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Hybrid working | accountingweb

Out of office: Hybrid workers reluctant to return


As the three-year anniversary of the beginning of Covid looms, some employers are looking to bring an end to the hybrid working experiment. Yet, with Pandora’s pandemic box opened, can the world of work ever be the same again?

25th Jan 2023
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Since the outbreak of the pandemic back in 2020, hybrid working has transformed from a rare occurrence to the norm across the UK. However, rumblings from employers looking to revert to a more traditional office-based dynamic are now gathering pace, leading their employees to consider their positions.

Any Answers contributer and finance manager the_drookit_dug was one such individual considering “dusting off the CV and looking for something closer to home” after their employer announced they were scrapping the hybrid-working model after two years. “I found the switch to working from home completely seamless, and a great opportunity to completely sweep aside the paper-based processes I’d inherited,” the_drookit_dug wrote. “My boss feels the office is a bit soulless, and has grown resentful of staff dictating terms. He has therefore taken the nuclear option of a strict 100% return to the office. I actually don’t mind the office, but I do have a 30-mile commute, and have organised my life around having a couple of days a week working from home.”

Point of no return?

The replies were mostly on the side of the original poster, with many arguing that hybrid working is here to stay, especially at a time when employees have more choice of where they work. 

AWEB contributor Jason Croke wrote that because “Pandora’s box was opened during lockdown” hybrid working wasn’t going anywhere. “If businesses don’t understand their people and their needs, then businesses will have a staff retention problem down the line,” Croke wrote. “Good luck getting a replacement who is forced to come into the office every day when the trains don’t work, the roads are clogged and public transport costs thousands of pounds, etc.”

Ireallyshouldknowthisbut towed a similar line in their comment, advising the_drookit_dug that they’re unlikely to be the only one unhappy with the announcement. “I’d sit and wait for a bit and see what happens. You might well find your company changes its tune if enough people grumble.

“Yes it’s helpful to be around to meet people, but it’s not needed all the time. Split working I think is going to be the norm for most office-based roles and be a real plus at the recruitment stage.”

Generational divide

Differing ideologies between the generations over hybrid working was also touched upon by commenters, who had noticed a stark difference between young and old on the debate.

“This does seem a generational thing – and for no good reason other than habit and trust,” wrote LW64. “Despite being at the higher end of the age range I see no good reason to be in the office 100% of the time.”

Croke seemed to agree with this assessment, noting younger generations are looking for more than just a salary and are instead looking for employers who offer a healthy work/life balance. “The problem employers have is that they will have a mix of 20-somethings through to the ancients and they all want different things, so to bow to the ancients because they like the office, have already got a house and nice pension, means the potential to lose talent at the younger end who are wanting something else.”


Tom123, another AWEB member with experience as a finance manager, echoed the sentiments of the community, noting that hybrid working has been beneficial for his colleagues across industries. “At the start of the pandemic I was head of finance in a manufacturing company. At that time, full-time attendance in the office was the order of the day. However, we quickly arranged a form of remote working (connecting via Teamviewer), and a number of our team were able to work from home,” Tom123 wrote.

Now working in education, Tom123 said that, while teaching is back to normal post-pandemic, his team has a hybrid structure and has made structural changes to facilitate this new normal. “Schools employ a fair proportion of part-time workers in admin and finance roles. We recently migrated our payroll to cloud-based and our finance system was moved to the cloud during the pandemic. This gives flexibility for home working on request, and indeed working at multiple sites as our Academy Trust grows,” Tom123 said.

“I understand that some flexibility for home working in the event of childcare or other issues is retained.”

What are your thoughts on hybrid working? Is it here to stay or will we be finding ourselves back in the office in the future? Let us know in the comments below. 

Replies (11)

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By Hugo Fair
25th Jan 2023 18:42

It's really very simple ... the problem, not the solution!

Of course there are differences across the board - different business cultures and, in particular, different services being delivered by employees. And then you have different personality types (not quite as simple as grouping by generations), and different stages within the learning aspects of a job.

But once you've allowed greater freedom of choice (think flexi-hours or cafeteria benefits), it's against human nature to happily accept the withdrawal of those choices - especially if that is imposed by 'the boss'.

Hence my opening statement ... easy to describe the problem but harder to see a solution!

Basically what seems to be missing from most of the entrenched positions (on either side of the battle lines) is any sense of dialogue/consultation/compromise. I know it's a cliché, but there are win:win options out there - just not as 'one size fits all', so some effort individually is needed to get there.

Thanks (2)
By mbee1
26th Jan 2023 09:01

We consulted our staff in early 2022 and the overwhelming majority wished to continue home working. so we made it permanent. We down sized the office and rather than have room for 15 staff we moved to a serviced office block with a room big enough for 3 with shared kitchen and toilet facilities.

The admin team work there on a rota and any other staff go in as needed for either training or client purposes. The block has a meeting room that we can book out at no extra charge. We have a monthly staff meeting of all staff via Zoom and have a whatsapp group for urgent messages. There's nothing we can't do at home that we need an office for. Everyone is equipped with all the technology they need. Anything that can't be scanned is sent to whoever needs it by recorded post, special delivery or courier or staff local to the office can pick it up.

Work/life balance is much better and productivity is amazing.

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Replying to mbee1:
By Ronster
26th Jan 2023 09:39

Are you hiring?

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By johnjenkins
26th Jan 2023 09:45

There will never be a return to pre-covid working. People adapt and if they find that adaption better they will stick to it.
The roads are full of traffic at the moment. Why? Rail strike. People adapting to getting to work and back home. Some will stay using their car even after the strike is settled.

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By JustAnotherUser
26th Jan 2023 09:54

2020 What's the problem? Stop working due to covid or work from home.

2023 what's the problem? The real problem! is productivity down? KPI's not being met? Moral? I've yet to see a data driven reason to these leaders mandating a return to office, its all 'culture' and 'trust' or 'feelings'. Nothing more than a gut feel or that they feel the office is empty.

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Replying to JustAnotherUser:
By 4b4
26th Jan 2023 10:01

JustAnotherUser wrote:

Nothing more than a gut feel or that they feel the office is empty.

And they're tied into a lease they're paying a lot of money for!
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Replying to 4b4:
By JustAnotherUser
26th Jan 2023 10:06

can we agree this isn't a great reason to bring people back in the office, and definitely not the reason they give to people

Thanks (1)
By mydoghasfleas
26th Jan 2023 11:45

I saw a press article today, Sir Jim Harra defending HMRC staff WFH arguing no decline in productivity (the particular instance was answering telephone calls) whilst accepting wait times had increased. Clearly he is not calling in on the public numbers.

I have also been in a dispute over HMRC failings and recovery of costs. Identified were long periods of waiting for a call to be answered. HMRC did not dispute the hold times (we have records) but felt we could have been doing something else whilst holding. I suppose if you are WFH you could make a tea, walk the dog, go to the gym before a pickup. If you are working on someone's tax how can you put it to one side, knowing (well hoping) that any moment your call will be answered?

Does WFH work? It did for me when I did it but I had to get into the work frame of mind. That involved getting up at the normal time, dressing for the office, then going into a room that was kitted out for work without any distractions. However, I much prefer the office environment where a team exists that does not require Zoom/Teams/What'sApp when you need to discuss something simply by putting a head around the door and gauging if a colleague can talk.

I see Tom123 was referred to and WFH worked for him and his team. I see he is in a finance team for a manufacturer. Do the manufacturing teams get to work from home? For some employer's it is a means of downsizing office requirements, heating costs etc. For those WFHers it's savings on commuting costs and time, effectively a pay increase; although part offset by increased costs at home. For those who cannot commute it's increased fuel costs and damage caused by potholes or train/bus fares against declining services.

It calls to mind a description of lockdown being, "The middle classes staying at home, whilst the working class delivered to those homes."

There are so many nuances to this, I do not know the answer. Does anyone know aside from their perception of their own productiveness? How do you measure it and against what? WFH was intended as a short term measure in response to a medical need, so we pitched into it expecting it to cease; the medical ceased but WFH is now a "right". Many are now thinking not so much WFH as WTF.

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By Rgab1947
31st Jan 2023 10:27

I see no issues with hybrid working. But as a user of services, hybrid can be a pain insofar as response times are reduced. "We will respond in 4 days" seems to be a norm and then you will get an email back with at times a misunderstanding and its a to and from email exercise. A reluctance to allow a phone call, which would sort it quickly, is another issue.

Currently waiting on my Institute to give an answer to a very simple question.

Until there is a discipline imposed on those working from home and some kind of standard set hybrid working is likely to result in a poorer service level.

But not to misunderstand, I support hybrid working but it requires some organisation to make it work well.

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Replying to Rgab1947:
By johnjenkins
31st Jan 2023 14:51

The classic is CIS refunds for Ltd Co's. When the local office was in existence it took ten minutes to sort out any problems and refund was released. What a palaver it is now. This is digital in its worst form Working from home in a lot of cases does not give access to an answer. An e-mail to do this, another e-mail to ask for clarification etc.etc.
Yet, Yet, Yet in sales you always get to talk to a person.

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By tedbuck
31st Jan 2023 12:34

It will doubtless work for some but not everyone. It is very evident that the standard of service in large organisations has reduced to ludicrous levels - HMRC, energy companies, most civil service departments, insurance companies, and any other organisation you can think of. Solicitors - don't even ask - it takes so long to do the legals now that we can go on holiday in the waiting period. Banks - do they still have staff? - some won't even pay out cash (difficult I suppose if the staff are WFH).
It may work in computer based enterprises but one always comes back to training - if they aren't in the office how do they learn. Just look at the Civil Service the level of production has fallen by about 1.3% apparently so they would have to have thousands of new workers to bring it back up. That is sheer madness if ever I heard it. I certainly don't want to pay for any more of them to sit at home.
Definitely time to retire.

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