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Major investment banks – along with organisations such as Apple and Google – are bucking the trend, by throwing their weight behind in-office working, rather than hybrid or continued remote working.  At Space2BE, we are curious about what is driving these varied responses.  Some, it seems, are banking on a dramatic change in employees’ attitudes towards working from home, as we emerge from the pandemic, whilst others are ignoring that possibility.  Is it backward-thinking? Are they allowing their commercial interests to cloud their judgement? Or are their arguments about corporate culture and their beliefs around the need for physical presence in the workplace sound ones?

Banks have undoubtedly taken some of the most hard-line positions on the return to working from an office desk, since remote working was dubbed an “aberration” by Goldman Sachs’ CEO, David Solomon.[i]  Goldman Sachs US-based employees are already back at work, whilst UK staff are expected to return to the office on July 19.  Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley’s chief executive, James Gorman, has stated that anyone feeling safe eating out in a restaurant should be heading back to the office.[ii]

Arguments against hybrid working

Gorman’s reasoning is that offices are where bankers earn their craft and “build all the soft cues that go with having a successful career”.  Barclays Chief Executive, Jes Staley, similarly talks of the need for new staff to be immersed in the bank’s culture and values, through face-to-face interactions.[iii]

Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, is equally convinced that only office-based, in-person working delivers “the hum of activity”, stating that video conferencing cannot replace the energy, creativity and collaboration of in-person meetings and the sense of community that prevails in office space.[iv]  Meanwhile, CBI President Lord Bilimoria, talks of the many benefits of the office, “the mentoring, all you learn, the innovation, the creativity, the buzz” and “all that takes place face-to-face.”[v]

The impacts of hybrid working

If this is true, however, why are other companies, such as Deloitte, Capita and even Schroders not following suit and actually making hybrid working their new normal?  Why has Unilever stated that its staff will never return to a five-day-a-week office regime and dubbed such previous practice “very old-fashioned”?  Why are companies ignoring their workforce’s wishes and causing potential recruitment issues, when 86% of people surveyed say flexible working would be the key to them accepting a new job?[vi] Why are some companies obstinately refusing to accept flexible working, when 80% of both businesses and employees say it has been a good idea?

One reason for the investment banks’ attitude could well be what has been termed “The Donut Effect” on cities.  A new working paper by ‘working from home’ expert, Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University economist and Director of Productivity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the National Bureau of Economic Research in the USA, says city centres are losing around 15% of their people and businesses, as an exit for the suburbs gathers pace.[vii] City centres are full of offices and residential accommodation that cannot be let, along with empty coffee and sandwich shops by day and deserted restaurants by night.

Perhaps we shouldn’t ignore the economics.  Hybrid working has cost London £8.2 billion to date and its economy is predicted to lose £234m per month, if flexible working continues.[viii]  Overall, the UK’s five largest cities had 34% fewer people heading to offices in May 2021 than pre-pandemic, with Cardiff’s in-office working population halved.

Hybrid working and managerial training

 However, another reason for the negativity surrounding hybrid working could be a lack of managerial planning to prepare for it, within some organisations.  This could be accompanied by an antipathy towards hybrid working, as such organisations have not seen the productivity gains and other benefits witnessed by those who put training at the core of their hybrid working model.

A recent McKinsey survey found half of those executives who have experienced the biggest productivity gains under working from home conditions were those who trained their managers in how to lead teams more effectively when working remotely.  Only one-third of those who have demonstrably lagged behind in their productivity did the same.

Bruce Carnegie, Chairman of insurance market giant, Lloyds of London, stated that hybrid working is not the best way forward because, “It will take different kinds of management skills to be inclusive of people who are working remotely to the same extent as you can be in the office.  This is something that needs to develop over time.”  Space2BE, however, have solutions to this!

What is becoming clear, through the McKinsey survey and other data is that some businesses have been ahead of the game with their training strategies, having embraced hybrid working and recognised it as the future.  Some businesses have already trained, or started to equip their managers with new skills, which underpin hybrid working success.  They do not need to develop new strategies “over time”, as they have been agile and forward-thinking enough to have already done it.

How to create strong hybrid workplace managers

Our Space2BE team is already helping such companies instigate change and train managers in new softer skills required for managing a hybrid workforce, such as optimising your virtual impact, providing and receiving better feedback regardless of ‘channel’, learning different ways to show empathy, heightening self-awareness in a virtual world and building ‘effective’ (well, high-performing, happy) teams remotely.

Light and shade is being built into this, as we help managers understand the ways to deliver support, coaching, mentoring and training, for high-performance within the team, and how that delivery needs to change, according to whether they are in the room with their colleague or talking to them remotely.

We have also already been helping companies to redesign their processes to support more effective and productive remote working and helping our clients transition to new workplace contexts, through an adoption of contemporary approaches and winning strategies.

Delivering process, change and equal opportunity through hybrid working

Hybrid working is shifting the balance between job roles and highlighting where team reshaping and resource reallocation is needed.  Consequently, we are helping clients with internal audits, responding to the external societal and behavioural changes that Covid-19 has brought to the workplace.

Furthermore, we are ensuring that managerial training encompasses a focus on HR and equal opportunity  and inclusion, so those employees wishing or needing to work directly with their manager do not gain an advantage over those who choose to work remotely.

Through our consultancy, coaching and training programmes, we are enabling our clients to respectfully treat their employees like adults and provide them with a benefit that has become an integral component of job satisfaction for many, where it is commercially and practically possible for ‘that’ business and ‘individual roles’.  We all know of jobs and organisations where it isn’t possible to offer more than a tweaked flexible working policy, but we would urge every employer to embrace the reality, rather than holding on to biased perceptions.  Let’s not forget that four-out-of-five office workers now see hybrid working as an important employee benefit and to deny access to it could result in a situation, as now exists at Apple, where staff say they feel “unheard” and “actively ignored” and talk of a managerial “disconnect with employees on remote and flexible working.”

Hybrid working and talent attraction

Treating employees in this way, providing the right training and engineering effective change strategies in the workplace is likely to become imperative, even for those who currently deny that the future of work is hybrid.  As Fidelity International’s Chief Executive, Anne Richards, has said, companies need to treat staff like grown-ups, if they wish to gain competitive advantage in the job market.  Failing to attract top talent could be the start of a decline for many businesses, who find they have face-to-face interactions and plenty of staff in the office, but that their competitors have more productive, engaged and high-flying staff on their payroll, all of whom are working from home at least a few days a week, whilst still being fully supported by their trained, empathetic, fair and effective managers.

If attracting and managing the best talent matters to your organisation, you probably need to act now, if you have not already done so, and ensure that hybrid working works for you.  For help with the managerial training and process change that you will require, please contact us on 0208 720 6991.