Three-minute explainer on… hushed hybrid

Despite attempts from companies to get workers back to the office, some managers are taking matters into their own hands and allowing team members to work from home in secret

Three-minute explainer

Boots, Asos and Manchester United Football Club are among a growing number of organisations that are enforcing their return-to-office policy more strictly. But these companies may be being undermined from the inside.

While CEOs are calling for workers to come into the office more frequently, 70% of managers admit to overruling official company policy and allowing team members to continue to work from home, according to workplace technology provider Owl Labs’ latest pulse survey of UK workers.

What is hushed hybrid?

The rising number of managers that are willing to enforce the return-to-office policy as they see fit has given rise to a new term: hushed hybrid. This is where team leaders take workplace flexibility into their own hands and allow their direct reports to continue working remotely on days they should be present in the workplace.

Unsurprisingly, the trend is proving popular with staff, with 87% of UK workers stating that this unofficial flexibility has had a positive impact on morale.

Is hushed hybrid harming company culture?

But this stealthy approach can cause problems for organisations, according to Molly Johnson-Jones, CEO of flexible jobs site Flexa. “Company policies exist for a reason. They help ensure that all staff are treated equally and have access to the same benefits,” she says. “If some managers go against return-to-office policies, it risks creating a two-tier workforce and breeding resentment among staff who haven’t been given the same work-from-home privileges.”

Although hushed hybrid may have a positive effect on the outlook of a manager’s immediate team, it can negatively impact wider morale and cohesion, Johnson-Jones warns. “Hushed hybrid sends a signal to staff that what is asked and expected of them is not that important,” she adds. “And this won’t make for engaged employees who feel motivated to meet their performance targets.”

Such a flagrant disregard for company policy will likely come with consequences for the offending manager and their team too.

Companies should be upfront and consistent with their workplace policy, if they want to prevent hushed hybrid incidents, Johnson-Jones advises. Organisations that continually change the rules around flexible working are likely to cause managers to take matters into their own hands in order to keep their team happy.

Johnson-Jones encourages managers to inform the leadership team if an individual’s needs are not being met by current hybrid working policy, rather than taking it upon themselves to decide who can break the rules.

It’s equally important for business leaders to listen to the concerns of employees with regards to hybrid working. Johnson-Jones says: “If staff unanimously oppose any reduction to their work-from-home days, employers should think again. Otherwise, they run the risk of hushed hybrid and company culture problems.”