Flexible working patterns (location and hours) remain the number one sought employee benefit. The opportunities to avoid rush hour traffic, to walk children to school and to repurpose commute times to exercise have all been cited as key quality of life reasons to continue working flexibly.
Research suggests 70% of people would start looking for a new job if their company required them to come back into the office full time. Despite this, more than 50% of leaders will force their employees to return full-time to a central office by the end of 2022 with little evidence to support the benefits of returning to a central office above hybrid/remote working.
A flexible working divide is emerging between employers and employees and recalling workers back to the office is based on a lack of clear insights e.g. managers and leaders are often not good at measuring employee performance clearly, so they value being in the office over actual productivity. We aimed to explore this divide so that more considered solutions (e.g. training) could be suggested rather than a blanket forced return.
We undertook a 1001 person survey1 of UK employees across 20 sectors. We identified what the issues really are and more often than not they are training issues rather than work location issues. Our findings suggest that there are 3 key challenges to making flexible working successful, all rooted in an assumption that people already have the skills they need for work. Addressing these challenges with skills training will remove the divide between employers and employees when considering flexible working options and prevent employers from making a rash misunderstood decision of forcing everyone back to centralised offices.
Challenge 1: Team Communication
Hybrid/Remote leaders report their biggest people related challenge is effective communication. Concerningly, 84% of hybrid/remote leaders have not received training on how to lead remotely2. This leads to confusion, unmet expectations, and high attrition rates.
Upskilling through training in communication and collaboration allows a team to work more efficiently as it promotes cohesion among all members, despite the physical distance.
Spending time training leaders and teams in communication and connection skills will also help resolve concerns around team building. We know, 65% of remote/hybrid leaders viewed a lack of interaction due to remote working as a challenge. Improving connection through training communication skills will remove this alongside providing a more connected team experience for employees. In one case study, Fika skills training showed an improvement of 23% in connection skills across a 8-week training period.
Challenge 2: Focus
Leaders of dispersed teams' also raised concerns about their team's productivity. Hybrid workers appeared to be the least productive with 80% of hybrid workers being unproductive on multiple occasions in the past year, with more than one-third being unproductive for 2-5+ hours in one day.
However, these hybrid workers were also working an average of 3+ hours more per week than their colleagues centrally and remotely located i.e. hybrid is not bad for your business productivity but it’s creating a poorer work/life balance for your hybrid employees who appear to lack the skills to focus. Unsurprisingly, this poorer life balance has resulted in 65% of hybrid workers having thoughts about leaving their job more than once a month in the past 3 months.
Training employees to focus allows for their time to be used with best effect. This increased focus and subsequent boost in productivity has already been observed in successful trials of the 4-day working week, most notably in Microsoft’s Japan office. Our Fika case study, showed 8 weeks of skills training improved employees focus skills by 18%.
Challenge 3: Motivation
The third major challenge leaders of dispersed teams face is motivating their teams.
We found low energy engagement levels for more than 50% of hybrid employees showing low willingness to invest effort in work, and low persistence in the face of difficulties.
One area that provides insight into low motivation is the high burnout scores we observed. We know 70% of employees are burned out and it’s not easy to be motivated at work when feeling stressed and cynical most of the time. Training the skill of stress management can help reduce burnout. This training helps a person to change their perception about whether stress is useful allowing them to use it to their advantage (positive pressure) or to reduce the number of unhelpful stressors in their life before they become overwhelmed (e.g. simplification). In another case study, employees completing 5 minutes of training per day, over 4 weeks, saw an average of 16% uplift in their stress management skills.
Many managers and leaders are not very good at measuring employee performance clearly, so they place value being present over actual productivity. This bias is likely what’s driving the push to get employees back in a central office. However, there is clear evidence that employees know being in a central office full-time is not what’s best for them.
But we can’t ignore the evidence that hybrid and remote working, without the necessary key skills in place, are also proving detrimental to employees' work-life balance and productivity. The solution is simple. Help leaders and employees maximise flexible working benefits through training. Key skills such as communication, focus and motivation allow for the most frequently reported challenges of dispersed teams to be overcome. At Fika, we can support teams and leaders to feel more effective and productive, to gain great work-life balance, and become more focused and engaged all through skills training.