Why Employers Can’t Avoid the Discussion About Hybrid Work Culture

Blog / Why Employers Can’t Avoid the Discussion About Hybrid Work Culture

No one’s confused about why the workforce is trending toward the hybrid work model; job seekers opt for it, which drives change during the Great Resignation because employers often know personnel retention depends on their compliance with these novel workforce demands. This remains the case in the U.S. even as Dr. Anthony Fauci tells PBS News Hour that the country’s “out of the pandemic phase,” which shows that the paradigm is not a trend, but a new reality.

The issue is that this places employers in a precarious position because business models across all industries cannot possibly be so monolithic as to all fit the same hybrid model as employers worldwide continue to adapt.

“Organizations in the tech industry can often be seen as leaders in implementing hybrid, which is not a big surprise because one of the keys to making hybrid work is having the technology to support it,” according to Karin Reed. 

Reed’s an Emmy-award-winning broadcast journalist, a C-suite on-camera communications consultant, and CEO of Speaker Dynamics, a communications agency in Raleigh, N.C. She also co-authored the book, Suddenly Hybrid: Managing the Modern Meeting, with Dr. Joseph Allen, professor of industrial and organizational psychology at the University of Utah.

“Those who are having a hard time adapting are those who are traditionally very dependent on face-to-face interactions, but what I’m seeing is a shift where those organizations that were insisting on returning to a face-to-face are getting significant pushback from their employees, and they’re evolving in how they are thinking about moving to a hybrid work model.”

Wall Street has proven to be one of the major battlegrounds in the war of onsite versus hybrid. Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley reportedly all stand firmly on their big-bank soapboxes to declare that their employees report to the office five days a week. For example, Goldman attributed its decision to its “apprenticeship culture,” and client-focused business model, and the bank’s summer internship program got a record 236,000 applicants in 2022, which is up 17% from 2021. 

Conversely, Citigroup and UBS both announced last month that they’re instituting a hybrid model in which employees spend part of the week in the office and part working remotely. However, UBS is pursuing a more diverse applicant pool and better worker retention.

Sloan Management Review out of MIT published a study in January that found flexibility on remote work to be 150% more correlative with employee retention rates than comp. This means money’s not a useful metric as hybrid flexibility for predicting whether employees stay or go.

Workers are not letting go of that flexibility.

“In many ways, the genie is out of the bottle,” Reed said. “People experienced flexibility and freedom in how they work and where they work, and that is something that has become priority one in many places. And in order to compete for the best talent — the top talent — employers are being smart to listen to that and to respond appropriately.”

In many cases, the Big Quit manifests as job seekers getting pickier about work environments and the kind of work they’re willing to do, making the labor market more competitive. Recruiters are, therefore, resorting to increasingly innovative tactics — or higher levels of compensation — to lure job seekers. 

Some employers have reacted to this reality by embracing the hybrid work model in full, even overhauling workplace infrastructure. Reed considers this the optimal reaction for C-suites in the current labor climate, emphasizing that they need to be “very intentional” in committing to whatever hybrid work model they choose.

“In Suddenly Hybrid, we talk about how you need the hardware, the software, and the skillware to support it,” said Reed of the insights detailed in the book. “The hardware and software is really about the technology and equipping the meeting rooms with the appropriate technology to connect your remote and your in-person attendees, for example, in a meeting.”

This applies to the office itself and the remote personnel, too. For many businesses, quality webcams are an investment, as are high-speed business internet, video-enabled conference rooms, and high-quality audio equipment like mics and speakers or sound monitors. 

“The skillware is really a matter of training your workforce: how to work in this new way because it is a completely different approach,” Reed explained. “And the danger is going into it without having a plan in place because you are at risk of creating a two-tier system where those who are in the office have greater access to information and opportunity than those who are remote.”

Personnel must be tech-savvy enough to conform to the new way of doing things. A hybrid work model usually necessitates that employees be well accustomed to computer work. Sometimes they have to learn new platforms that weren’t in use when they worked onsite. That’s where skillware comes into play, but Reed warns that this doesn’t solve inherent risks to inclusivity.

This is where the quality of audio gear can be essential, too. Audio’s a significant waterloo for remote workers because it can easily marginalize them with poor quality in a hybrid meeting. In-house employees can easily dominate remote workers when it comes to contributing to conversation; this is doubly true when the mics, speakers, or headphones fall short.

It’s an inclusivity issue, yet research shows that hybrid workplace models are potentially a boon to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The pros of hybrid models — flexibility, better work-life balance, and work experiences that cater to the individual — were found in Dr. Allen’s data to impact DEI efforts positively. 

[Hybrid meetings are] “the most inclusive kind of meeting you can have because it breaks down geographic barriers when done well. It is the most participatory of any type of meeting. It is the most satisfying of any meeting format. […] There’s a lot of promise for these hybrid meetings in helping to combat any issues resulting from DEI, but you also need to incorporate additional considerations as you’re implementing it to make sure that it’s an equitable experience for all.”

On the other hand, hybrid models might have the opposite effect on a workplace that already has a significant equity problem if those models aren’t very carefully implemented, and in this case, the a considerable equity issue would mean at least one incident had been reported. 

McKinsey & Co., the multi-billion-dollar management consulting corporation, published a data tract that found LGBTQIA+ employees to be 24% more likely to leave than their heterosexual peers if a hybrid work model was not available. Moreover, Black employees similarly were found to be 14% more likely than their White peers to do so for the same reason. Personnel with disabilities were found to also be 14% more likely to leave for lack of hybrid than those without disabilities. Women proved 10% more likely than men, and nonbinary identifiers responded 18% more often than men or women with the will to leave for lack of hybrid.

The mere fact that Reed’s and Dr. Allen’s book is even necessary demonstrates the trajectory of the modern workforce. Pundits are investing in compiling guides on navigating what they believe to be a transition to the new status quo. Their guide focuses on the dos and don’ts of hybrid meetings in particular. Others are reporting on how to maximize and sustain inclusion efforts.

It now behooves C-suites to educate themselves on and invest in their response to the hybrid model with the understanding that traditionally underserved demographics consistently prefer the potential for remote work.