Out-Law News

Three days in office is optimal hybrid working arrangement, study shows

Helen Corden tells HRNews about ‘proximity bias’ which favours employees who choose to work in the office


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  • Transcript

    Three days in the office is the optimal hybrid working arrangement for culture and performance, according to new research. The report by Ipsos provides empirical analysis into the impact that hybrid and remote working are having on employee experience, workplace culture and performance and concludes that three days in the office strikes the right balance in giving the benefits of office working for both employer and employee, while also giving individuals the ability to think, work and manage their home lives in a flexible way. However, proximity bias remains an issue. We’ll come back to that.

    Personnel Today reports on the study called ‘Making the case for the office’ which looked into the experiences of 1,400 full-time workers in desk-based roles. It found that people who spend three days a week in the office are more likely to have career development conversations with their manager and generate new ideas, while those in the workplace for four days are able to make faster decisions when faced with challenges or opportunities and are more likely to agree that decision-making processes are transparent. Interestingly, only half of those polled were spending their preferred amount of days in the office, suggesting organisations’ hybrid working arrangements are not meeting the needs of their people.

    Ghassan Karian, CEO of Ipsos is quoted saying: “In the responses to our survey, three days in the office came out as the optimum solution. It strikes the right balance that realises the benefits of office working for both employer and employee, while also giving individuals the ability to think, work and manage their home lives in a flexible way.”

    Interestingly, page 15 of the report looks at ‘The negative impact of too much home working on workplace culture and employee career conversations’. They give the CEO perspective and say it is career development and innovation that many CEOs have been focused on in their ‘return to the office’ announcements. On excessive home working various CEOs are quoted saying things like: ‘Your career does suffer’, ‘Going remote was ‘one of the tech industry’s worst mistakes’ and ‘Things just move faster when you’re face to face’. The report concludes: ‘Our report suggests CEOs have a valid point. A number of research studies like this one have shown the impact that in-person connections have on human relationships, including trust and confidence. In addition, visibility of achievement has been identified as a key factor in leaders making promotion decisions.’

    The advantage that comes with having a physical presence in the office is well known and is called ‘proximity bias’ and as this study shows it exists even with the ‘optimal’ 3 days in the office hybrid arrangement. So how do minimise its negative impact? Earlier Helen Corden joined me by video-link from Birmingham to discuss the issue and I put that question to her:

    Helen Corden: “There are a number of ways that proximity bias can be minimised. I think organisations should think of it in terms of meetings, workload, and culture. So just thinking about meetings to begin with. Depending upon the content of the meeting, it may be possible to hold a hybrid meeting where some people are attending the meeting in person, and some people are attending the meeting virtually. If that is the case, then to minimise any proximity bias within the meeting you really need to have a strong chairperson to make sure that everybody is included. Now, if the meeting is relatively straightforward, and there's a clear agenda, then obviously that's a lot easier to do. For those meetings which are, perhaps, going to be more creative, more discursive, then the chair of the meeting really needs to be taking control and making sure that those people who are attending virtually are included because it's very easy for conversations to take place across the table and for people within the meeting to dominate those conversations and that can lead to people who are attending virtually to switch off very easily and by the time - maybe 10, 15, 20 minutes into the meeting - they're asked for their opinion, it's already too late, they've lost the train of thought because they haven't been able to participate. So really, with hybrid meetings you need a strong chair and making sure that everybody is included.”

    Joe Glavina: “You mentioned the importance of culture as a means of addressing proximity bias, Helen.”

    Helen Corden: “What you don't want to do is create any sort of divide amongst the team. So again, it's looking at ways that you can make sure that the team is connected, making sure that managers are holding regular conversations with team members, both those who are in the office and those from home. That may, again, need a more structured approach rather than quick conversations when making coffee, for example, managers need to maybe think about diarising more regular catch ups, especially with those who are working from home more frequently.”

    Joe Glavina: “What if this is not addressed properly by employers Helen? Is it a serious issue?”

    Helen Corden: “I think if it's not addressed and not done properly, then it could turn into a serious issue. So, for example, I've already mentioned the cultural issues. You don't want to be creating a divide a divisive workforce, which this could lead to, but also, it could result in claims for discrimination, for example. So, if it's the case that more women in the teamwork from home than men, and they're not being adequately supported or allocated work appropriately, you may find that claims of sex discrimination arise because they may say that the men in the office are being favoured over them.”

    That report by Ipsos is called ‘Making the case for the office’. It can be downloaded from the Ipsos website, and we’ve put a link to it in the transcript of this programme.

    - Link to Ipsos report: ‘Making the case for the office’

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