Remote work or hybrid? Why employers have changed their minds

Hybrid working offers a better balance and benefits junior employees in particular, say employers.
Written by Owen Hughes, Senior Editor
Woman discussing work on video call with team members at office
Image: Getty Images

Employers are "abandoning remote working" in favour of hybrid models in an effort to retain valuable staff and ensure junior team members have better opportunities to learn and progress, say the findings of a new report.

Robert Half's Demand for Tech Talent Report, which surveyed 750 tech-hiring managers across the UK, found that many companies that had adopted remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic were beginning to return to offices.

While this is perhaps to be expected, the report also found that 28% of companies that operated a fully remote workforce prior to 2020 had moved to a hybrid arrangement that combines remote working with working from an office – indicating a shift in trend "that goes beyond a return to normal".

According to Robert Half, more employers are seeing the value of a central workspace as they struggle with hiring and retention issues, particularly within tech teams. Seven in 10 (69%) tech-hiring managers reported that retaining valued employees had become harder during the past 12 months.

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Junior staff are disproportionately affected by remote working, the report suggested. According to 73% of tech leaders surveyed, remote working impacts opportunities for more junior team members to develop new skills, as they are less able to learn from or check work with more experienced staff. Sixty-five percent of employers said the progression of junior talent was being held back as a result, impacting loyalty and retention.

Craig Freedberg, regional director of technology at Robert Half, said: "The progression and skills development of junior workers is something for organisations to keep an eye on. When your most ambitious employees are unable to acquire skills or progress in line with their expectations, they will start to look for new roles that can offer more opportunities, rather than risk stagnating or being held back."

Managers are also worried about remote working's impact on culture-building processes, and feel unequipped to properly identify "pastoral issues" such as burnout and disengagement when they can't see their employees face to face.

Seven in 10 (69%) employers surveyed by Robert Half said working from home made it more difficult to recognize potential employee issues, like mental health problems or staff dissatisfaction, while 67% are worried about corporate culture suffering.

Combined, these issues are prompting leaders to encourage staff back to their desks in some capacity: three-quarters (72%) of managers surveyed by Robert Half said they were trying to get workers into the office, while 60% have adopted hybrid working as the 'new normal'.

While Robert Half's report did not contain findings on worker sentiment, employees have generally appeared receptive to hybrid-working models. But they are also keen to return to the office on their own terms, and are motivated to do so by incentives that often differ from those of their bosses.

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Work-life balance, for example, remains a primary driver for employees who wish to split their time between the office and their homes. Conversely, employees are less likely to worry about workplace culture than business leaders, and generally wish to limit their in-office days to just once or twice per week.

Freedberg recognized that employees did not wish to return to the office full-time, adding that hybrid working was "a good compromise that allows employees the balance and flexibility they want, while allowing employers to address retention issues more effectively, which is essential in today's hiring market."

Of the employers surveyed by Robert Half, 72% admitted they were suffering a tech skills shortage, with IT security, software development and cloud-computing talent most in demand. On average, employers have hired 151 new tech roles in the past 12 months, the report found.

Other strategies to prevent staff losses being employed by tech leaders are increasing salaries and reviewing pay packets (38%), and promoting workers (35%). Likewise, of the 67% of employers experiencing hiring difficulties, 24% said they were highlighting opportunities for progression, while 15% are increasing the paid holidays they offer, or offering sabbaticals.

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