Managing hybrid office misfits

Associate Professor in Design Systems
Tuesday 8 November 2022
Lottie Quinn

The majority of office workers are as keen on hybrid working as they were 12 months ago, and it is unlikely that this will now shift. According to our cross-industry snapshot survey, hybrid working is 54% of UK office workers' ideal working pattern, however, almost half of office workers say they are in a job that doesn't fit their ideal way of working.

Collaborating with a range of organisations and stakeholders, the Adapting Offices for the Future of Work research team published a research-led guide in June 2022, providing advice for organisations looking to create hybrid workplaces. We have now launched a second report, providing a focused, data-driven evaluation of the impact of different work patterns and workplaces on employee behaviour and social networks.

In this blog series, we focus on different aspects of our research featured in the report, including: managing hybrid office workers, addressing the hybrid training gap, and looking at whether employee choice and control pays off when it comes to hybrid working. You can read the full report for further information.

Actors touching each others faces

The preference for hybrid working is firmly established. The results from our cross-sector surveys in August 2021 (when many organisations began to actively encourage more workers back to the office), December 2021 (before the Omicron variant prompted a return to home working) and in August 2022 (one year on from the push to return to the office), show that those office workers who want to work in a hybrid pattern have remarkably settled views and it appears unlikely that this will shift.

Hybrid working remains the ideal for most office workers, but we can't assume this is what everyone wants. A consistent minority want a traditional full-time office role or full-time home working arrangement.

How well matched are workers' preferences to their current jobs?

The results show that:

  • 51% of our office workers had the work arrangement they desired
  • 10% would prefer to work from the office more
  • 39% would prefer to work from the office less

We also found that women and men had similar matches between current and ideal work patterns, and that people with children or caring responsibilities were as likely to match their current and ideal work patterns as other workers.

It is positive that 51% of office workers report that they are currently working in a pattern that suits their preferences and that gender and caring responsibilities did not affect this. However, despite the 'great resignation', there remains a sizable group of workers who are in roles that don't fit their ideal way of working.

Most significantly, 39% would like to be working from the office less. This group matters as our findings show these workers are more likely to say they want to change jobs and that they are less satisfied with their jobs than colleagues whose work patterns were more in-line with their preferences.

This suggests organisations may be carrying large groups of discontented workers – failing to provide the desired hybrid working pattern presents a risk of employee turnover and if not proactively managed, may prove disruptive.

How to manage a misfit of work patterns and preferences

  1. Engage staff: Ask employees how they would ideally like to work, identify where there are mismatches and develop a plan to address this. This could involve a gradual rebalancing of tasks between different job roles to design-in opportunities for more remote working, to facilitate job swaps, to identify other flexibility (e.g. condensed or flexible hours) that would satisfy the worker.
  2. Be honest when employee preferences cannot be met and facilitate a broader discussion regarding career planning – the optimal solution for the individual may be a move elsewhere within the organisation or to a different organisation.
  3. Be transparent to avoid false hopes, undermining of hybrid policy or resentment.
  4. Be explicit about the norms and expectations regarding hybrid working for any new hires.

Agreeing on hybrid working arrangements calls for mutual understanding and perspective-taking between both employees and managers. This involves making explicit the impact of individual work arrangements on other people. (See section 'Tensions when implementing hybrid working policies' - page 16 in our June 2022 report.)

When employees' requests for a hybrid working arrangement cannot be fully met, managers will need to help employees to see their work from a broader perspective, such as how their work is linked to others' tasks within the workgroup or beyond, not only to understand the challenges but also opportunities for a different arrangement (individuals may not be able to work exactly as they like, but they may understand the constraints and come to terms with this).

Employees do not always understand how their work is embedded in a broader context, which can be an important factor in affecting how hybrid working is arranged, so managers need to both listen to what employees want and guide (or even mentor) employees to see how hybrid working can be arranged alternatively to meet different demands.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect the views of Leeds University Business School or the University of Leeds.