Hybrid working patterns are here to stay as forward-thinking businesses adapt

New Business - 27th February 2024
Sarah Singlehurst
4 min read
Published: 7 Mar 2024 4:55

Employers, meanwhile, have pushed back against remote working, with some companies using turnstile data and employee monitoring to enforce a stricter approach for employees failing to adhere to return-to-office (RTO) mandates. Yet with 2024 now well underway, few doubt that hybrid working is here to stay – and businesses need to adjust accordingly. New legislation, shifting mindsets and competition for talent mean that businesses seeking to impose unpopular rules on their employees that prevent or curb hybrid working are unlikely to achieve the desired outcomes. After all, nearly 50% of respondents in a recent PayFit survey said they would prioritise workplace flexibility over a pay increase of as much as 15%. Employers should pursue solutions that can benefit managers and employees alike.

Changing attitudes: the ongoing debate over flexible working

While the debate over flexible working is set to continue, 2024 will be a turning point. The UK’s Flexible Working Bill will formally enter into law in April, granting employees the right to request flexible working from day one of a new role. In theory, this will place greater power in the hands of workers to decide how and where they work.

However, what this new legislation really shows are the changing priorities of the workforce in favour of hybrid working, even as manager encourage them to return to the office. For employees, the greater freedom and ability to control their own workload is now considered a standard offering for a new job. As well, employees want to avoid the cost and unreliability of public transport.

Thus, the pushback when companies sought a return to the office. For instance, according to research by Scaleable Software last year, 35% of workers resented being asked to return to the office, insisting it demonstrated paranoia and a lack of trust in managers. The debate over flexible working is shaping more than just legislation; it’s also at the heart of the employee retention crisis. Employees accustomed to flexible working with a dislike of RTO mandates have shown a willingness to quit roles that fail to offer such flexibility. This in turn shapes businesses’ ability to attract top talent. Reinforcing the point, research by IWG found that over 59% of companies which offered flexible working saw enhanced retention and recruitment rates.

This should be the year when businesses stop treating hybrid working as part of the problem, and instead see it as a solution. Sensitively applied flexible working can, and should, reshape businesses' approach to the workspace for the better.

Serviced offices – the new norm

For organisations willing to embrace hybrid working, serviced offices are emerging as an attractive form of workspace management. In 2023, flexible offices had already developed strong value, with over two-thirds of London’s flexible office space having an average occupancy of 80%. However, WeWork's distress last year cast a shadow over the flexible office sector. But this is a particular situation with a particular company, not a reflection on the overall hybrid working concept and certainly not an indication that this concept lacks appeal. Indeed, in the wake of Covid, IWG research showed just over 40% of the FTSE 250 looking to either move to or invest in a shared office.

As businesses adapt or downsize their offices, it is important for them to create exciting workspaces to differentiate themselves and make the office worth the commute. Serviced offices embrace this by providing onsite amenities, such as breakout rooms, gyms and kitchens, making the office more engaging than a traditional workspace, thereby nudging staff to return to it of their own volition. In this way, businesses can create a stronger, more vibrant company culture that fosters employee buy-in but accommodates flexible working.

With recent predictions pointing to a global flexible office market growing as much as 12.8% CAGR from 2023 to $35 billion by 2030, businesses should take note and plan accordingly. Failure to do so will ultimately stifle business. In 2024, it will be those forward-thinking companies that find solutions to the hybrid-working issue that will have the best business outcomes and be the long-term winners.