Whether CEOs either champion or lament their employees’ new hybrid working balance, Karl Breeze asks how many can truly say they’ve built this new flexible dynamic around their workers’ bespoke preferences?
For years, flexible working and hybrid arrangements have been experimented with to varying degrees, but very few organisations truly embraced them, amid fears around productivity and brand affiliation (among other reasons). Now, it’s generally accepted that the last two years have pushed ‘light experimentation’ into a ‘full adoption’ of hybrid working for most. However, given the slightly forced transition, there remains an underdiscussed disconnect between the hybrid arrangements being offered, and what employees actually want.
So much has been made about this new wave of employee power, but have they really had a say when it comes to the future of work?
A mismatch between intention and impacts
To dissect the issue at hand, post-pandemic, almost half of UK employees (47%) now claim to be ready to walk away from their current jobs and look for new opportunities if a certain level of flexibility is not provided by their employer.
This alludes to quite a healthy amount of control across the working demographic, and also points to quite an easy win for employers. Simply, give employees that greater control or freedom around how and where they work.
But if this is the case, where does differentiation lie? If flexibility as an overarching concept is the default offering, what constitutes best practice? If every employer has a default procedure to at least allow flexible working, how do employees decide whether the overall culture and company experience is a good one or not? How do organisations stand out from the crowd and attract new talent?
In truth, the answer is in the question. In this new dynamic, employees and potential recruits are now judging decision makers on this metric of hybrid working – what it involves, the clarity of information provided, the level of personalisation available to each employee.
What this has led to – despite the reported productivity improvements associated with hybrid working, and the suggested rise in employee satisfaction levels amid their newfound freedom – is an actual mismatch. A mismatch between the hybrid working framework laid out by decision makers, and how those implicated really want to work.
In need of a say
It doesn’t take long to establish why a disconnect may have occurred so soon after the initial ‘flexible revolution’.
Almost two-thirds of workers (63%) who can work in a hybrid way, state that they haven’t been asked about their future work preferences. It seems that business leaders have been so enthusiastic to tap into this trend and prove their levels of agility, that they’ve forgotten to take their workers through the decision-making process with them.
The people impacted had no say in exactly how they would be impacted.
It’s understandable that it’s taken a while for this issue to surface. After all, the upshots – regardless of how they were reached – are largely positive for those employees. The business world has taken a step forward. But, to reiterate, if everyone is now offering this level of work freedom, then workers will soon begin to use it as a gauge for differentiation. And in doing so, they’re now realising how little say they’ve had in the whole process.
To affirm this feeling, 2021 research conducted by WeWork had already found that 75 percent of workers would give up at least one benefit or perk (such as time off, healthcare coverage or even bonuses) to be able to choose their work environment. Proof, if ever there was, that what employees want most of all, is a say.
This ‘say’ doesn’t mean sitting in on boardroom meetings. But it does mean being listened to, being asked for feedback, or being treated according to their individual situations, and not just as part of an industry- and world-wide leaning.
The era of flexibility 2.0
Flexibility 2.0 in this sense, is to give each individual worker personal choice.
Being told they can work from home for three days, and in the office the other two isn’t really freedom if it’s being commanded. Some want more office time. Some, less. Some need flexibility over which days they are, and some would like to make spontaneous decisions in real time depending on their current social/family/work situations.
Obviously, as we’ve only just navigated ‘flexible working 1.0’, this requires another mindset shift for decision makers, so soon after they thought they’d cracked the hybrid working conundrum. But, to offer true flexible working, and to bridge the disconnect, also requires a technical shift.
If workers are to be given individual input and freedom around where they work, in an instant, they need to know what is possible in terms of office capacity and wider workplace usage. There needs to be mutual visibility and transparency around office demand at all times.
An oversubscription of desks is a very real possibility if everyone decides to descend on the space on ‘social Fridays’, for instance. If a key partner or stakeholder meeting is taking place, or an onboarding drive is occurring, then hot desk availability could be reduced. Coming in to collaborate in a specific office room will be redundant if a different department has unknowingly got their first. If workers are coming in after traditional hours, there are security and accessibility elements to navigate.
In addition, as organisations turn their attention to ongoing hybrid working practices to encourage collaboration within teams and further enhance the employee experience, utilisation and occupancy data should be the informing guide to any decisions made. Crucially, because every company’s scenario will be different. Relying on this hard data will help to avoid the pitfalls associated with the gap between actual and reported behaviour, and to better understand future workplace needs.
For employees to truly dictate their future work balance across the home, office and beyond, they should have been brought on this transformation journey from the outset. Now that this moment has unfortunately already passed, organisations need to ensure optimum transparency and open a dialogue moving forward.
It’s time for employees to finally have their say when it comes to hybrid working.
Karl Breeze is the Chief Executive Office at Matrix Booking. He is a technologist, cloud computing evangelist and entrepreneur. His passion centres around the ‘new-normal’ office environment and helping organisations to adapt to and embrace the changes and challenges the global pandemic has presented.