Returning to the office: how fair can a hybrid workforce be?

This article looks at the dynamics and tensions which exist between remote and agile working versus the role of hierarchy and the competing needs of teams.

Where does the power lie in deciding what the future of work looks like?  Does it sit with management, leadership, employees or HR?

Many leaders and managers seem to have embraced working remotely, having previously spent days/weeks and possibly months commuting every year. Many will have already forged long lasting friendships and professional relationships, developing a support network which helping them weather the change all of us has experienced and will continue to experience. And whilst it would be unwise to stop developing, managers and leaders may feel that they understand their strengths and development needs sufficiently that they do not require the same level of supervision and direction as they once did in their formative years. Indeed, most will be in control of their work and the way in which it is done.

Hence the balance is unhinged when directly comparing a manager’s situation to that of more junior inexperienced staff. Indeed, the tacit knowledge which many will be losing because they have lost access to experiential learning - which being in an office environment gives - such as the overheard telephone calls, watching others in meetings, the handling of crises, working and communicating alongside colleagues, as well as learning to juggle and manage their time in a productive way. Working remotely and not seeing others face to face, I fear removes the opportunity to increase one’s visibility and build a personal brand and hence reputation.

I believe the tension between a manager’s lack of desire to go back to the ways of the past and the needs of employees is a serious and vital question that every team, department and organisation must wrestle with over the coming months.

This tension if not addressed will contribute to the erosion of culture, talent retention, talent development and the mental health and wellbeing of employees. The pandemic has proven that prolonged periods of isolation has contributed to the fragmentation of teams, a possible decline in motivation because of feelings of ground- hog day and a potential a dip in confidence and performance. These behaviours are nothing new granted. But, isn’t there something to be said of the banter with teammates, the chit chat over a coffee, the introduction of a new face or the ability to share a lunch with colleagues, the tools which lighten the day and make the most mundane situation seem bearable.

So how does this tension play out when managers and leaders are experiencing a newly found work life balance? The answer has got to lie in the delicate balance of the needs of the business (its ability to serve its clients and stakeholders), the role of managers and leaders to galvanise individuals confidence and performance into wider team performance, and the needs of more inexperienced employees who depend on wiser more experienced members of the team to coach, mentor, direct and support them.

Lencioni describes the five dysfunctions of teams as being:

  • An absence of trust
  • Fear of conflict
  • Lack of commitment
  • Avoidance of accountability
  • Inattention to results

Without direct contact with those around us, it is hard to build rapport, tap into other’s emotions and therefore build trust through vulnerability. Skills to handle conflict may not be developed and the chasm between a manager’s attention on results and an individual’s ability to perform grows wider.

So now more than ever the hierarchy needs to adapt. “My” needs must turn to “our” needs and “my” behaviour must work for the good of the “team”. The sooner these conversations begin, the sooner the return to a new blended approach of remote and office working will be realised, and all employees can embrace a “new norm” and a new set of fair behaviours that work for all.


This information is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. Please contact us for specific advice on your circumstances. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.



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