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Is hybrid working…working?

Nasser Oudjidane
December 19, 2022

For many companies, the brave ‘new normal’ has come to mean a mixture of office and home-based work, a.k.a. hybrid working. In fact, more than 80% of firms are said to have taken up a hybrid model, and almost half (49%) of millennials and Gen Z would consider quitting if their bosses weren’t flexible about WFH. In the search for talent, hybrid working is clearly a carrot worth dangling.

However, as this recent Slate article by Alison Green explains, hybrid schedules aren’t always working out as planned.

“A lot of people who have returned to their offices for some or all of the week have found that they’re the only ones there, or others are staying isolated in their offices, and all communication still happens over email, Slack, or Zoom,” Green writes.

Green goes on to share contributions from frustrated employees, whose bugbears include needless commutes, reduced time at home with loved ones, and the alienation of being in a shiny big office with hardly anyone there.

Moreover, Green asks whether we’re being too rigid in thinking about hybrid schedules (such as 2 days in, 3 days out) in strict numerical terms.

“A more thoughtful approach would be for teams to map out what they truly need to collaborate on, with whom, and when, and then plan schedules accordingly (and acknowledge that some weeks there may be no need to come in at all).”

For recruiters, there is plenty to ponder. Simply offering ‘hybrid working’ alone is not enough. A candidate might reasonably ask, ‘am I going to see my other colleagues?’ And for new starters and junior staff in particular, sitting next to an empty chair, with little scope for spontaneous interactions and skills-sharing, can be demoralising. Even quitting a job (and the fanfare around leaving drinks) isn’t much fun in a remote-first world.

We’re all figuring things out in these rollercoaster 2020s, but it seems that for all the benefits of hybrid working, doing it badly is a retention time bomb waiting to explode.

Honesty is the best policy

We’ve previously covered the importance of transparency in hiring, and the same rules apply when it comes to setting candidates’ expectations about hybrid schedules. Recently, an eFinancial Careers piece warned of an apparent phenomenon where some employers (and external recruiters) are advertising remote or hybrid positions, only for successful candidates to discover on day one that no such commitment exists:

‘Baiting with remote work and then switching to the office is already a thing in the technology sector, where fully remote working is more common. A long HackerNews thread emerged yesterday, filled with technology staff complaining that their seemingly remote job turned out to be anything but… There are tales of recruiters luring people to interviews with promises of one day in the office every two weeks, and then revealing that the job is four days a week in the office.’

It’s one thing to get a potential hire over the line, but another to build a happy and productive workplace where employees do the heavy recruitment lifting through genuine referrals. Starting off on the wrong foot can only damage this referral goldmine in the long-run.

‘There’s no going back’

Microsoft have shared a study about their hybrid work learnings, titled the ‘2022 Work Trend Index’. It’s well worth a read, and contains lots of insights on how (and why) many employees are deciding to prioritise their health and wellbeing. Here’s one memorable quote:

“I can always find another job. I can’t find another family.”

‘The rise of the corporate nomad’

How can hybrid work schedules feel more imaginative than simply setting a WFH rota? A recent piece in the Harvard Business Review by Claudio Fernández-Aráoz covered the ‘rise of the corporate nomad’ – “individuals who, while maintaining a full-time employment relationship with their organisations, will increasingly participate part-time in geographically dispersed initiatives and projects within their employer’s global network”.

In other words, can you offer your candidates a WeWork pass for Buenos Aires and Brisbane?

While some bosses have traditionally baulked at the idea of employees being away from their desk – let alone away from the country – Fernández-Aráoz points out that mobile global employees get the benefits of exposure to new cultures, values and enrichment “without having to leave their current organisation”, which can only be good for retaining talent.

Fernández-Aráoz writes:

‘More than 100 CEOs from around the world recently met at Harvard Business School and shared the things that keep them awake at night: 33% said recruitment and retention of talent was by far their biggest challenge...’

But does the rise of the remote worker create an opportunity for governments to change their tax frameworks, thus enabling tech talent to keep their jobs and live in the sticks? The Financial Times has covered some of the relocation grants available to rural pros, and on Twitter, Gergely Orosz highlighted the situation as it stands by comparing the cost of hiring (and taxes) across different European countries:

In the meantime, how can hiring teams convince candidates that the world is their oyster? According to Fernández-Aráoz:

‘The key for retaining and motivating knowledge workers is to give them higher autonomy, mastery, and purpose, and corporations will boost all three by offering corporate nomads a much richer menu of part-time elective experiences and contributions – geographically, situationally, and functionally.’

If you’d like to read more on this topic, check out some of these satellites orbiting planet Intrro:

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