It's Time for Leaders to Get Real About Hybrid

Published on 4 August 2021 at 11:26

While managers may realize that the great work-from-home experiment was surprisingly effective, they also believe that it hurt organizational culture and belonging. Think of it, perhaps as a veiled command and control issue. They are hungry for employees to be back in the office and for a new normal that’s somewhat more flexible but not dramatically different from the one we left behind.

According to a July 12 article in the Wall Street Journal, "only 35% of on-site workers are “highly engaged” at work, while 43% of remote workers and 49% of hybrid workers are." Managers tend to quit often "characterize people who work from the office as higher performers, giving them the choicest assignments, raises, and promotions." 

It would be nice if employees were jumping for joy at the prospect of a full return to the office. And it would be nice if the future turns out to be as glorious and stable as we sometimes imagine the past to have been. But those are fantasies built on nostalgia. They are anything but a solid foundation for building a future-ready company.

At best, the rosy messaging of a grand return to the office is falling flat. At worst, the tone deafness of the messaging may also be accelerating what’s already shaping up to be the “great attrition” of 2021 (and 2022 and even 2023). 

Many unresolved questions remain: How many days in office per week are best? What work is better done in person than virtually, and vice versa? How will meetings work best? How can influence and experience be balanced between those who work on site and those who don’t? How can you avoid a two-tier system in which people working in the office are valued and rewarded more than are those working more from home? Should teams physically gather in a single place while tackling a project, and if so, how often? Can leadership communication to off-site workers be as effective as it is to workers in the office?

I suspect we are not anywhere near to resolving this in a timely and satisfactory manner. Not by any means. For employers to sweep these issues under the corporate rug is tantamount to fiddling while Rome burns.

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