As the covid pandemic recedes and many aspects of life return to normal, the debate around hybrid working has picked up. Despite many companies offering a balance of at-home and office working, there are still some business leaders demanding a full-time return to pre-pandemic habits.
Elon Musk is perhaps one of the highest profile to wade into the debate, demanding that Tesla workers return to the office full time or resign in an email to all staff. Politicians have also suggested that civil servants should be back in the office, with Jacob Rees-Mogg touring Whitehall buildings and publishing a league table of government departments based on how many staff are present.
Other organisations are still experimenting in an attempt to find the right strategy for them. LLoyds Banking Group Work:Lab lead Tom Kegode, who advises the company on the future of work, is not surprised that disagreements over hybrid-working arrangements remain.
Speaking at the Chartered Institute of Professional Development’s Festival of Work conference, he said: “This is not an end state, we haven’t realised the future of work now that we’re starting to work in hybrid ways; that will continue to evolve. It’s now about how we bring people along on that journey.”
Currently, a three-day office week is the most popular with British workers, according to data from workspace provider IWG, with Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays accounting for the highest office footfall.
Hybrid working should focus on the tasks
However, allowing the day of the week to determine hybrid-working policy is the wrong approach for businesses to take, according to Kegode. “Think about the percentage of time you spend with other people and colleagues, rather than days of the week,” he said.
Gary Cookson, author of the book HR for Hybrid Working, agrees. He said: “One thing I would strongly advise against is to be led by days of the week and creating some arbitrary split between two days in the office and three at home. You need to think about the tasks, the team and the way that team needs to work.”
While some firms have focused on worker preferences, Cookson suggests that finding the right working environment for the current task should be the priority. Although individuals will have their own preferences and circumstances, which can be taken into account, he believes it is about “the task and the need of the task as opposed to the need of the individual”.
Encouraging office collaboration in a hybrid working world
A common reason cited by business leaders for a return to the office is the need to rediscover some of the creativity and collaboration that came from spontaneous in-person conversations in the office. But Kegode believes that too many organisations are fixated on finding “the panacea of productivity and creativity that was the water cooler”.
Coming into the office doesn’t lead to collaboration in and of itself, he pointed out. “It’s actually about community and connection. If we get those two things right, collaboration will come as a byproduct of that.”
Cookson also believes that notions of the spontaneous watercooler moment are a myth. He added: “It was the organisation’s design that allowed that to happen and the structure that brought two or more people together, doing jobs at the same time in the same place. We need to consciously design for those types of things.”
One way business telecoms provider Onecom is trying to do this is by bringing a social element back to the workplace. People and culture director Parysa Hosseini-Sech said the company is “creating opportunities for people to meet up that are slightly more informal”.
She added: “It’s not always got to be about a specific meeting or task, but just creating opportunities for people to get together. It comes back to keeping people engaged and being productive.”
The company has faced challenges in adapting to its hybrid-working arrangements. Hosseini-Sech admits there were issues with people not communicating when they were going to turn up to the office before a formal hybrid-working strategy was in place. As a result, Onecom has spent a year developing its agile-working policy.
Kegode has also been exploring how Lloyds Banking Group can create a “bridge” between the physical and digital workplace. One current consideration is establishing regional communities that will allow people who live within a similar area to come together more informally, rather than bringing everyone into a central office.
He said: “We need to keep the best bits of remote working and lose the poor behaviours. It will never work if we start putting old work practices back into place.”