Two years ago, millions of people and thousands of businesses were forced into remote working, many for the first time. Ever since that first lockdown was lifted, we’ve been collectively trying to figure out the right balance of home and office in what has been labelled “hybrid working.”
There’s been a wide range of approaches. Some leaders demand a return to the old normality of mandatory in-person work, seemingly oblivious to how strongly employees feel about flexibility, at a time of great fatigue when a record number of workers are leaving their jobs.
A May survey of 1,000 American adults showed that 39% would consider quitting if their employer wasn’t flexible about remote work. The generational difference is stark: among millennials and Gen Z, the figure was 49%. I edge into the millennial category so I posed the same question to myself. For context, I live for the office camaraderie and the lively spontaneous interactions you can have with your colleagues.
As I first repurposed my dining room table into a makeshift office, I was convinced that it would be hard to replicate that energy and collaboration. Head down on my screen, hoping my colleagues were aware of my productivity, I couldn’t see how Zoom or Teams could replace the office.
I was wrong. Granted, I had to learn how to make it work – blocking out specific times for collaboration, rather than spontaneously striking up conversations over our bank of desks – but the culture we’d nurtured remained intact.
Would I quit if Monday-Friday office work was mandatory? Probably.
For all that the office provides a unique and valuable experience, no one wants to have the choice taken away from them.
There are some tasks or occasions where it really helps to be at home. I recently moved from west London to south-east London. As we tried to foster our own inclusive environment, I felt oddly comfortable relaying to the team that I’d be working from home the day before to help with organising the final pieces, rather than coming cap in hand to ask.
It felt like a weight had been lifted, though in reality the weight was never on my shoulders. They recognised my circumstances and their questions were only on the lines of how they could all support me. That felt like inclusion.
A lot of companies get this. Airbnb recently announced its employees can work from anywhere for as long as they like – at home, in the office, in a local coffee shop, wherever – without their pay being affected.
The move is in contrast to the likes of Google in the US, where staff who work from home may see their pay cut.
“If we limited our talent pool to a commuting radius around our offices, we would be at a significant disadvantage,” Airbnb CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky said. “The best people live everywhere, not concentrated in one area.”
We’re in a new situation and there is little historical data that leaders can use to figure hybrid working out. Every business has a unique culture and circumstances, and there is no right or wrong answer. However, CEOs would do well to consider what they stand for, and what their stakeholders stand for, when deciding how to proceed.
They might also acknowledge that you can’t turn the clock back – for lots of people, the world has changed forever.
So my take is, if you’re looking to stay in touch with the best talent and build a culture of inclusion and trust, it’s hard to argue with Chesky.