Flexible working post Covid-19 part 2: commitment and determination

This is the second in a series of blog posts about hybrid working post Covid-19, and how we might make it a reality.

Everyone wants hybrid working, so the surveys tell us.  The vast majority of people who have these hopes for a more flexible future have now been working from home for nine months – and there is no sign of them going back to the office any time soon.  It almost seems inconceivable at this point that we would all head back, five days a week.

But the signs are there, that we just might.  Employees may want flex – but are employers (and managers) really prepared to let them have it?

Prior to Covid-19, there was a lot wrong with office life and the way that many people worked (and commuted). The technology was available to support something else entirely, but most people weren’t using it.  All too often employees who wanted flexibility didn’t get it.  Sometimes that was down to organisational culture, sometimes the attitudes of individual managers. Do we really think this working from home interlude has changed things forever?

In the last few weeks I have had some interesting conversations with people, both in person and on Twitter.  I’ve heard of some frankly baffling examples.  Managers insisting their team spend all day logged into a Zoom call, complete with cameras on. Employees who have worked from home successfully throughout the pandemic being told they can ask for a trial of homeworking post Covid-19.  Others being told that, even though the organisation is talking about increased flexible working, it won’t be apply to their team so don’t bother asking. 

We would be naive to think that the micro-manager has had a revelation in the last year. Instead I believe they are just waiting – waiting to reassert the old normal at the earliest opportunity.  I am yet to hear from any HR professional that they are dealing with a tidal wave of skiving but if we had suddenly figured out that people work hard even when we can’t see them, there wouldn’t be so many discussions about remote monitoring software and ensuring productivity. 

Organisations who want to introduce hybrid or flexible futures have a couple of key issues and risks to consider:

  • Manager attitudes – at all levels.  Some managers and leaders will be fearful of change, of losing control, of what this might mean for their personal future.  Managers of hybrid and flexible teams need different skills – as well as the will to develop them. Some might not wish to do so.
  • Status quo bias (no, not the band). The preference for the way things are (or were a year ago).  Doing the same stuff is easier that doing new stuff.  If everyone goes back to the office there is no need to think about new policies, manager training, tech strategies, communication methods……  It involves much less effort.
  • Drift. Companies may start off with good intentions but will fall back into old habits and established neural pathways.  There will be just one meeting on the day you are normally remote that you just simply must attend face to face – and a few months later, everyone is back, every day.

These aren’t the only barriers that organisations will find themselves facing – but they are perhaps the most significant to reflect upon and plan for.

My first blog post in this series talked about strategy being the starting point – deciding just how flexible (and hybrid) you want be.  The next step is being determined to see it through.  Commitment in the face of the ‘it won’t around here’ attitudes, unwilling managers, and outdated beliefs about work.  So if you do want to introduce hybrid and flexible working post Covid-19, overcoming objections must be part of your plan.

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