The great flexibility versus culture debate – and is hybrid working the solution?

Matt Partington
NSW State Manager:
5 mins

A few years ago, having bean bags in a chill-out room in the corner of the office changed the way we thought about culture. Today, we’ve gone from questioning if people can leave early to fetch their kids from school to people working from anywhere, at any time. Flexibility isn’t a benefit – it’s an expectation.

As leaders try to navigate what a post-pandemic workplace looks like and attempt to reconnect our teams to the office environment, we are all hearing the same rhetoric from resistant staff. Working from home is more productive (is it always, though?).  Not coming into the office saves time and money on the commute (this one is difficult to argue).  I work better by myself with no distractions (sure, but what kind of work is it and are there really no distractions working from home?). 

This is causing a real headache for leadership teams. We are at a crossroads. Do we demand that everyone comes back into the office five days a week? Do we let those who want to work from home stay at home? What is the solution?

Leadership teams around the globe are facing the greatest shift in staff expectations, in what is now largely, a candidate-driven market. Leaders are wanting people back in the office because that is the way we’ve all learnt how to lead. We are challenged on:

  • How to manage a team if we are all not in the office together?
  • How to induct and train new staff or inexperienced staff?
  • How do we upskill and develop current staff?
  • How do we track productivity and that everyone is doing their jobs?
  • How do we ensure that our teams are engaged?
  • When 80% of communication is non-verbal how can we possibly build and maintain relationships through online platforms alone?

And the most important question of all: how do we build and maintain a connected culture without everyone back in the office full time?  

If there is anything we have learnt over the past two years, it is that culture can slip pretty quickly, and once it does, people will easily move jobs for a slightly higher salary. Without culture and personal connections at work, loyalty to the business, brand and your customers isn’t engrained – and everyone loses.


Navigating muddy waters

There’s no easy answer to any of these questions. As leaders, we were not taught how to manage in this world and the past two years have been about duct taping over problems instead of building new foundations for workplace conditions that are here to stay.

The good news is that we have been managing our people under completely left-field conditions. Like it or not, we have been doing it. The question now, is how can we find a solution that works for leaders and employees alike? How do we forge a new norm which collides flexibility whilst maintaining and strengthening an organisation’s culture?

We believe that the first step is asking why are staff resistant to returning to the office. Let’s look at our examples again.


  1. The productivity issue.

    A few years ago, we all started believing that emails were bad. They were time-suckers – especially emails where everyone was cc-ed and long email chains were never resolved. Now, people believe that working from a locked room by themselves emailing all day means they are productive. It’s a complete fallacy. In many ways, we’ve substituted high-value work for ‘busy’ work because we had to work alone, and the natural collaboration of the office slipped away. Of course, real productivity also takes place when people have concentrated time to themselves. We just need to be careful to distinguish between the two and be purposeful in designing ways of working that support real productivity.

  2. The commute.

    No one is arguing that cutting down on daily commutes isn’t a real benefit. It’s opened a whole new world for many people to design when and how they work, and let’s face it, it is a huge time saver. 

  3. No Different distractions.

    Working at home comes with fewer distractions from a noisy office and chatty colleagues. On the other hand, the office is free from the seemingly endless procession of delivery people, barking dogs, noisy cohabitants, and camera-loving kids which some of us contend with at home. For some, a trip into the office can be a well-needed reprieve.

  4. Focused alone time away from the team.

    As we have mentioned, there is always a place for focused alone time. However, constantly working alone can also be problematic. Take skills transfer for instance. We all learnt how to navigate our roles and upskill ourselves because of our access to people who were more experienced than us. If your most experienced people are at home, who is helping the next generation hone their skills? People working together, support and upskill each other. Working from home removes a huge and critical element, such as the identification of teachable moments, that supports natural career growth.   In addition, when someone is only working alone, they tend to just do what they’ve always done. They aren’t growing and stretching themselves either.  Solely working from home can result in people working in siloes. When this happens there is a danger of staff being disconnected from the organisation’s purpose, people, and sense of community. This reduces the ability to solve complex problems as a collective.

Of course, there are a lot of benefits to working from home. But there are also challenges and pitfalls. As leaders, we need to understand both so that we can find a solution that supports culture, team-building, collaboration, and ideation, to drive business success. 

We also need to consciously give people a reason to want to be back in the office. What value do you offer your team? Or do you just expect them to report to you? Coming into the office simply to cover KPIs and give feedback on work isn’t going to excite anyone. They will just feel unproductive, and they will resent the commute. 

But coming into the office to network, collaborate, enjoy the human connections of working together and add value to each other – that is something we have all been missing. A leader’s role is to help their teams realise that and to create an environment and culture where it actually happens.


The hybrid solution

For us, the answer is a hybrid solution. Office days that bring everyone together but are focused on collaborative work that supports your people and your business objectives, balanced by work from home days that are used for high-value work that is better off completed alone – but not for millions of emails and Teams meetings where everyone has their cameras off anyway!

Culture comes from connections. With the right hybrid solution, you can have both culture and flexibility – and a happier, more productive and engaged team as well.

It will not be easy. We are all going to make mistakes as we navigate these new waters. However, if we understand the landscape and are communicating with each other, we can create a hybrid model designed specifically for the new way we are now working, looking beyond physical locations to the intent behind work, culture and what should be done in person versus time spent working offsite.

Happier productivity for your team and company. Discover a hybrid working solution today!

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