plan corporate culture and team building if everyone is together in the office or everyone is working remotely. The hybrid model is altogether more complex.

What is the value in working from the office if you are endlessly on Zoom calls because others in your team are at home? Should the company mandate which days are flexible so there are some days when everyone is in the office? Or let employees decide? The list of questions gets longer and longer when you think about how to manage a work environment that is not completely WFH or office-based.

I believe the focus needs to be on leadership and values. Most managers will have adapted to WFH management to some degree by now, even though some will be keen to return to in-person supervision. As the HR Director piece suggests, it’s time to move on from the idea of an in-person or remote world – every company will have their own individual challenges and it’s not going to be in any HR guidebook.

Thinking carefully about how your company fosters collaboration and connection – both for business and social connections – will be key. The 100% WFH Sensée team manages this through everyone using the same Digital Workplace to connect for work as well as social conversations, even adding-in office-based personnel that are on the same work mission to ensure team unity.

Culture is at the heart of this debate. Combine the best of WFH with the best of the office (in a flexible way) and you could just become an employer of choice. Get it wrong and your business may struggle in the more flexible post-pandemic world.

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