Struggling with return-to-office? Why hybrid may offer ‘balance’

There is little doubt about it: The rise of remote work driven by the pandemic dramatically changed employee expectations about where they want to work.

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At the same time, a range of marquee employers—from Amazon and Apple to Starbucks and Uber—now are implementing mandated on-site work policies, according to Business Insider.

With that contrasting scenario, it may not be a surprise that a new survey of 185 HR executives reveals that many employers are having a difficult time convincing staff to come back to the office full-time.

The survey, conducted by The Conference Board, a member-driven think tank, found that 73% percent of organizations reported challenges getting workers to return to the workplace. Because of this pushback, 68% are considering or implementing talent strategies to increase on-site work.

Also, the move to on-site work may be hindering efforts to retain workers, as 71% percent of respondents from organizations that are mandating an on-site work policy reported difficulty keeping workers in the fold. Getting workers to return to the office, in fact, was the second most difficult objective respondents reported, exceeded only by finding qualified workers at 80%.

According to Robin Erickson, vice president of human capital at The Conference Board, these multiple competing objectives are challenging HR leaders to strike a delicate balance. And external factors—including rising uncertainty about the long-term impacts of remote work on productivity and profitability, an economy with elevated inflation and recession risk, and an ongoing labor shortage—are complicating that work.

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“To attract and retain talent, the C-suite will need to develop policies that balance workplace flexibility with the cultural and social benefits of on-site work,” Erickson says.

Hybrid: Balancing employer, employee needs

Balancing the company’s drive to get people back in the office with employees’ desire for flexibility has led many employers down a common path: hybrid.

“While every organization is different, hybrid work is the likely solution in many instances,” Erickson says.

However, an offering of hybrid work alone may not be enough to keep workers who crave full flexibility from heading to the door.

In addition to the HR leadership survey, The Conference Board recently conducted a complementary survey of 2,000 U.S. employees. In general, those workers acknowledged that “hybrid work best supports their company’s productivity,” Erickson says. They also felt that fully remote work is “best for their own productivity,” says The Conference Board’s Denise Dahlhoff, senior researcher, consumer research.

And many may be voting with their feet. The Conference Board survey of HR respondents indicated that voluntary turnover among fully on-site workers has increased 26% in the last six months. That’s twice the rate of increase among fully remote workers.

She advises that whenever possible, giving workers some flexibility and control over where (and when) they work may help alleviate the sustained recruitment and retention challenges organizations are experiencing. And when reducing flexibility, emphasize the advantages of on-site work, including networking opportunities, collaboration and career growth.

See also: Return-to-office mandates don’t improve productivity. Here’s what does

Erickson adds that some organizations are experimenting with novel strategies that may hold promise.

According to the research, for example, 63% of HR respondents are considering or are already letting teams determine their own schedules. Another quarter (27%) have or are considering a four-day workweek.

“Offering hybrid work is a critical tool in the toolkit for attracting and retaining workers, especially amid a strong labor market that continues to defy expectations,” Erickson says.

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Tom Starner
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at [email protected].