Jobs and the Future of Work

Hybrid working: Why there’s a widening gap between leaders and employees

Post-pandemic, many employees want to retain a hybrid working model.

Post-pandemic, many employees want to retain a hybrid working model. Image: Unsplash/LinkedIn Sales Solutions

Johnny Wood
Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Post-pandemic, many employees want to retain a hybrid working model.
  • But most senior leaders want their staff to work collaboratively in an office environment, according to a new survey.
  • This gulf in expectations needs to be addressed, says Ipsos, as does the digital divide that prevents some people from accessing remote working.

It’s a workday. You get up, wash, dress and travel to the office… or maybe not.

While most senior leaders want their staff to work collaboratively in an office environment, most employees don’t want to be there all the time, according to a new survey.

Researchers at Ipsos analyzed more than 540,000 survey responses revealing attitudes to hybrid working in 95 countries. The results showed a widening gap between leaders and employees.

Hybrid working, home alone, or office life?

Most survey respondents experience benefits from remote working, including more than half who enjoyed more flexible working hours.

Hybrid working can save time, money and improve your work-life balance.
Hybrid working can save time, money and improve your work-life balance. Image: Ipsos.

Two out of three people surveyed said hybrid working improved their work-life balance and the majority (85%) reported saving both time and money from escaping the daily commute.

Almost a quarter of those surveyed said remote working improved communication and collaboration and led to faster decision making.

Flexible working favoured by most

Having tried home working during the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees are reluctant to return to the rigours of office life full-time. Fewer than 1 in 10 of those surveyed in fact.

Globally, 68% of respondents favoured a hybrid work routine, while almost a quarter would choose fully remote working.

A graphic showing how the majority of people want the flexibility to work a hybrid pattern.
India had the highest number of employees who would prefer a fully remote work set up. Image: Ipsos.

But there were differences in attitudes between countries, with employees in Singapore, Hong Kong, Germany and the UK most likely to select hybrid working if given free choice.

A high proportion of employees working in countries like India, the USA and Poland would prefer a fully remote working arrangement.

Leaders still want staff back in the office

Survey responses from senior leaders tell a different story, however, with just 10% expressing a preference for full-time home working. Middle managers are almost twice as likely than senior managers to want to work remotely, with junior employees almost three times more likely.

A graphic showing how senior leaders like to work in the office more than junior employees.
Junior employees are almost three times more likely to want to work remotely than senior managers. Image: Ipsos.

A similar divide emerged when survey respondents reflected on the effectiveness of collaboration in different working environments.

Junior employees thought 100% homeworking was more conducive to effective collaboration than hybrid or office-based work, while for senior leaders collaboration peaked in an office setting.

Most middle managers surveyed (71%) thought effective collaboration was most associated with hybrid working.

The changing workplace

The survey results highlight a widening experience gap between leaders who want employees to return to the office and employees who have adapted to new patterns of work and want greater flexibility.

So, what happens next?

A changing labour market means leaders may not necessarily decide working arrangements, as the balance of power in many labour markets has shifted to favour employees.

Almost 60% of HR leaders say attracting talent is harder now than before the pandemic.

Companies offering remote or hybrid work options to their employees could be at an advantage when attempting to attract and retain talented employees.

Furthermore, companies that compel staff to return to the office could face resistance. A survey by global recruitment firm Robert Half found that half of US workers would resign rather than be forced to return to office-based working full time, according to the BBC.

But what employees want is not the only consideration. Looking to the future, workers and leaders need to find a balancing act between employee needs and what works for a business in order to find a workable solution.

Digital access for all

An important distinction must be made between those with and those without access to the internet. Work must be done to close the digital divide that exists between wealthy and poorer parts of society, and between wealthy nations and developing countries that may lack the digital infrastructure and resources to access remote working.

In countries and companies where a hybrid model can be adopted, the Ipsos survey outlines the need for both managers and employees to embrace remote ways of working and devise a clear company strategy for hybrid success.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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