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Why the “hushed hybrid” trend is bad news for company culture

Explore the emerging “hushed hybrid” trend where UK managers quietly allow remote work despite official return-to-office (RTO) mandates.

What is the “hushed hybrid” trend?

New research shows that 70% of UK managers are letting team members work from home, despite official “return to office” (RTO) orders. By taking a more flexible approach to RTO mandates, these managers are allowing staff to split their time between the office and home – a popular option known as hybrid working.

The key difference here is that work-from-home days are taking place on the down low. And whilst this new “hushed hybrid” trend might be keeping everyone happy on the surface, its emergence spells trouble for company culture, and makes things way more confusing for job seekers.

Why is “hushed hybrid” happening?

RTO orders are on the rise. Manchester United and Boots are the latest in a long line of organisations ordering staff back into offices. Not all of these companies are demanding full-time office work, but employees’ stance on strict mandates and set office-working days is clear.

Flexa data shows that half of workers want “fully remote” roles, whereby companies do not require any office attendance at all. Just under half (42%) of workers want remote-first jobs, whereby regular office attendance is optional and teams meet up every month, for example.

There are any number of different reasons why staff might need or prefer to work remotely. Some people simply find that they work better at home. This includes many neurodivergent workers, who can struggle with in-person interactions and overstimulating office environments. Others rely on remote work to fit their jobs around their caring responsibilities, or health needs.

Many managers see and recognise these preferences and needs amongst their staff, and want to keep the previous promises of flexible working – unlike those at the top. But letting staff work from home unbeknownst to big bosses isn’t without complications.

How “hushed hybrid” is harming company culture

  • Two-tier workforces

Company policies exist for a reason. They help ensure that all staff are treated equally and have access to the same benefits. Whereas, if some managers go against RTO policies, it risks creating a two-tier workforce and breeding resentment amongst staff who haven’t been given the same work-from-home privileges in their team. Morale and team cohesion can suffer as a result.

  • Trust issues

Managers that go against orders from the top also risk weakening trust and respect for senior leaders – and losing the respect of their own teams if they have to revert on their decisions. “Hushed hybrid” sends a signal to staff that what is asked and expected of them is not that important. And this won’t make for engaged employees who feel motivated to meet their performance targets.

  • Paying the price

Problems can also arise if staff feel that, because remote work is being granted at their managers’ discretion, they are indebted to them or need to overcompensate to keep their work-from-home privileges. Staff who overwork as a result of this toxic dynamic are at risk of reduced work-life balance and burnout – the opposite of what flexible work is all about.

  • Closed cultures

Secrecy isn’t good for company culture either. Staff should feel able to speak up and assert their needs and preferences – around ways of working, but also more widely – safe in the knowledge that they will be met with support from their employers. Otherwise, employees’ health and wellbeing could suffer.

How employers can combat “hushed hybrid”

Companies should be upfront about their working set up and policies. Some might opt for full-time office work, others might offer fully remote work, and most will offer something in-between. The key thing is to communicate exactly how many days staff will be expected to work in the office per week, and on what days of the week (if this is set). This enables staff to find employers whose needs and preferences align with their own, and avoids clashes that lead to secretive alternative working arrangements in the first place.

RTO orders that go back on companies’ policies complicate matters. In this case, it’s important that employers consult staff before issuing strict mandates, and maintain as much flexibility as possible. Companies can increase office attendance requirements whilst still offering hybrid work. If staff unanimously oppose any reduction to their work-from-home days, employers should think again. Otherwise, they run the risk of “hush hybrid” and company culture problems.

Lastly, if managers become aware that individual team members’ needs are not met by the company’s current working set up, they shouldn’t keep it to themselves. Sharing this information  with senior leaders (keeping employees anonymous, if needed) is the only way to come to a working arrangement that works for everybody.

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