Divided We Stand? The Challenges of Hybrid Working.

Over two articles, we explore the challenges facing HR leaders as they prepare to implement hybrid working.

As part of our research into future ways of working, we held a series of interviews and a round table event with senior HR leaders from around the world on this topic and have distilled the challenges into two headings:

In this first article, we look at the Location Divide. As the details of the discussion are potentially price-sensitive, participants and their contributions have been anonymised.

The Location Divide

As one participant put it, the workforce has already been split into two groups during COVID – the “home” team and the “away” team. The “away” team are those whose jobs can only be performed on-site, and the “home” team are those who can benefit from hybrid working going forward. This creates the potential for a new form of social divide, with those who can work from home being perceived as having additional privileges and more comfortable working arrangements than those on-site. Will this perception of privilege fade or will it create new tensions? As on-site work becomes more automated, will more and more employees be able to join the “away” team?

The most common hybrid working arrangements being explored are 3 days at home and 2 in the office – what Salesforce have termed a Flex arrangement. However, even in the “home” team there will always be those who can work from home and those who can’t or won’t – either because of privacy, lack of space or because they are early in their career and may need to be in the office for their development. The nature and extent of hybrid working will also likely differ from country to country and by job family.

Even so, some are already seeing the freedoms and diversity opportunities from the move towards greater geographical dispersion – with talent no longer restricted to the neighbourhood or region and project participation no longer dominated by the “centre”.

Many of the HR leaders we have spoken to are already considering a redesign of the office; not just the question of how much space is needed but how it should be shaped and used, with more areas being converted into collaboration zones. If home is where solo work and regular catch-up calls take place, the office building then becomes the “village square”, the place where collaborative events take place on specific days of the week, with some thought going into the physical design and décor of these spaces to create the right atmosphere.

But what are the practicalities of these arrangements? How will the office-based collaborative events be scheduled, such that employees don’t find themselves being required at the office 5 days a week by accident? How do you avoid everyone choosing the same two days to be in the office, so that office-space savings can be achieved? There are many unanswered questions and lessons to be learned.

Whichever way employers decide they want to go with hybrid working, we are also seeing increasing numbers of senior candidates who expect to be given the option in their next role – and they will only look at roles that offer this. An employee-led revolution is emerging.

In the second article, published later this week, we will explore the challenges around the Relationship Divide – trust, belonging, leadership and insider/outsider relationships.

In the meantime, you can find a live list of employers are moving to hybrid working here.

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