Virtual Teams

The great hybrid pause, when exactly are we going back to the office?

As we work with organizations around the world around hybrid working, it is hard to plan due to the whole “on again / off again” nature of the return to the office.

In some of the locations that were leading the way, for example companies in New York expecting people to return in the summer, the resurgence of COVID has cooled the appetite to get back to the office.

Several of our clients in the USA, having given several prospective dates, are now just saying “we will review the situation in January.” In the northern hemisphere we are anticipating spikes in infection which probably make that a rational choice. We wouldn’t be surprised if the wholesale return to the office doesn’t get under way in Europe and North America until the end of the winter.

In the UK, our government is keen to get people back into business premises and cities. This is perhaps driven more by their desire to protect their property tax revenues on offices and shops than by concern for public health or effective ways of working.

A larger number of our clients worldwide are already working with limited occupancy in their offices and maintaining social distancing. Hybrid working is already the reality there as some people are present in the office at any one time and others are joining meetings remotely.

One of our clients who provides services to a large number of multinationals and has good data on their office occupancy says that, in general, even when companies expect people to attend, only around half of them are doing so. So where a company sets a target of 40% of people in the office, about 20% are actually showing up. There doesn’t seem to be any monitoring or action to increase compliance with these expectations at this stage.

Some parts of the world, of course, are still experiencing lockdowns or recommending working from home. A few places such as Hong Kong seem to be back in the office in a very similar pattern to the one experienced before the pandemic.

The clients we are working with today are the ones who are a little bit ahead of the trend. They are taking this opportunity to prepare their leaders for the conversation they need to have with their teams about work flexibility and to think about the consequences of hybrid working for their meetings and their leadership practises.

The lack of clarity about the working pattern that will follow the pandemic is a significant cause of anxiety for employees. We do need to start having the conversation soon so that we are clear about how we will manage the return to the office.

If we leave it until we announce a date, we face the chaotic situation of people returning to the office in an unmanaged way and without an understanding of the practical consequences.

During the summer we saw a huge spike in demand for hybrid working training in companies that were expecting to be back at the office within a couple of weeks. In the last couple of months there has been a cooling off of this demand as the return date has been pushed back. We fully expect it will spike strongly again when the return to the office is again imminent in different geographies.

To be honest, this has worked well for us as it has enabled us the spread the demand over time.

However, we do recommend that you do some planning and thinking in advance of announcing a specific date. In particular senior leadership groups need to consider what kind of hybrid organization and culture they want to create, and we need to equip managers with the tools and skills to lead the conversation on what hybrid pattern of work works best for their team.

If you’d like some help in doing this, find out more about our hybrid working training and facilitation or get in touch.

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