Humanising the Future of Work podcast

Episode 3: Should I stay, or should I go? The reality of hybrid working

What are the impacts of hybrid working on the workforce, how will hybrid working influence the war for talent and retention, and what are the indirect consequences on diversity and inclusion? Our Deloitte experts discuss the key considerations around hybrid working, from the importance of experimentation, to the effects on employee experience, and how to measure the success of hybrid working. Listen now!

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Melissa Bramwell
Human Capital

Melissa is a Director in our Human capital practice and leads the UK Deloitte Future of HR proposition. She has extensive experience working across multiple large-scale global transformation programmes helping clients shape, deliver and communicate complex transformational outcomes.

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Antonia Edwards
Senor Manager
Human Capital

Antonia is a Senior Manager in Deloitte’s HR Consulting practice. She has significant experience leading teams on large scale, complex HR transformation programmes, often with a digital and employee experience angle.

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DH: How do you see the future of work impacting your customer, your organisation or your future workforce? This is Deloitte’s Humanising the Future of Work podcast, the show where we explore the big questions around the future of work and what this means for you. In each episode, we speak to experts from across Deloitte about how organisations can reimagine the way in which work is carried out.

And while technology is often a key driver of disruption, we will discuss the why and the how organisations can ensure the human experience is at the heart of any transformation. Welcome to Deloitte’s Humanising the Future of Work podcast. In season two, we continue discussions with experts from across Deloitte on how to put human at the heart of any work, workforce and workplace transformation.

I'm your host, Daniel Hind. And today, along with Anna and Dougal from the podcast team.

DH: I'm joined by Antonia Edwards and Melissa Bramwell, who will be discussing, should I stay or should I go? The reality of hybrid working. Antonia, would you like to introduce yourself?

AE: Thanks, Daniel. Yes, I'm Antonia Edwards. I'm a senior manager in our HR consulting practice within human capital. Really excited about the conversation today. I've been having lots of conversations over the last few months on the topic of hybrid working and the implications of it, I guess, through the pandemic, in preparation for hybrid working. And increasingly on the impacts of it on employee engagement, etc., etc. Really excited about the conversation today.

DH: And Melissa?

MB: Hi there, Daniel, Antonia. Really delighted to be here in conversation with you today. I'm a director in our human capital consulting practice. Prior to working at Deloitte, I spent a number of years as an HR business partner in the tech industry. And now very much focussed on working with our clients. They architect their future of work journey. Really happy to be here today having conversation.

DH: Let's get stuck straight in. I suppose my starting question is, are people returning to work? Are we seeing a return to the office? Antonia, do you want to kick us off?

AE: It's a very good question. Are we seeing people actually returning to the office? I think most organisations are still in a period of piloting what that actually looks like. I think we've seen a number of organisations on either ends of the spectrum talk about getting everyone back to the office. The likes of Barclays, Goldman Sachs, etc., have been really putting their stake in the sands around actually asking people to come back full-time.

And on the other hand, you've got organisations like Fujitsu, who have really moved more permanently to a more remote-first working model. And then I think, in the middle, the vast majority of organisations are looking at something a bit more hybrid than that. Deloitte, for example, very much stipulating that it's our choice, whereas other organisations are mandating two or three days in the office. But I guess the reality is, there is still an element of choice for most people.

I think we're not over the pandemic yet. And most organisations are very much open to employees choosing whether they feel comfortable enough to do so or not. I think the question about whether people are back is a bit of a mixed one, really. Some people are, but actually, a lot of people are still working from home at this point.

MB: I think when we think about hybrid working, it's a really interesting one. I think just to reinforce some of the messages there from Antonia, we did a survey earlier this year, our return to workplace survey. And I think about 68% of executives said that they intended for their corporate workforce to operate in a hybrid model. And I think when we think about a hybrid model, it is much more complex than everyone being based in the office or everyone being based remotely.

Some people will return to the workplace or the office. Others will continue to work remotely. You’ll have some people that are always in the office and some that are always at home. You’ll also have some that are in the office part of the time and working remotely part of the time. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a new way of working, pre-pandemic, particularly in the knowledge economy, we were seeing these ways of working happening already. But I think what we've seen with COVID is that's really accelerated that move to hybrid working.

DH: Whilst it might not be new, remote working may not be new for a number of people that work in an office setting, what are we seeing organisations doing with regards to this…? If they're embracing hybrid en masse, in a very different way maybe to how they’ve done that before. Are we seeing people piloting, for example?

MB: Yes, absolutely. I think there are a couple of really interesting considerations when we're all experimenting with this quite new and different way of working at scale. Certainly hybrid working, as I said, is a real mix of different working models. And we really need to experiment with that to figure out what works well and what doesn't work for our organisations, our employees, our customers in particular jobs. And I think what's really important as we all enter this experiment is to be really curious and to take a curious mindset approach to it to really understand and listen to our employees so that we can seek feedback and pivot our strategy and plans for the future based on being able to test and learn through that experiment. Some of the things that might have been broken before the pandemic, they're not magically going to be fixed when we return to the offices in this new hybrid way.

And I think that's the real opportunity for us to reset all practices and start to engage with our people and the employees in our organisations, to really think about how we can reframe work for the future and think about it a little bit differently. And as I said, that really takes a curious mindset and an openness to experimentation. If I may, Daniel, I think one of the other critical successes that we're seeing with hybrid working is flexibility.

And the flexibility with regards to when and where people work. We've got really accustomed to working in this flexible way or certainly many of those have that have been based remotely. And I think that's something else we need to be really considerate about as we move into more hybrid ways of working. Trusting our employees, supporting our managers and really thinking about how we can design work differently for the future.

DH: There's lots of headlines at the moment with regards to the great resignation, that is actually an employee's market as opposed to an employer's job market. From your experience or working with clients, have they seen a significant shift in who's holding power within the job market?

MB: Sure, Daniel. I absolutely think the war for talent is real. And I think, as we enter these hybrid ways of working, we start to experiment with what works and doesn't work. Our leaders are really critical in helping to shape the experience our people have at work and helping them to develop their careers. During COVID, the technologies that were helping us to connect have been really essential responding to the crisis and then in recovering and then continuing through the pandemic.

But as we start to transition to a post-COVID world, it's really shedding light on a new reality. And for lots of people, it's given them new perspectives on work, on life, on their work-life balance, on their priorities. And I think we have seen this phrase used a lot, the great resignation, suggesting that millions of people are quitting their jobs. And sometimes not necessarily with new jobs to go to, but looking to find meaning or see great opportunities in new and different areas.

I think I saw recently a stat that suggested that 80% of organisations expect a talent shortage over the next six months. And I think about 40% of the global workforce is considering leaving their current employer within the next year. When you think about it, that really is going to be presenting a real challenge to organisations, but also an opportunity, I think, for our leaders. There’s a real opportunity to think differently about work and how we design work for our people.

And I think what's critical to that is this concept of humanising work and putting the employee experience right at the centre of that. Helping people find purpose in the work that they do, enable them to unlock their own potential and grow and develop within the organisation, but also understand the impact they can have in their roles and the meaning of what they're contributing for the business.

AE: I think that's a really good point, Melissa. I think one of the things that we are seeing is employees just having a real understanding of their personal wellbeing and a desire for more flexible work options. One of the things that employers have to recognise is that any plan for hybrid working or otherwise, whether it's encouraging people back into the office or not, I think the factors around creating a supportive environment for their employees has become critical.

The turnover issue is going to be a big one. Potentially things like continued retention will be one of the key quantitative metrics that we measure to track success of piloting plans in the coming months. But I think these are really, really big issues for employers.

DH: And just picking up on your point there, Antonia, about the desire of employees for flexible working options, you have that in one hand. Organisations are balancing what the workforce are wanting. They've got this threat of the great resignation. They're trying to keep their workforce in place as they find a new normal. Piloting a hybrid working and seeing how that is working. And then on the other hand, you've got some quite strong political messages coming out where the economy’s been considered by politicians.

And they're just saying, get back to the office. And I just wonder, how do businesses balance both this ongoing debate within society about, what is the future of work and where's the responsibility lie? Do organisations have to accept? Or does the political system have to accept that this is probably going to be a change for good? And as such, city centres may need to look very different. And what's their role in that? I just wondered if either of you had any views on that.

AE: There is a reality to working in this way more permanently. I think, as you mentioned, city centres have been severely impacted over the last couple of years. Cafés, shops, hairdressers catering to our professional markets, they have been particularly exposed. And annual spending hit. I guess there are also real opportunities that have come out of hybrid, the society and the economy as well in terms of encouraging a more diverse range of people into the workforce.

I think mothers, people living outside city centres, the ability for older workers perhaps to stay in the workforce for longer. I think, while there is probably a shift that will have to happen in society in terms of the way people are spending and accessing cafés, shops, etc., will change, it doesn't necessarily mean that there aren't some equal positives that have come out of this as well.

DH: Thanks, Antonia. Anna and Dougal, I think you've been doing some reading around some of the wider impacts of the move to hybrid.

DB: I think there's going to be some wider societal changes that we can expect to see, really, from this move to hybrid working. You think perhaps of someone who's young and has just joined a firm and wants to get on the housing market. But actually, house prices in cities is a really daunting thing. There's a real luxury of choice now, as for many people, the ability and the option to extend their commute by maybe 30 minutes or 45 minutes, for maybe only one or two days a week.

That’s an option that they didn't have before COVID. And that's a really positive change for people as they look to perhaps get on the housing market or move away or move the entire [?] family, etc. And that extension of choice can only be seen really as a positive thing for many. But I think one thing that is key, though, is that history has shown us, really, that as people are offered freedoms, which this hybrid working for many people has offered to them, it becomes very difficult to start taking them away again.

Even though we're in this piloting stage, I think for many people and for employees in particular, it's going to become a freedom which is going to be difficult to take away. And even though this piloting stage might come to an end and businesses start coming back into the office in a slightly more traditional way or perhaps they don't, I think we can expect to see that the changes and the choices, I think we can expect them to stay.

AU: Just to Antonia's point about virtual and remote or hybrid working helping with diversity, I read an interesting article recently about junior talent and their induction into organisations, which has been mostly fully virtual, and what the implications might be for career development. And I've also seen some interesting stats pointing to the fact that workers who are further along in their professional lives find it easier to work in a hybrid manner rather than early careers talent. Do you have any thoughts on this, Antonia or Melissa?

MB: Yes, Anna. I think that's a really interesting point. And certainly, I think some of the data we're seeing is that more junior talent who were perhaps earlier on in their career or maybe some of the people that are keen to get back into the office, they may well have felt a sense of isolation through the pandemic or indeed are missing that networking and that social interaction with their peers. I think regardless of where you are in your career, it can have different impacts.

But I do think, particularly with early careers, we need to be very thoughtful as we see more remote working and hybrid working, about how we ensure we’re really able to develop, not just our early careers folk, but people at all levels. I think the challenge these new ways of working brings us around inclusivity and creating equity across the organisation, hear of the challenges of creating tutor organisations where those going into the office might get more mentoring, informal mentoring.

Might have an opportunity to make connections and network more than those that are maybe choosing to work more remotely for whatever reason. I do think that's one of the challenges that organisations are going to have to be very cognisant of going forward, is how do we make sure that we're creating equity across our organisation? And looking at those different segments of our population to understand the experience and the moments that matter for those particular groups of people.

So that we can really address some of those challenges and look at the opportunities. But I think this talks to the point we’ve made previously around experimentation, listening, learning and adapting as we go. We aren't all going to get it right first time. And I think that's one of the mindsets we have to bring to this new step in the journey.

AE: I think that's a really good point, Melissa. One of the things that we're seeing at the moment is organisations really having to go above and beyond to foster inclusion in the workplace. We are seeing these unintended consequences emerge for returning to the office that people are seeing impacting salaries. One of the things around the early years people in particular, is that piece around actually being able to learn from each other. And how can we actually create an environment that enables us to do that, really?

DH: Anna, if you don't mind me putting you on the spot a little bit. Obviously, you're developing your career within consulting. But just picking up on that point with regards to management support versus peer to peer support, do you feel you go into the office because you need the management support or you're going more for the peer to peer type support? Whether that be from a social context or just being able to ask around the office about how to do certain things. I'm just curious as to maybe what your current driver is.

AU: I guess I'm still trying to find the perfect balance for me, Daniel. And I think that really does depend on a person. For me, I really missed the casual conversations and chats that we used to have in the office before the pandemic. I guess for me, that's the main driver, just bumping into people in the office and having those casual conversations that can sometimes result in work conversations, unintentionally, as another unintentional consequence.

DH: Have you had any discussions with clients recently about what they're going to use as measures of success? Are they looking at productivity solely or are they looking at employee wellbeing? Is there a balance? I just wondered if you'd had any more recent discussions that you could use as examples to bring this to life.

MB: This is a really interesting question in terms of, how do we know if hybrid working has been successful? We’re having lots of conversations with clients as they start to enter into the experiment to think longer term about how they'll know if it's been successful. And I think, certainly from my perspective and conversations I'm having with clients and how we're thinking about it here at Deloitte with our own Future of Work journey.

Is really making sure that we're focussing on our vision and our ambition for the future and understanding what it is we're seeking to achieve, what it is that's driving that vision and making sure that we’re tying our metrics back to that. I think it's really interesting when I'm thinking back to our Human Capital Trends report that came out earlier this year, COVID prompted organisations to think about their approach to preparedness.

And think about planning for multiple scenarios in the future, identifying a number of metrics, whether it's linked to the workforce in terms of attrition, engagement, wellbeing. Maybe it's looking at some of your workplace data, badge data. What groups of people are coming to the office? How often are they coming into the office? Maybe it's learning and development and skills. If you think about it across the lenses of workforce, workplaces, there are a number of metrics that you could look to monitor and track.

But I think what's going to be really critical is making sure that you are collecting those data points, you are looking at it real time and you're actually using that insight and that information to feed back into your strategy. And look at where you might need to pivot or where you might need to change direction based on some of these insights in the data that you're getting.

DH: Antonia is there a danger that employers see… I've read in different articles that employees have been able to, when they were commuting, actually use that time to focus on their wellbeing. Whether that be exercise in the morning or just getting out of the house before they go to sit at a desk for the rest of the day. But is there a danger that productivity is measured by presenteeism virtually? Actually, the amount of time people are spending online working is deemed a measure of success by employers.

AE: I think it's the key shift that we've seen, actually, away from the inputs, like productivity, and more towards outcomes, like employee experience, employee satisfaction, quality of work and things like that. I would say organisations are tending and will continue to measure return to work policies both quantitatively and qualitatively. But we're certainly seeing more coming out on that qualitative side, where it's very much around really understanding how satisfied people are within the workplace.

Other metrics include things like attrition rates of certain groups, things like working mothers, promotion rates of employees from different diversity groups. I think employees are making, I guess, concerted efforts to measure the success of these pilots and return to work policies, as Melissa said. So that they are able to pivot, if needed, to support more permanent ways of working, really.

DH: The clock is against us, I'm afraid, today. And just as we come to wrap up the podcast, if you were both to give employers, organisations, a key piece of advice as they progress towards working towards a new normal, embedding hybrid working in, what would that be?

MB: I think for me, it would really be around thinking about a move towards hybrid working as being a real opportunity to empower workers and to allow them to think and support them to think differently about work. I think it's a real opportunity to reduce the things that we as humans find draining in our work and to align more naturally with how people go about their day-to-day, how they use their capabilities and their experience to add the most value and impact to the organisation, well beyond what their job description might be.

AE: I think my advice would be to open and keep open channels of communication. I think understanding employees and how they're feeling and the ability for them to feed back and for employers to react on that is going to be crucial. And then I guess the other point is around employers creating a culture of trust, because this doesn't work without that, essentially. I think communication and trust would be my top tips, really.

DH: Thank you very much. That brings us to an end. I'd like to thank Antonia and Melissa for joining us, and to Dougal and to Anna for their external insights. We look forward to speaking to you all again at some point in the future. Thanks. If you do like the podcast, please follow us or subscribe. If you have any ideas for a future topic, please contact our Future of Work team. Details are listed on the podcast channel. Thank you.

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