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7 February 2022


To be or not to be (in the office),
that is the question.

I remember working with UK local authorities a few years ago, which were faced with budget challenges and the need to make savings at the time. They identified that moving to a hybrid working model meant they needed less office space, could reduce their property portfolio and release some capital in the process to maintain key service provision.

There were lots of conversations around trusting in staff to deliver what was required whilst working from home and the technology needed to make this possible. But, by and large, things settled down and many members of staff got used to working partly in the office and partly from home. 

The change was driven by a pressing financial requirement at the time, and today we have revisited hybrid working on a global scale, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Around the time the UK local authorities were embracing hybrid working, I also remember having a conversation with two American friends who led teams in New York, and being surprised by the little appetite they had for letting staff work from home to any degree. Their challenge was in trusting their staff to do the job if they could not see them. 

This mindset seemed outdated then, and today has been kicked into the long grass by the forced shift to home working for anyone who does not need to appear in person at work.

This has not been an easy process, however, and the shift to managing wholly remote and hybrid teams has meant that many leaders have had to learn new ways of leading their people.

Some of the common challenges I have heard from clients as they have adjusted to hybrid working include:

  • Onboarding and training new team members when there is less face to face time 
  • Staff retention, as a combination of factors have driven an increase in resignations (including a backlog of people not changing role during the pandemic and then moving en masse when the markets recovered, and people re-assessing what they want from a role in light of living through the pandemic)
  • Developing a team culture when there is reduced informal time spent building relationships between team members
  • Ensuring equality of opportunity for all, regardless of whether anyone works mainly in the office or remotely
  • Uncertainty as to how to gauge what is the right level of checking-in with team members, whether regarding work progress or health and wellbeing
  • Ensuring boundaries are in place to stop work bleeding into home life when it all happens under one roof and there is no commute to switch off before arriving home.

Two years of hybrid working later, and it looks like most organisations who can operate in a hybrid manner will continue with some form of it moving forwards.

So, reflecting on the common challenges above, what are the key questions we need to keep checking against as we continue to embrace a greater degree of hybrid working:

  • How can we attract, train, develop and retain our people?
  • How can we best support our staff’s health and wellbeing?
  • How can we develop organisation and team culture?
  • How do we ensure equality of opportunity for all?
  • How can we best manage and track delivery and performance?
  • What else do we need to consider regarding our policies, procedures, processes, systems, technology and property? 
  • How will hybrid working continue to influence how we deliver our products and services?
  • How do we engage staff and other stakeholders in co-producing all of the above?
  • How can we check in on how we are doing with all of the above?

There isn’t a one size fits all solution to any of the above questions, though there is best practice and guidance, which alongside considered thought and discussion around questions such as those above, can change the question from “To be or not to be in the office, that is the question” to “How to be or not to be in the office, here’s the solution.” Apologies to Mr Shakespeare.

As always if this prompts any questions, please get in touch and I will be happy to answer them for you.

From the author:

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