Is hybrid working driving a wedge between managers and employees?

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min read
October 12, 2022
January 18, 2024
Hybrid working is causing conflict between managers and employees
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Hybrid working seems to have divided employees and managers. In general, employees love the flexibility and freedom it provides them, while managers are struggling to adjust to the challenges of managing people remotely. Love it or loathe it, hybrid working is here to stay so its vital that managers and employees find a way to make it work for everyone.

Any new system takes time to bed in. Getting used to a new approach is never easy and change always comes with difficulties, especially if it alters habits that go back decades. Hybrid working is a perfect example of this.

Before the pandemic, only 6% of UK employees worked primarily from home and three quarters of employees had never worked at home. In April 2020, during the first lock down, 46.6% of the entire UK workforce did some work at home. Currently 81% of usually office-based professionals in the UK are working from home at least one day a week, demonstrating how widespread hybrid working has become.

Hybrid working is still very much in its infancy and teething troubles remain. While a great idea on paper, in reality many businesses are struggling to make it work in practice. Why has it been such a struggle? What has prompted the backlash against it from many organisations who want their employees to come back to the workplace full time?

What employees and managers think of hybrid working

Many of the issues may be a result of the different views that employees and managers have about it. Employees appear to be overwhelmingly in favour of hybrid working. Around three quarters say they want the option to work at home and in the office. They love the flexibility it offers them, the chance to spend more time at home with their families and less time commuting. They believe they are more productive while working from home too. A recent YouGov study found that 60% of employees felt they are more productive working from home.

So, if employees want the option of hybrid working and feel they are productive, surely this should be something that employers are embracing too? The problem is that managers are far less optimistic about the productivity of employees when they are working from home. The same YouGov study found only 33% of business decision makers felt their team was more productive working remotely and just 25% believed the same of most people working in their company.

This isn’t the only survey to highlight this disparity. A survey conducted by Microsoft of more than 20,000 staff members based in 11 countries discovered 87% of employees felt they worked as or more efficiently working from home, but 80% of managers disagreed. 


What is driving these different perceptions?

While employees are enjoying the ability to be more autonomous and plan their day to fit all their responsibilities, this appears to be making some managers uncomfortable. For them, seeing is believing. They like to be able to see what their employees are doing, and don’t fully trust that they can or will get the job done without supervision. This separation makes them feel anxious and out of control.

For others, they feel uncertain about their role and how far they can exert their authority. Before the pandemic, they knew everyone’s working arrangements and flexible working requests were dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Now, they feel the balance of power has shifted and there is a perception that employees can pick and choose the hours that suit them, ahead of the needs of the business. Managers have heard scare stories of ‘the great resignation’ and are no doubt aware that there are more vacancies than job seekers for the first time in the UK.  

Another factor is the lack of people management training. 59% of managers who oversee one to two employees and 41% of managers who oversee between three and five employees report having received no people management training at all. Without anything else to fall back on, these managers are having to rely on gut feel and instinct to manage their direct reports, which they find even more difficult when they are not based in the same location. This distance makes it far easier not to address any issues or put concerns to one side and pretend they don’t exist.

Making hybrid working work for everyone

If these factors aren’t addressed, a hybrid working approach will fail. Employees and managers will feel like they are in opposing camps at loggerheads with each other, which will be damaging to productivity. 

To bring the two sides together, it is vital that a framework is put in place, so everyone knows where they stand. Each manager needs to sit down with their team and decide what will work with them both as a team and as individuals. When do they need to be in the office together? How much time should be spent on collaboration? Does this need to change over time?

Setting clear objectives for both employees and the team, that are regularly reviewed, updated and discussed, provides an overview of what needs to be achieved. Everyone knows what they need to deliver and by when. Managers and employees can then agree when it’s best to come together to ensure everyone remains aligned and when it’s best to work autonomously.

To replace the conversations that naturally happen in a workplace, new channels of communication need to be set up and maintained. It is vital that this constant dialogue is not lost, and people make the most of the wide variety of virtual tools that now exist to facilitate this. Regular check-ins between managers and employees provide this connection.

A hybrid working approach will take time to bed in and become fully established. Different teams and departments will have their own requirements and it is crucial that these are considered. A blanket approach is unlikely to work for the whole organisation. The first iteration tried may not be the right one, but this doesn’t mean a solution can’t be found. The important thing is for managers and employees to come together, communicate openly and seek to find common ground so that  everyone reaps the benefits hybrid working has to offer.

This article provides great food for thought! I am having lots of conversations about hybrid working at present and there is a clear divide between employees who LOVE it (because it works really well for them) and leaders who are REALLY CONCERNED about it!
There really does seem to be a discrepancy in perception about productivity. Employees generally seem convinced that their productivity is at least as high (if not higher), whilst working from home. Yet their leaders are far from convinced. But it’s an employees’ labour market, so many leaders seem to feel they have to tiptoe around the subject of productivity at risk of damaging employee relations and goodwill.
It does seem like employers are getting a bit more assertive about expecting employees to return to the office. But they are having to face the fact that their workplaces are not the same as they were before the pandemic given the irregularity with which employees now work in the office. Gartner research director Alexia Cambon recently observed that businesses are “trapped in a vicious cycle”. She explains that “the majority of organisations are trying to market the office as a place for collaboration, community and connection. When you tell your employees that the unique value proposition of the office is other people, but go into the office and no one is there, you’re setting them up for disappointment.”
At Appraisd we have a practical answer to help guide companies navigate these thorny issues - the Hybrid Charter. It’s a handy checklist and practical step-by-step guide for managers and teams. Check out our Hybrid Charter Checklist here.<div  class="author">Amira Kohler, Director of Performance and Change, Appraisd</div>
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