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The Office-Hybrid headache – You can’t please all the people all the time

| April 28, 2023

Although it’s clear that most companies are far from ready to communicate a comprehensive masterplan about the future of work logistics (according to a recent McKinsey and Company survey, less than one third of companies have a plan that they have communicated to their staff), murmurings about upcoming in-office ‘policies’ are seeping through the ether, and it’s causing a bit of a ruckus!

The saying ‘you can’t please all of the people all of the time’ has never been more real than in our current environment of return to work-in-office-maybe-kind-of. When lockdown and shelter-in-place orders were mandated by governmental authorities all over the world, they were followed, for the most part, without too much animosity or ill-feeling towards ‘management’.

For many, the benefits of work-from-home flexibility have in fact been life-changing! No time sitting in traffic; more time with family and children; the ability to relocate out of the city center to more affordable or larger homes; extended time at home with newborns – there are many professionals all over the world who have become accustomed to these unanticipated benefits offered by WFH requirements.

From an employer’s perspective, let’s remember again that trying to please everyone is going to be a lose-lose situation. Trying to find a win-win is near impossible, because just as WFH has not been ideal for everyone, neither will all back to office be.

However, faced now with the prospect of having to return to the commuter lifestyle, moving back to the city, or losing the opportunity to spend more time with young kids, what we’ll likely hear is that talented professionals who are in high demand may quit and look for new jobs, rather than revert to lifestyles that no longer suit them. Companies who are renewing their full time in-office policies for all, are likely to face some resistance with their current staff. And in the current very hot talent market (ie, top candidates are in high demand and will likely have more than one job offer to compare at a time), the lack of any kind of WFH option will almost certainly go down like a lead balloon.

Similarly, sustaining a fully remote work environment may indeed be a choice for some, but here too, there may be some concern from employees who are desperate for in-person interaction with colleagues. Prepare for some murmurings there too. 

So what then? Four days in, one at home? Mondays and Fridays at home? An option to choose if you’d like to be fully remote or fully in office? These hybrid scenarios are more challenging to manage, but at least provide optionality and choice – which are highly prized by almost everyone I encounter. Even so, there will undoubtedly be some in the team who feel that whatever is on offer is not what they want, or no longer suits their new post-pandemic lifestyle.

I’ll say it again – trying to please all the people all the time is a fool’s game. So as a leader, be careful of blanket diktats, but also know what is right for the business, and don’t be scared to communicate the way forward sooner rather than later.

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