5 Common Challenges With Hybrid Working In London
- The combination of working from home and in an office is becoming a permanent fixture of the working week
- Is this the end of city-based businesses in London?
- Hybrid working isn’t as unpopular amongst employers in the city as people might expect
Canary Wharf tube station is perhaps one of the busiest in London, with up to 55 million travellers passing through its gates every year, many of which being commuters heading into London’s busiest, most influential business district.
The iconic skyline of skyscrapers is home to global financial heavyweights such as JP Morgan, Citigroup, Barclays and the imposing silvery tower of HSBC. Filled with offices for thousands of workers, it has been a staple of the area for over 20 years.
However, HSBC announced earlier this year that they will be moving from Canary Wharf to the City of London by 2026, its new office space being almost half the size of its present one.
One of the reported reasons for the downsize is not due to any financial woes or instability, but rather the success of remote working, with Chief executive Noel Quinn stating that staff spending five days a week in the office was “unnecessary“
Instead, the banking giant has mandated a three-day a week attendance policy.
HSBC is not the only company adapting its approach to the office. More recently, Facebook’s parent company Meta opted to pay a £149M to forfeit the lease on it’s eight-storey office space in Regent’s Park, breaking an agreement that was set to run for another 18 years.
It’s a sign of the times, with research revealing that up to 65% of London-based workers were working on a remote or hybrid basis throughout 2021 and 2022, more than the national average.
Some have questioned whether this could be the end of city-based businesses in London, as vacancy signs appear in the windows of once bustling offices large and small, and much discussion on the value, or losses felt by employers whose staff continue to work at distance.
But is London truly losing its business community? And how do bosses genuinely feel about staff working from home?
Getting to Grips With Hybrid
Their results revealed that hybrid working isn’t as unpopular amongst employers in the city as people might expect.
Dr Jones stated, “rather than expressing dread at the demise of the collegial, collaborative work environment and nostalgia for the once buzzing city, I have mainly encountered liberated employees who are harnessing opportunities afforded by altered working patterns to their benefit.”
And that much appears to be echoed elsewhere, with studies revealing staff to be happier and more productive when having the option for such flexibility. But, Dr Jones and Professor Kleinham have also found that it comes with challenges for managers.
Their research highlights five common challenges that almost all interviewees said they were facing;
Dr Jones and Professor Kleinham discovered that views between employers and employees, as well as between different employee groups on the positives and negatives of returning to the office differed, making it challenging to establish a shared understanding of optimal working methods.
More stress, the researchers suggest, is felt by line managers, who are now tasked with providing remote support and feedback as well as keeping on top of the employees who have come back to the office.
It also makes it harder to treat workers fairly as some employees do not have the facilities to work from home, and others lack the means to get to the office. There is no level of optimal working methods for everyone.
2) Reversing or Incorporating Changes
Deciding which pandemic-related changes should stay and which should be ditched presents a significant challenge for managers as not only requires organisations to balance the benefits of hybrid work and in-person interaction, but forces them to justify their reasoning. The researchers note a recognised ‘power shift’ as employers are faced with providing employees with solid reasons for why returning to the office is necessary.
Such a shift, the researchers say, has prompted some companies to rely on enticements to encourage staff to be physically present in the office, with one company even offering in-office visits from puppies.
An article from The Guardian suggests that “office workers want more from their places of the environment when they make their less-frequent visits than they did before – more pleasant environments, more liveliness,” putting additional pressure on employers to make the office experience more rewarding, beyond professional gain.
Such changes to workspaces are really important to get workers back into the office, but they aren’t always feasible, making it a challenge.
3) Transition Management
Dr Jones and Professor Kleinham found managing the transition back to the office, including the coordination of tasks and working preferences in a hybrid environment presents a challenge for employers.
Navigating the day-to-day commitments of split teams, and differing “in office” days between colleagues makes bringing teams together for meetings, and ensuring productivity and effective communication much more complex.
Employers in particular highlighted the need to make the transitions back to offices as smooth as possible, especially if they too are only in the office part-time, as it makes it easier to help guide their employees into completing and achieving their tasks and goals. Clarity is vital.
4) Role and Expectation Management
The research found that clarifying and managing the expectations of senior leaders, middle management and employees regarding office presence is key.
One of the middle manager interviewees highlighted “I think leaders are more comfortable leading when they can walk around and see people and what they’re not so sure is … how to manage in a hybrid model.”
The culture of presenteeism has been hard for many to shake, despite research revealing that being physically at an office desk does not necessarily lead to better work output. To overcome this, strategies which ensure remote staff can be “seen” by senior staff, without feeling they are being overly monitored are encouraged. However treading the line between “checking in” and “checking up on” staff is a difficult one to tread.
5) HR Involvement and Contradictions
Balancing the implementation of policies focused on employee representation and wellbeing, while optimising performance and attracting talent was revealed to be a challenge for many of the interviewees.
Staying on top of policies and making sure everyone feels equally represented is harder when half of the employees are in the office and the other half are working from home, the research notes.
To tackle this, managers may have to become more deliberate in creating space or designating time for everyone to make sure all employees can have their say and feel they have been heard.
A Foot in Both Worlds
Despite these challenges, the research shows that the support hybrid work models outweighs the challenges such set-ups present. And, for those who can get it right, the benefits can be significant. HSBC certainly don’t seem to be hurting as a result of their support for hybrid work models, and a three-day in-person work arrangement allows employees to keep a foot firmly both in the office and at home.
With such arrangements keeping both businesses and their employees happy, London will remain the capital of hustle and bustle.
By, Millie Jones
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