As businesses amend their policies and procedures for future ways of working and different preferences, communications leaders are navigating unprecedented complexity and many unknowns. “It was much easier to get people to leave the office than it is to get them to come back,” says one Kademy member about navigating the return to office of employees – after more than a year of remote working due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kademy recently held a lively discussion and informal benchmarking with senior comms leaders from several countries and sectors on this topic. It provided an opportunity to examine how others are tackling this issue and share practical ideas on how to move forward. The session examined:

  • What is the research telling us about employee sentiment and hybrid working preferences?
  • What stage are organisations at and what policy decisions are being made going forward?
  • What are the critical next steps and factors to consider?
What the research says

71% of participants at the session are creating new hybrid working models, yet the overall message from recent studies is that there isn’t one clear answer to the question of how to do it best. People appear to want the best of all options and, unsurprisingly, this is an emotive and personal topic which raises the stakes even higher. 

  • 29% of employees would go as far as moving jobs if they were forced to return fully onsite (McKinsey)
  • 50% of people saying the lack of a clear plan is causing them anxiety (McKinsey)
  • 73% of respondents wanted flexible remote work to continue (Microsoft)
  • 67% of respondents are craving more in-person time with their teams (Microsoft)
  • 60% of US workers who worked remotely during pandemic and would prefer to work remotely as much as possible (Gallup)

Finally, the McKinsey study also showed that clear communication about post- COVID-19 working arrangements not only has a positive impact on employee scores around feeling supported and included, but that employees who feel included in more detailed communication are nearly five times more likely to report increased productivity.

These are important stats to consider for communication leaders as they directly connect the vision and plans around hybrid working with key business measures, such as employee engagement and attrition.

What’s informing hybrid working policy decisions?

Key themes of how policy decisions are being developed from participants of the Kademy benchmarking session reflected:

  • Health and safety issues being the primary policy consideration
  • Using simple guiding principles rather than prescriptive policies and procedures, described by one participant as ‘freedom within a framework’
  • Taking an objective look at what functions need to be physically present in the office
  • Thinking of the physical office as a space primarily for collaboration and connection
  • The preference of many leaders to taking a phased approach to getting back to the office

Several participants shared that while there will be more flexibility, the communications around the return to the office will be focused on being ‘better together’. They’re supporting this by creating ‘pull’ events to draw people back to the office, rather than mandating their physical presence.

Factors to consider and critical next steps

The many practical and legal matters to address for any period of hybrid working reflect the complexity of the challenge and include:

  • Monitoring of performance and output
  • Role of line managers
  • Equipment and various insurances
  • Security and data protection
  • Salaries, expenses and taxes
  • Vaccine hesitancy and privacy concerns about vaccine status

The multitude of stakeholders involved means that communication toolkits for leaders, managers and HR departments are being developed to help navigate discussions. “This is an opportunity to evolve our company culture and take our staff on a journey to inform, educate and excite them about the possibilities,” said one participant.

Some Executive teams have concerns that people are going to take advantage and not perform, even without concrete evidence. In these instances communicators are playing an important role highlighting the stories where hybrid working is working well. Line managers are also critical to the success of hybrid working, and participants saw this as an opportunity to change mindsets and empower managers to become ambassadors for change.

The session ended by reflecting on this aspirational note and challenging participants to think about what other opportunities might lie ahead for them, their teams and their organisations… Better inclusion? Higher engagement scores? Reduced attrition? Improved wellbeing? So we open the same challenge to you – to consider this period not just as something to get through, but an opportunity to make long-lasting improvements.

If you need support on this, or would like to have a conversation with us, please get in touch.