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The surprising reason why many leaders force employees back to the office

Opinions of contributing entrepreneurs are their own.

a recent survey of more than 150 US CEOs reveal a startling reason why many companies are forcing a return to office. The research shows that many organizations struggle to nurture strongly communication, collaboration and team bonding in these environments. As a result, some companies are returning to traditional face-to-face work models to address these issues and increase overall employee engagement. However, is this retreat into familiar territory the best course of action?

The siren of the traditional office model

The poll showed that in a Survey 2022, only 31% of US companies operated locally. That included those who cannot work remotely due to the nature of their work (such as factories and shops).

However, this figure saw a significant increase from almost 50% in 2023 to 46%. As a result, the percentage of hybrid companies dropped from 61% in 2022 to 48% in 2023, while the share of completely remote companies fell from 7% to 5% over the same period.

It’s no secret that humans are creatures of habit. When faced with challenges in unfamiliar territory, it’s all too tempting to return to what we know. That’s exactly what’s happening with companies struggling with remote and hybrid work models. They find themselves in uncharted waters and instead of learning to adapt, they are tempted to return to the cozy seclusion of the office-oriented model.

However, retreating to familiar territory means sacrificing many of the benefits that remote and hybrid work arrangements provide. Let’s take a closer look at what companies have to lose if they give in to this siren.

Related: Why employers are forcing a return to the office leads to increased worker power and unionization

Giving up the hybrid gold mine of work

The findings are quite unexpected given that by 2022, when CEOs were asked if they were satisfied with their chosen working model, 60% of those using remote or hybrid models answered “yes”. A barely noticeable 0.5% expressed an intention to return to personal work once the pandemic was over.

Intriguingly, the 2023 survey found that only 5% of companies working with remote or hybrid arrangements reported reduced performance as a result of the shift. So this begs the question: What happened?

The research details how a CEO of the tech industry stated that offering flexibility does indeed make it much easier to attract and retain talent. However, he said it also requires more effort from leadership across the organization, including a greater need for intentional communication, joint division of labor and cultivating relationships. CEOs have reported difficulties in achieving the same levels of engagement and participation from remote employees as their in-office counterparts.

Remote and hybrid work arrangements are proven to increase employee productivity, reduce turnover and access a global talent market. By going back to the traditional face-to-face work model, companies are happily turning their backs on these benefits. It is similar to discovering a gold mine and then deciding to return to prospecting for gold in a river. Sure, it’s familiar, but it’s also short-sighted and much less lucrative.

So what’s the solution? How can companies avoid the pitfalls of remote and hybrid working without sacrificing the benefits?

i talk to dozens of leaders every month about these issues, and what I inevitably discover is that they are trying to convert their traditional, office-oriented collaboration models into hybrid and remote working. Of course, they feel that the result is a weakened culture, cooperation, team bonding, communication and so on. The solution is not to go back to the traditional office model.

The solution is to apply methods for building culture, collaboration, team bonding, communication, etc. that fit well in a hybrid environment. Then you get the best of both worlds.

And yes, it takes more effort at first, as the CEO of the tech industry quoted in the study. Just as it takes some effort to adopt a new system and learn new ways of working together. But you get a permanent boost in your ability to attract and retain talent, access talent around the world, increase your productivity and permanently improve employee morale and well-being – all in exchange for a temporary effort while you are updating your systems for the new world.

Related: You Can’t Return to the Office Without Beating These Four Big Battles

The trap for cognitive bias: how our brains sabotage hybrid work success

Unfortunately, the role of a great challenge is to get the best of both worlds cognitive biases in shaping our decisions and perceptions. Cognitive biases are systematic errors in our thinking that affect our judgment, often leading us to make irrational choices. In the context of hybrid work, two specific cognitive biases stand out as particularly damaging: status quo biases and functional fixedness.

The status quo bias refers to our tendency to prefer the current state of things to change, even if the alternative may be more favorable. This bias plays a major role in organizations’ reluctance to fully embrace remote and hybrid work models. Many leaders, influenced by the bias of the status quo, see a return to traditional personal work as the safest and best known course of action. In doing so, they fail to see the potential benefits and opportunities of hybrid work arrangements.

Functional fixedness is another cognitive bias that hinders our ability to adapt to hybrid work environments. This bias refers to the tendency to view objects or situations only in terms of their traditional use or function. In the context of hybrid work, functional fixedness leads organizations to apply conventional office-oriented models to remote and hybrid environments, ultimately resulting in a weakened culture, collaboration, team bonding, and communication.

To be successful in the hybrid work environment, leaders must step back and recognize the impact of cognitive biases on their decision making. By doing so, they can make more informed choices that drive innovation and growth, enabling their organizations to thrive in this ever-evolving landscape.

Related: When the office return turns sour: The battle between Apple and Twitter reveals rifts in corporate culture

Embracing the hybrid working model: a new frontier

The key to success in the hybrid work environment lies in adaptation. Leaders must learn how to build culture, foster collaboration, enhance team bonding and improve communication in ways tailored to remote and hybrid work. It’s not about forcing a square peg into a round hole by applying traditional office-oriented models to these new environments. Instead, companies need to forge new paths that allow them to enjoy the best of both worlds.

1. Create a distance-friendly culture

To thrive in a hybrid environment, organizations must intentionally build a remotely friendly culture. This means recognizing and celebrating the unique strengths of remote and hybrid work, such as increased flexibility, autonomy and work-life balance. It’s about moving away from the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality and embracing the idea that remote workers are just as valuable and connected as their office counterparts.

2. Rethink communication strategies

Effective communication is the lifeblood of any organization and a hybrid work environment is no different. Companies should adopt communication strategies that promote inclusiveness and prevent remote employees from feeling isolated. This may include implementing regular video conferencing, creating dedicated channels for team bonding activities, and encouraging frequent check-ins between team members.

3. Leverage technology for collaboration

The right tools can make all the difference in fostering collaboration and teamwork in a hybrid environment. Organizations should invest in advanced collaboration software, such as project management tools, video conferencing platforms, and file sharing systems. These tools can bridge the gap between remote and in-office workers, keeping everyone connected and engaged regardless of their physical location.

4. Prioritize team bonding and connection

To maintain a strong sense of camaraderie and belonging, organizations must prioritize team bonding activities, both in person and virtually. Consider hosting regular team-building events such as virtual happy hours, online games, or even off-site retreats. By creating opportunities for employees to connect on a personal level, companies can build a sense of unity that transcends the boundaries of the hybrid work model.

5. Invest in training and development

A critical aspect of adapting to the hybrid work environment is ensuring that both leaders and employees have the skills and knowledge they need to thrive. Companies should invest in training programs that focus on best practices for remote work, effective communication and collaboration in a hybrid environment. By equipping their workforce with the right tools, organizations can set the stage for success in this new frontier.

Related: Hybrid workers are more productive at home — but now’s the time to ask them to come to the office

The future of work: embrace the change, reap the rewards

Clearly, the solution to the challenges of remote and hybrid work is not to return to traditional face-to-face work models. Instead, companies must learn to adapt and embrace the unique opportunities presented by these new environments. By doing so, they can enjoy increased productivity, reduced turnover and access to a global talent market.

The future of work is here and it’s time organizations stopped running from it. The wise will adapt and evolve their strategies to create a new normal that leverages the strengths of remote and hybrid work models. By doing so, they will position themselves for success in an ever-changing business landscape and reap the rewards of embracing the best of both worlds.


Shreya has been with australiabusinessblog.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider australiabusinessblog.com, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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