Hybrid working + Me Vs We paradox

How can hybrid working work?


One of the greatest tensions that we see in today’s workplace which is impacting everything from employee learning and development, employee experience, customer experience, career progression, employee wellbeing and company success is what we call the Me vs We paradox – in other words, the exertion of employee control on what I want, what suits me, the how I want to present and interact, where, when I want to work, learn, vs what the best thing is for their colleagues, their team and the company as a whole….and ultimately for the individual themselves. This balance of the individual vs the collective needs to be managed by the company and its leaders rather than left to everyone to decide for themselves. 

The main way that this is visible is through flexible working in office-based employees. Manufacturing and hospitality have different challenges as many of their people must be physically present for their roles. 


Getting the balance right  


So, we’ve been strong advocates of flexible working for a long time and firmly believe that working only from the office is a thing of the past. 

Remote and flexible working benefits are huge. More time for family and leisure, better wellbeing, less time and money on the commute, more choice over when and how individuals work, to optimize performance.  

Companies demanding 100% office-based working will struggle to attract and retain talent, narrowing their talent pool and slowing their progress. They are likely to end back at square one in terms of diversity, inclusion and monoculture – with lots of people who are the same.  

However, it may be that at this precise moment, the balance has tipped too far to allow flexible working and an insistence on work from home that it may cause unintended and potentially negative consequences for the very people it was meant to support.  


It feels like we’re dragging people kicking and screaming back into the office 


The shift to employees dictating their flexible working terms has been a swift one. The rhetoric of:  

  • ‘We proved it worked during lockdown’  
  • ‘We’re much more productive from home’ 
  • ‘Commuting is a waste of time and money’ 
  • ‘We can collaborate over zoom/email just as effectively’ 


These things are true and valid, BUT there are consequences.  

A recent study even showed that WFH was a great attraction tool but not necessarily a great retention tool. 82% of employers with employees who always work from home say they’ve seen an increase in resignations, compared to 70% of those with some form of hybrid workforce and just 54% of employers with employees who never work from home

Could it be that people don’t really know what’s best for them? But it’s like asking a kid if they want sweets (remote) or salad (in the office). By telling your employees they don’t have to come in at all you’re effectively saying that they can eat sweets every day – not factoring in the long-term health benefits of eating salad. So, what are the long-term impacts of eating the metaphorical sweets? 


Junior employees  


Not being in the office will be impacting their learning and development. They don’t know what they don’t know about work, and they can’t learn everything through onboarding, formal training or a good old Google search or Youtube video.  

They are missing out on watching, hearing, and learning from more experienced colleagues and watching their managers interact and how they do things. The nuggets of unplanned learning you gain from your environment (aka, learning via osmosis) are an invaluable way of learning how to conduct yourself, you’re your critical thinking and your decision-making (or at least, how not to do it).  

Working from home can be great for productivity, completing specific tasks and deep work. But if they don’t get the valuable face-to-face time and learning it can create problems. It’s easy to go off and spend lots of time on the wrong task, or not ask questions because they can’t get a quick chat in to clarify something. A quick impromptu conversation on the phone, Zoom or Teams is not as easy as it is when you’re in the physical workplace together, particularly now that we operate in a much more “scheduled” way. Covid has shifted us away from just “picking up the phone”. Prioritising work is also a challenge without regular contact with managers/colleagues – it’s easy to miss the bigger picture of the real team/company priorities at the moment. 


Experienced employees  


As they are more likely to know the expectations of their role and have an excellent baseline level of knowledge, it may be easier to grant them to work from home more. But don’t let that sway you.  

We never stop learning and growing. Meeting more junior employees and passing on that knowledge is vital for business success as well as innovation – which challenge and questioning from junior employees is great for.  Being in the office and thinking more about the ‘we’ is an important part of future-proofing your business and attracting and retaining talent. 

Mixing your junior and senior employees is critical for business success. It provides both groups with opportunities to learn, challenge and innovate. It helps junior employees learn and aspire, and helps senior employees learn and adapt. Plus, it’ll stop proximity bias creeping in.


Proximity bias + ED&I 


According to research being away from the office and senior leadership can do real damage to your career prospects.   

The closer and more visible you are to senior leadership, the more favourably you’ll be looked upon. This means you’re likely to benefit from being top of mind for opportunities to work on exciting clients, certain projects, development opportunities, and even promotions.  

Hybrid and remote working have taken out a level of visibility. Competitive industries do recognise this, and the impact proximity bias has – with some law firms even stipulating how many hours a week employees can be in the office to ensure more equal opportunities.  

As leaders, it’s important to have a look around and make sure you’re balancing things with your team. They need to ensure that everyone has ample time with their manager, time carved out to learn or innovate, and time to collaborate too.  

Plus, are your remote/hybrid working practices actually equitable? Think about if your meeting experience is standardized? Have you got all resources digitized? Does everyone in your team get equal opportunity and time for 1-2-1s and feedback? Have you got the right people on the right meetings? Can you be more transparent?  

These factors need to be considered, yes of course you want your employees to do their best work and empower them to do so, but make sure you’ve got mechanisms, processes, and opportunities in place to make sure it’s equitable. Employees wanted to be recognised as individuals but treated fairly as a collective.  


Your Employee Value Proposition  (EVP)


Employees don’t have the same level of connection at work as they once did – only compounded by the shift of how people are viewing their careers post-pandemic.  

It’s estimated that on average our networks have shrunk by 16% due to the pandemic. And employees are less likely to be interested in making friends with colleagues, with 52% of remote employees saying having friends on their team was minimally or not at all important.  

This all has a knock-on effect on employee engagement, particularly when you learn that those with a ‘work best friend’ are 7x happier and more engaged at work.  

The pandemic gave a lot of people perspective, a time to pause and reflect. What we’ve seen is a big shift in how people think and approach work. Employees weren’t happy with the status quo. Many now view their relationship much more transactionally – work is simply a means to an end, they are happy to do the job they are paid to do, do it well, and do the hours they are contracted to do – but that’s where the responsibility ends.  

Others are driven by a deeper purpose. Work isn’t just a thing they do, it gives them meaning, they have a passion for the company they work for and are connected and bought into the mission.  

These two groups of people have different drivers, motivations, and behaviours, and they need to be treated differently. Consider what types of employees make up teams at present – what’s the blend of transactional or purposeful? 

The Me vs We paradox should be used as food for thought, for you to look around at the culture of business, your employee experience, engagement, and your employee value proposition, so that you can refine it for success.  


If you enjoyed this article and would like to know how Culture Consultancy can help you tackle your culture challenges, email us at human@cultureconsultancy.com, and a human will get back to you shortly.