Is it time to admit that hybrid working isn't working?

Craig Lunnon

Perhaps for some, it isn’t, but others may argue that this is an important and potentially game-changing opportunity for organisations who are prepared with the right thinking and are in a position to make the right changes as to how they operate. Yes, we have contended and experimented with hybrid working for the past two years, but it doesn’t look like it is going away in the foreseeable, regardless of Covid and how that evolves. 

The case for a return to less flexible approaches does seem rational, doesn’t it? Initial dividends of working from home and the bounce in productivity is fading, employee wellbeing is being put before customer and organisation wellbeing, employees are forgetting what it was they liked about their organisation and are disengaging, senior staff have no informal interaction with more junior staff and new starters can’t build the relationships they need to be successful. For those who look back on the days of working in a city and being able to feed off leadership and your team around you, we can all agree that provided crucial learnings for any level of professional. So, is the answer a wholesale return to the office and regular office hours?

The counterargument is also compelling. Assuming that organisations now have the right technology in place, employees and organisations are freed from the constraints of location and in many cases the working day or week, the cost in time, money and environmental impact of business travel is slashed and it is what an increasing proportion of the workforce in a tight employment market now expect as they get used to greater flexibility. We also seem to have moved beyond measuring employee value in hours worked. So, hybrid working needs to stay?

I know what you are wondering at this point – is there an answer?!

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For those who see a balance of benefits and potential risks to hybrid policies, there are still pressing issues that need to be considered. This is no longer a case of discussing the same topic over and over, but now finding a sustainable and reliable solution. We have to consider the impact on mental health that is arising from isolation, the impact on creativity and innovation of spending limited time with colleagues, and the threat to wider social cohesion with differing impacts on and attitudes to hybrid working between men and women, young and old, rich and poor and even North and South. So, more work is required to make this a discussion we no longer need to have in the long term. As previously mentioned, we can all agree that the benefits found mean that even if Covid-19 disappeared tomorrow, we would not return to working life as it was before. Too much has been found.

In truth, there are no one-size-fits-all for customers, organisations, or employees, (we know this) so organisations that look for ‘best practice’ or are looking for inherited wisdom here will be disappointed with the results. In truth, if leaders aren’t prepared to look properly at their operating model and look at their businesses’ end-to-end processes they are going to wrestle with ‘hybrid working’ for some time to come, with no certainty they will get it right! Our perspective is also heavily influenced by our adoption of aviation principles, focusing on providing channels to listen and learn from experience and the concept of zero flight time which suggests that if you can fly a plane without ever sitting in one then organisations should be able to create effective hybrid environments in a fast-paced and effective manner.

Organisations need to go beyond sorting out the technology and making changes to employment policies/contracts. So far, these are two aspects that seem to have taken priority as ‘quick fix’ solutions. The key to understanding how to get this right starts with understanding the changes required to continue to deliver value to customers, respond to changing expectations, develop new capabilities, get the best return on their assets and, ensure employees are engaged and productive in this new reality. Understanding this properly will set the limits of flexibility that can be genuinely offered, where the mutual benefit might be, and where further investments like Amazon’s extension and remodeling of its flagship London offices might provide the best return.

With this knowledge, the focus can shift to creating working arrangements that lead to individual employee productivity, overall organisational performance and maximise the value created for customers, shareholders, and employees alike. Organisations may be hesitant to ‘let go of the reigns when it comes to having a firm/non-flexible agreement when it comes to ways of working, but unfortunately, at the fast pact in which we are having to evolve, it isn’t leaving these organisations much choice. So, instead of being ‘forced’ to change, take control of the approach and narrative that defines your employee's and clients' experiences.

We are hoping you will agree with this point of view and will get in touch to discuss how we can help you navigate these challenges.

We would appreciate a few minutes of your time to let us know how hybrid working is going in both your organisation and for you personally which we’d be happy to share in an anonymised summary. Yes, there may be many polls asking what your view is, but at Sysdoc we are determined to take these points of view and create customised, sustainable plans of action.


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