Virtual Teams

Hybrid work – they didn’t come back, what are you going to do now?


As the slow return to the office gathers pace in many parts of the world, organisations are trying to encourage their people to come back to the office for at least part of the time.

A relatively small number have moved to a fully remote first model. The majority would like their people to come back into the office between two and three days a week but within this some are being more flexible than others. However, soft persuasion does not seem to be working and most employees given the choice are only coming back to the office one or two days per week. Organizations are facing the choice of whether to be more directive or to enable more flexibility.

Some of our clients have had strong push back against a strict guideline of three days in the office and are now edging towards a more flexible model, where teams determine their optimal working pattern within some broad guidelines. This looks more like “we expect you to be in the office about 25% of the time in a given month” rather than “you will be here every Tuesday to Thursday”.

From an individual point of view, flexibility is extremely attractive and the more autonomy that people can have the more an organisation will be attractive to candidates. LinkedIn recently announced for the first time that the number of job applications for remote roles was higher than for office-based ones. They found that while only 20% of paid adverts on the network were for remote jobs, these jobs received over 50% of the total applications.

Our clients are seeing survey results that suggest people want maximum flexibility, but at the same time they want more opportunities for collaboration and learning and over 75% think they still need their own dedicated desk!

Finding a realistic balance for everyone in the organisation is a task that is impossible to centralise and those companies who have tried to impose top-down rigid guidelines are experiencing push back from their people. Many are responding by giving more autonomy to individual managers and teams to determine the right pattern for their team within broader guidelines.

However, this brings its own challenge as teams tend to focus on their own internal dynamics and may come up with patterns of work that make them more siloed and less accessible to other key teams and individuals they need to interface with.

It can also lead to problems with comparability when teams come up with very different solutions. Particularly if this is largely determined by an individual manager’s preference for proximity.

Some great companies, including many in the technology world such as Google and Apple (both long term sceptics of remote working) seem to be taking a fairly directive approach to which days and how often their people will be in the office. Others in the same sector such as Twitter or Pinterest are giving people complete flexibility.

For some of the very top companies this will make little difference to their attractiveness as employers, according to CNBC, Google receives around three million applicants per year, and recruits 0.2% of them. It’s likely they will be able to find the people they need irrespective of their working practises. They recently announced a further $9Bn investment in physical offices and date centres.

However, there are a host of smaller organisations such as TikToc keen to tempt away those people who are looking for more flexibility.

If you are not right at the top of the pile for attractiveness as an employer, then the market is much more competitive and, given the choice, many people say they prefer flexibility, even at the expense of a slightly lower salary.

On average, talent will decide. This is particularly true in an environment where there are shortages and a large number of vacancies.

The great news for proponents of remote and hybrid working is that this is leading to a wide range of experiments to find a pattern of working that works for individuals and for organisations.

Academics will be studying this for years and we will get to learn which approaches really work.

  • mandating a number of days in the office for everybody may be less popular right now but might lead to a less siloed and more connected organisation
  • a fully remote organisation may become more attractive to larger numbers of organisations once they grapple with the additional complexity of hybrid
  • Some organisations may find hybrid too complex and try to bring their people back to the office full time (Gartner estimates that 1/3 of companies that try to introduce hybrid working will fail at the first attempt because they haven’t adapted their internal processes and ways of working)

It’s going to be fascinating to see the results of these experiments and we are in a great position to observe them as we work actively with clients around the world.

Whichever model wins in your organisation, you can be sure that a greater proportion of remote and hybrid working will be part of the future. This does require different skills and we’ve developed a curriculum of training programs to support virtual and hybrid working, leadership and meetings.

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