Agile & Digital / Matrix Management / Virtual Teams

Is the balance shifting back towards the office in hybrid working?

The last couple of years has seen an extraordinary swing in the balance of power between individuals and organisations.

Three major factors have accelerated an existing trend towards more flexible working.

  • Labour and skill shortages, and the fact that talented people can exercise more choice
  • The legacy of the lockdowns having proved that most knowledge work can be done successfully without coming into the office
  • A realisation from individuals that they want and can achieve more work life balance, flexibility, and choice

It seemed that employers were struggling to meet the needs of an increasingly demanding talent market.

Then suddenly along comes inflation, war in Ukraine and energy shortages. Many economies are screeching to a halt and probably heading into recession. As we move into a tougher economic climate, the balance of power is shifting again.

A recent PwC survey of over 700 US executives found that over half said they were reducing headcount or plan to. 52% had implemented hiring freezes and 40% were rescinding job offers and incentives to join that had developed during the tight job market.

Another recent study found that 45 percent of respondents would be likely to commute into the office more often to help reduce their home energy bills (although this needs to be balanced against the other costs of commuting).

Up until recently most companies were nervous to mandate compulsory days in the office. Even where companies had policies in place asking people to be in the office on average two or three days, most weren’t really enforcing it.

However, now some organisations, particularly in the USA are starting to become more assertive about bringing (or forcing) people back to the office. It is clear that just asking people to come back on a voluntary basis is not working. Flexibility is really popular!

Our guess is that there will be a firming up of organisations attitudes towards coming in to the office but for most certainly not for five days a week, we think that ship has sailed.

For most organisations the future for knowledge work is hybrid working where some people will be in the office for two to three days per week and others will be working fully or partly remotely. This does require that we update our skills in leadership and collaboration, and it will take several years for the full consequences of this to work through the system.

Many of our clients are now starting to update their leadership criteria and training curriculums for 2023 to reflect the reality that nearly every soft skill will now be exercised in an environment where some people are physically present and others are remote, from leadership to team working to meetings etc.

What are you seeing in your organisation? Are people being encouraged more firmly to come back to the office, are you building the skills you need for a hybrid future?

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