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In this Insights In Focus episode, we discuss best practice in hiring, training and safeguarding talent under hybrid working.


Philippa Lamb 


  • Nick Bishop, partner, BKL
  • Kevan Hall, CEO, Global Integration
  • Jo Ludlam, Senior Manager, Change Management, Deloitte


Philippa Lamb: Hello and welcome to the Insights In Focus Podcast. I’m Philippa Lamb. This time we’re examining best practice when it comes to managing talent under hybrid working. It’s over three years since the pandemic saw millions of us set up makeshift workspaces in kitchens, sitting rooms and spare bedrooms. Now that shift to hybrid working is being called the most significant change in working practices since the Industrial Revolution. Now, of course, hybrid wasn’t new to everyone, but the scale and pace of the recent change has left organisations grappling with tricky questions around recruiting, training, motivating and safeguarding a dispersed workforce. Managers have had to play catch-up, particularly those in sectors such as accounting and financial services, where building strong personal relationships has always been paramount.

So, now I’m joined by three experts to discuss what we’ve learned so far, and to look at ways forward. Nick Bishop is a partner at North London accountants BKL, Jo Ludlam is Senior Manager in Change Management at Deloitte, and Kevan Hall is the CEO of training and consulting company Global Integration. Hello, everyone, thanks for being with us. Now, obviously, hybrid working, it’s a big and fast-evolving subject, so today we are going to limit ourselves specifically to hybrid, rather than the many other forms of flexible working. Kevan, I know you’ve written a book about this, so why don’t you give us a working definition so that we know what we’re talking about.

Kevan Hall: I think it’s been used in two ways. The first way is by individuals who are working themselves in a hybrid pattern, so they’re part of the time at home and part of the time in the office, and maybe a third place like a coffee shop. At an organisational level, it can also include people who are fully remote, people who are fully in the office and people who are mixture of the two. So, it’s a combination of those two definitions.

PL: Shall we move on to what we know so far, and hear a bit about all your own experiences of managing this shift to hybrid? Nick, I know it did exist pre-pandemic to a certain extent, didn’t it? But what does it look like now?

Nick Bishop: Mostly it was people who had clearly defined roles and had been in their roles a long time. With an accountancy firm, so much of it is to do with training. So that was the biggest issue that we found with it. So nowadays, our trainees starting tend to be almost fully in the office. And after they’ve got the experience necessary, that’s when they move on to the hybrid model, and whether they’re two or three days in the office. Because we all accept that there are things we can do better when we’re at home in our own personal space without the distractions around us of the office. So, it’s trying to meld and get the best of both worlds for people at different levels throughout the firm.

PL: Remind me how many people you’ve got under the roof.

NB: We’ve got roughly about 200 people in one office in north London.

PL: And is everyone doing hybrid working to one degree or another?

NB: Pretty much everyone. It is the new starters who we want to have in the office to give them the best training possible and get them into the BKL way, before it starts. Then if you’ve been here and you know your job, and you know what you’re doing, most people do a blend of hybrid working at all levels.

PL: Jo, Deloitte, you’re a huge employer. Is there a defined form of hybrid across the organisation? Or have different departments found their own way?

Jo Ludlam: Yeah, so 23,000 nationally for Deloitte, and hybrid for us is all about choice and flexibility. So, we haven’t mandated a set number of days that our people need to work anywhere, we trust them to choose when and how they do their best work. And if that’s in the office, great, if that’s at home, if that’s a blend of both, if that’s with their clients, they’ve got that choice and freedom to do that.

PL: So who decides in individual departments how that’s going to work?

JL: Individuals decide, but what we have made clear is we all have professional responsibilities. And so that needs to be balanced within the choices that we make. So those professional commitments that we have, they should be included in the choices and considered in those choices that we make around our flexibility.

PL: So Kevan, you offer training consultancy in this area alongside various other consulting roles. I know your clients range in size from multinationals down to smaller organisations. Is it fair to say that offering hybrid, it’s just obligatory now, you have to?

KH: It’s really hard not to, isn’t it? I imagine a lot of your members are quite mobile, have got transferable skills. And if you’re in that kind of world – IT is seeing it most, I think, at the moment – you’d better offer a hybrid option if you want to attract real talent. We have clients who have online application processes, and what they’re finding is if people are working through the process, and they get to a page that says, ‘this is full time in the office’, about 75% of people are dropping out of the process.

PL: That’s a really startling number, isn’t it? So was that the case pretty well straight off? Or is that number rising and rising in the last year or two?

KH: The last data I saw on it didn’t suggest it was rising, it had kind of reached a plateau level. It’s interesting, in some parts of the world – because we operate globally – there is a little bit of a drift back to the office. So in China for example, people seem to be going back into the office more in Hong Kong. And I think some of that’s about, ‘what’s my alternative working space?’ If you’re living in a small apartment in Hong Kong and the public transport is great, maybe you’d quite like to go to the office. We’ve got younger clients in Sydney who really want to go into the office, particularly on a Friday, because they go out with their friends in the evening. So, there’s that kind of pattern. I think people are finding that natural level, and that’s why I think things like choice are really important.

PL: Yeah, because as you say, we tend to assume – those of us who like hybrid working – that everyone wants to do it. But some people actually do, and they are on the record of saying they would rather be in the office five days a week. So, that’s a problem there for them now, isn’t it, because they can go in, but chances are, there’s not many other people there?

KH: I think that’s a challenge. I often hear from people – particularly ones who mandate you must be in the office three days a week – who say, ‘Well, I commute for an hour, I go into the office, and I spend all day doing my emails or joining virtual meetings, because the people I want to speak with aren’t in the office.’ And that’s clearly a complete waste of time.

PL: Talking of meetings, it is one of the range of challenges, isn’t it? But there’s a lot of specifics around making hybrid meetings work aren’t there?

KH: There are, if you think about the way we exercise our skills, virtually every soft skill in the future will be exercised in a world where some people are there, and some people are joining virtually. That’s a real challenge. And it’s been going on for years, international teams have worked that way forever, sales teams have worked that way forever. But being able to engage and involve people, it’s so compelling in the room – you catch someone’s eye, you have the conversation, but to interrupt that, to be part of that remotely is a real challenge. I don’t think the technology has caught up with that yet. And I certainly don’t think people’s facilitation skills to create that engagement have caught up.

PL: Jo, tell us, you must encounter this all the time?

JL: We’ve done a lot of work in this space to equip those people that are hosting hybrid meetings. We’re all very used to doing it in person and very quickly got used to doing it remotely and effectively. But actually, the challenge comes when you’ve got that blend of in-person and remote people dialling into the same conversation. So what we’ve done is equip our people to host those effective sessions, making it really clear in terms of what their objectives are, their outcomes are, being more deliberate in how they plan for those workshops so that they can really get the outcomes that they’re desiring. And it’s all about inclusivity here. You’ve got those that blend of in-person and remote, as I’ve said, so how are we going to include all of those people in that one conversation? And that is about the effective facilitation, I believe.

PL: OK, so how do they actually do that, then? Is it about just being very watchful about who’s contributing and who isn’t?

JL: It’s being very considered in the approach, very planned and deliberate ahead of the session; sharing the agenda well in advance, so people can prepare for the conversation that they want to have and get what they want out of it; using the tools effectively, actually understanding the platforms that you’re using. Teams is great, you’ve got the raise-your-hand function in there, that’s used a lot. But if you don’t set those house rules at the start, you’re kind of on the backfoot there. So making that really clear in terms of how you want the session to be run, those house rules, those top tips – setting them out at the start can really help those people joining remotely.

PL: Nick, I’ve wondered about this, because it does seem to me that actually meetings are in some ways better now than they used to be because everyone got a bit lax about meeting discipline, didn’t they, before the pandemic? Showing up late, unprepared, there was no agenda, no one’s really chairing… that’s kind of going away, isn’t it, because it just doesn’t work with hybrid?

NB: Yeah, as Jo says, you have to be really focused on what you want to get out of the meeting. But I think it needs a really strong leader as well, who’s leading the meeting, to bring everyone in. And I think we’ve all been on the receiving end of it when watching a group in a room. And actually, the technology isn’t quite up to scratch yet, so it’s all a bit garbled. So you have to be very clear who’s speaking, and also whoever’s leading the meeting has to bring the people in the stream in. They have to be almost ultra-observant, to be able to watch to see if there are people who want to make a point, maybe because there’s that miniscule lag you get, and whether they want to actually make a point before the conversation moves on. So I find the meetings have actually got a slightly slower pace, but the quality of them is much better.

PL: So, do you directly train your people to do this?

NB: Yes, we try to the best of our ability. It’s still a work in progress, we’re still learning. The technology is constantly improving as well. All our boardrooms are now fitted to be able to host these meetings, but there’s still that same miniscule lag and a bit of garbled chat when you’re all off one microphone.

PL: Kevan?

KH: I think people have evolved from virtual meetings. I think virtual meetings have got a little bit more structured…

PL: So where everyone is remote?

KH: Where everyone is remote, and I think even in a hybrid world, some people are choosing to still meet fully virtually, the people in the office and people remotely, because it levels the playing field. That’s the phrase people use a lot. But there’s so many inclusive techniques that you could build there. For example, instead of just asking an open question about how’s our decision making, we would ask on a scale of one to 10, how’s our decision making, put it in chat, hold up a piece of paper with it on. And then you call out the very different opinions and it’s a way of capturing and magnifying outlying biases and being more inclusive. So there’s little techniques like that you can build in, but it’s early days, I think for a lot of people.

PL: Yes, there a lot more process. I wonder, are we losing spontaneous interjections and creativity? Does it matter? Do you feel the loss of that in these meetings?

KH: I think the spontaneity is more considered. And as accountants, maybe spontaneity is not really high up the list of things we want from our meetings, we want a bit more of a considered approach.

PL: I was thinking about ideas generation, rather than anything else.

KH: I think anything which you’re going to miss in a second or two in a meeting possibly is going to be picked up on the longer thought process, and the people working, or dialling in remotely can have that a bit more time to process it, rather than the people in the room who feel like they have to contribute. So actually, I’m not sure that’s such a big issue.

PL: It’s feeling like you’re all generally quite pro, thinking that the meetings are working better than before, would that be fair to say?

JL: I’d say we’ve got better at it. We’ve improved over the last 12 to 18 months because we’ve had to, it’s the way of working now. And if we want to be collaborative, and we want to be successful in this, then we’ve got to really work at it and learn from others and improve as we go along. We’ve done a lot of listening to our people in terms of, how is this working? What improvements do we need to make? And the feedback has been really positive. I mean, 96% of our people want the freedom to choose how flexibly they work in the future, and we’ve seen that really come to life through our hybrid approach.

PL: What about learning development more widely? We’ve touched on it in various answers so far, but how do you manage learning in this new environment? Learning by osmosis, it doesn’t work, does it? So what’s different now to how it was before?

NB: I think it’s got to be much more of a structured learning plan. So you almost have to push the learning out. It’s the same with everything. A lot of stuff we’ve already discussed, and we’ll discuss going forward, is about planning more for two ways of working. And I think it works for the technical approach, you can push out the technical material, and people like to be able to consume it in their own time, whatever time of the day works best for them.

I think where it really falls down at the moment is learning what you don’t know. So if you’re looking for progression, moving up the ladder, and you’re sitting there by yourself, in your room, doing your work – I presume very competently – but you don’t know what the next person up the rung is doing, you don’t know what your manager does on a day-to-day basis, not sitting next to them means you don’t get that exposure. So I think that’s one of the really big issues with hybrid working is if you are looking to progress your career quickly, sitting in a room by yourself doesn’t give you the best platform to do that.

JL: I think it’s about being really purpose-led with the reasons why you do get together with your colleagues or your peers in person, and having a real clear agenda around that. And so, we’ve been encouraged to think about the moments that matter to us, the moments that matter in our career. And learning is absolutely one of those fundamental moments that matter. And so, if being in person is recognised as a space where you do learn from others and observe others, then you should be prioritising that, and we’re all encouraged to include that in our thinking and choices that we’re making.

PL: It’s more planning, isn’t it? Because those spontaneous coaching conversations that we’ve all talked about so much in the last 10 years – of how beneficial they can be between colleagues and line managers and other people, just stuff that pops up, you just take five minutes to learn something new – they are largely gone aren’t they, in this environment? So Kevan, how does that work? What replaces that?

KH: It’s tough, because also this learning of tacit knowledge – and you were talking about bringing people into the office in the early stage of their career, which makes a lot of sense, because we often say that culture is caught, not taught – if we don’t have the same bandwidth to do that, we’ve got to start teaching it. And so we’ve got to be more intentional, as both of you have already said. But it isn’t easy, and the delivery of skills has got to be different, so we need to adapt our skills for a world where some people are present and others not.

There’s the issue with tacit knowledge, because the people who want the knowledge are keen to come into the office for learning, but the people have got the knowledge maybe aren’t so keen to come in because they’re not seeing the benefit. So we may be asking people to come into the office when it doesn’t really suit them in order to transfer tacit knowledge. I think a lot of it’s about codifying this stuff and making it more intentional. But there are some benefits. We’re about to onboard a new trainer. In the old world they would have gone and been face-to-face with people. There would probably have been a training course a week, or maybe two if we’re really busy. Now they can probably see six short webinar training courses in a week. And they can see six different trainers delivering it. So our ability to transfer that kind of tacit knowledge has actually increased because we can access a broader talent base.

PL: Do they learn as deeply when they learning at that sort of pace?

KH: To learn a two-day, in-the-room, face-to-face course, it’s a tremendous amount of material. To learn a 90-minute webinar, where you’ve got the slides with you, you’ve got the trainer’s notes, is much quicker. So actually, what we’ve found is we’re creating more building blocks and building up rather than the first time you have to do this is two days with 20 people staring at you. It’s actually easier to build from the bottom up and to start with that.

PL: In terms of cost on learning and development, are they higher now?

KH: It seems to be that webinar delivery is becoming the norm for a lot of stuff with distributed teams, distributed organisations. So that’s lower cost by a huge margin, because you’re not getting people together, you’re not got travel time, people can do a morning and be back at work 30 minutes after the thing’s finished. So, there’s been a huge reduction in cost, I think, in that sense.

PL: But you’re having to do more training in areas that you didn’t have to train for specifically before, would that be fair to say? We’ve all talked about training you’re offering, Jo, Nick, that you weren’t offering before.

NB: It’s the softer skills that you have to train, which is almost harder to train because as accountants, we like facts. I’m generalising massively, but as accountants, we like facts and figures. Whereas actually now learning the skills to deal with hybrid work and hybrid management and how you best work at home, it’s all fairly new. And Kevan has much more experience at giving that than we do. But it’s something we’re now having to teach our managers explicitly, whereas when everyone was in the office, you just sort of picked it up from the manager above you.

PL: And how’s that going down? I’m interested to know what the response to that is, because presumably, it’s mixed, is it?

NB: It is, and people don’t see the value in it because they don’t see necessarily where it adds value to the firm, because it’s hard to put a number on it. So it’s hard to deal with. And it’s a bit longer term as well because it’s dealing with staff turnover and attracting talent, and all that sort of thing, which is hard to pin down.

PL: Yeah, it contributes to the business, but it’s hard to quantify. Kevan, you had a thought?

KH: Yeah, I like what Nick was saying there because the many, many times over the last couple of years, since the pandemic onwards, managers have said to me, ‘I’d never sat down and talked with my team about our way of working before, we’d never spoken about how should we collaborate. And why do we meet? We just kind of pick it by osmosis.’ And I think it’s hugely positive to do that, and to be intentional about why are we getting together? Why are we meeting? Why are we having this conversation? I think that’s been a really positive thing.

JL: We developed a tool specifically designed to do that. It’s simply called the Ways of Working Framework, everyone in our firm is encouraged to use it. And essentially, it builds on you as an individual, what’s important to you about your ways of working, and then you collectively come together as a team and have a conversation about right, considering all of the individual needs, how are we going to make this project work? How are we going to deliver this engagement successfully? How often do we meet in person and what is the purpose around that? If we are dialling in virtually, what are the platforms that we’re using? And actually, just having a really upfront and open conversation around how you’re going to deliver that. The teams that have used this framework are the ones that are really, really thriving in this way of working. And so it’s great to see that a tool like that can really benefit people.

PL: So that’s a negotiated outcome, because obviously, there’s going to be conflicting demands from the teams.

JL: It’s a mutual agreement.

PL: Well that brings us rather nicely to culture, how all these things are done now. Hybrid teams, as I understand it – and Jo’s just kind of explained this to us – seem to be pretty good, given sufficient support, at bonding together and working well. Is it a problem bonding those teams with each other now across a big organisation? Is that that is that an issue, Kevan?

KH: There’s some really nice Microsoft data on this where they studied 3.2 billion data points, I think, of meetings and emails and calls and connections. And what they found is that during the pandemic particularly, teams did a really good job of bonding themselves, as you said. And so I’m less worried about the ability of teams to function, because they come together around a common goal. That’s what the data showed, but that bonding was at the expense of what they call bridging to other parts of the organisation. So it’s the stuff that happens between teams, like culture, like communication, like the potential for silos that I think is the area we need to work on.

PL: So how do you avoid that then? How do you build trust in a common culture across a large organisation, or even a relatively small one, SMEs must have this problem too? There is the suggestion of using boundary spanners. Jo, do you use them at Deloitte? People who are directly tasked with linking groups and teams together so that they collaborate properly?

JL: I’ve not actually heard of that term before myself, but what I think we do really well at Deloitte is through our inclusive culture. So, breaking down those silos we’ve got 12 diversity networks, for example, across the firm, nationally as well. And a great example recently, for Ramadan our Muslim network hosted a Fast and Curious challenge, where they invited colleagues from all over the firm to participate in a day of fasting, and there was a really great show of allyship, companionship, communities, regardless of geographical boundaries. It really showed that kind of support for a network like that, and it was just a really great turnout across the firm and really great to see.

PL: Culturally, that sort of thing is lovely, isn’t it? In terms of working together on hard tasks, do you need more process in place to make sure that the teams even really know each other now?

NB: I’ve found that actually, the team working on a task works better when we’re all hybrid, because the methods of communication that have come in due to the hybrid working mean it’s much easier to get hold of the people you need. So that’s a basic level, if you’re asking a technical question it’s very quick and very easy to get a technical answer. What I think Kevan was alluding to is the higher-level stuff where you go with a particular technical question, but that might not be the right question you’re asking that technical person. Without the real knowledge and the proximity for the whole team to working on the project together, that’s when you miss out on some of that. That’s a big thing: you know what you know, you don’t know what you don’t know. And that’s the bit which you’d lose out by not working quite so closely together.

PL: And you can’t just in the lift, go down a couple of floors, introduce yourself to a different team, can you?

KH: But the interesting thing, is we didn’t used to do that face-to-face. When people say, ‘Well, when we were in the office, everybody used to talk.’ if you’re in different floors in the building, you almost never talk. There’s a thing called the Allen curve, which shows how quickly communication falls off, and what it found among engineers – this was a big study – once people were 10 metres apart, they hardly ever spoke. So, I think it’s finding intentional reasons to connect. That’s a great example with the Muslim network. There are lots of ways you can do it, but you have to do it. I’ve been having conversations with a number of clients recently who will say, ‘Well, you know, how do we make sure our culture is authentic?’ Culture is always authentic, because culture is what you do.

PL: This is a serious issue, isn’t it? Because a huge amount of work, endeavour and cash has been dedicated to culture – what it is in organisations, the importance of it, the sustainability element of it. But there is a real danger here, isn’t there, that the culture becomes inauthentic, or at least it becomes very patchily embedded. It becomes not a thing that’s organisation-wide, it becomes a team’s culture, and then there’s the other team’s culture. Do you see this as a problem going forward that perhaps we haven’t thought about enough yet?

NB: It’s a problem but it’s also an opportunity because you have the opportunity to think about what you want your culture to be. If you’re hybrid working with people in the office two or three days a week, that’s when they get their impression of the culture of the firm. So, you always have to be really on it with what you’re pushing your culture to be, so that when they do work from home, they know exactly what the firm culture is. So it almost has to be forcefully pushed out there in a way that it didn’t have to be – you have to be on your game almost all the time.

PL: Does that mean that there really is merit in making people come into the office a certain number of days a week or a month? Because you don’t get that otherwise, do you, if you say you can always work from home?

NB: No, but I guess we are talking hybrid work, so I am assuming there is a level of interaction in the office every week.

PL: It can be very small.

NB: So one or two days a week…

PL: Or less.


NB: Yeah, we have people who live up in Newcastle who come down two or three days a month. And it’s making sure that they foster the connections when they’re here, and the culture is firm when they’re here, that they know exactly what they’re going to get. The thought of BKL is still there when they are sitting on their own up in Newcastle.

PL: So that’s about process and planning again, isn’t it? Making sure the experience when people come in matches the sort of thing that you’ve been talking about?

JL: And storytelling as well, I think. So from our leadership, them being open, having conversations with their teams about how they’re working, the choices they’re making around their flexibility, why they’re in today – because it’s this purpose, I’m getting this value out of it – why tomorrow I might be working at home – because I’m stacked with back-to-back calls. And actually, it just works for me to be plugged into my laptop for the day at home. Having those open conversations, sharing those examples, can again break down those barriers and actually open the conversation up so that people are welcomed into the choices that they’re making.

PL: So, I think everything we’ve talked about so far, it’s been about intention, hasn’t it? Planning and intention. And I do want to ask you about productivity. There’s been so much in the media, some saying that it’s improved, some saying it has drastically diminished. What has been your experience on productivity, Nick?

NB: We found that generally, productivity has increased, because you almost have two different sides to your job now. You have the side which is done at home with minimal distractions, and you can just get your head down and work. And then you have your time in the office, which is very much spent doing your meetings, your teamwork, your training. So actually, it gives people focus to their day. They use that, and if they’re having a busy week, they might flex their hours more towards the home bit, whereas if they’re finalising a task working the team, they might do a bit more in the office. So actually, I think, by segregating them out to almost two different forms of work, it actually helps the productivity.

JL: I’m not sure if there’s a real silver bullet in terms of measuring productivity accurately, but what I can say is, the firm has grown in this way of working, we’ve grown by 3,000 people in the last two years. We continue to grow to that rate. We remain one of the largest graduate recruiters in the country as well, so we’re recognised in that kind of talent pool. We did a study recently, actually, and there’s an interesting stat: three quarters of UK Gen Z and millennials said that they would consider leaving an employer if they were mandated to come in full time. So I think from a talent perspective, flexibility and choice is hugely important.

PL: That’s interesting because that is the age group, Gen Z, that we were told did not necessarily want to be at home because they didn’t have nice spaces to work in, and there’s four or five of them round a tiny kitchen table. But that’s not the data you’re getting.

JL: They value that choice. They want to go in when their colleagues are in, when they’re going to learn, when they’ve got opportunities to socialise, build that network, but again, choosing to stay at home when it suits them and their social aspects and family time. So yeah, that choice just works.

PL: OK, Kevan, your thoughts on productivity?

KH: It’s a complex one, is productivity, because if you ask people if they’re more productive they always say yes. But you also ask them, would you like to stay working remotely, they say yes, please. So, I think we have to be a little bit cautious about that data. There was some data before the pandemic about remote working and generally speaking, that showed higher productivity for people that worked remotely. But it was limited data. A lot of it was in things like call centres, it was quite surprising to me that that would lead to higher productivity. Very often, I think productivity is one of these excuses by managers who would really like to have people back in the office. They’ll say to me, ‘What’s the impact on productivity?’ And I always say, ‘Well, how did you used to measure it?’ And they say, ‘We didn’t.’ Then why is it suddenly so important to you? So, there’s kind of a trust thing behind the productivity. We have a few clients who measure it – and it sounds like you may have in your kind of role, Nick, you may have more opportunity to measure performance. One of our clients is a global law firm, and of course they measure everything to the 10-minute slot. They’ve seen a measurable increase. So that the data I’ve seen has shown an increase, but it’s one of those concerns, and I think behind the concern is trust.

PL: We have heard from line managers who want people back in. I’m interested, why do you think they want people back in? Because of a concern that they don’t feel they can measure performance well enough? Is it something about shortcomings in the metrics, if that’s the anxiety they have?

KH: I would say, in the 30 years we’ve been training people to work remotely, in all of that time, consistently, the main objection is managers – managers’ need for control.

PL: And that’s literally line of sight?

KH: Yes. Well, look at the word, supervisor – it’s all about being able to see somebody; overseer, you know, these old words for management. And I think it reveals a gap in the skill set of some managers. And it also is a trust issue.

PL: Have you come across that, Nick?

NB: I think so. And a lot of the stuff we’ve spoken about today has been about managing people remotely and how we do that, and upskilling the managers to put the culture on and to help manage the teams and do the meetings effectively.

PL: The work has landed in their laps, hasn’t it?

NB: Yeah, but that’s what they’re paid for, the clue’s in the title. They are managers. It’s just managing a different pool of people.

PL: Have you encountered reluctance from some people – not asking you to name names – but just a general sense of ‘I’d rather have them back in’?

NB: No, not necessarily. I think everyone appreciates the work that can be done. Where we have asked for people to come in a bit more often is where maybe they’re falling behind compared to their peers, so they need a bit more face-to-face time with their manager to embed the learning. It gives some more hands-on help, which is hard to do remotely. I think hybrid working works really well. If you know your role, you’re confident in your role. But if you’re looking to move up or you’re falling slightly behind, we haven’t quite worked out a substitute for face-to-face learning.

PL: Jo, there must have been some problems with hybrid?

JL: I don’t think I can comment on the problems, but I think this comes back to the professional responsibilities again. Everyone has their commitments to their work, and if that means that you should be in person with your team, creating that culture, creating that workload, managing that workload effectively, then that should be part of the choices that you’re making. It comes back to that professional responsibility in the role that you do. Whether it’s a manager, whether you’re starting out in your career, what are your responsibilities? And how can you navigate hybrid to enable those responsibilities effectively?

PL: Kevan, if I was to ask you about key wins and key losses of hybrid working, what would you say?

KH: I do think the ability to attract talent from a geographically dispersed group… it cannot be that the best software programmers in the world all want to live in San Francisco, for example. And so the ability to access that talent pool, I think, is a massive win for organisations, and as part of that, the ability to access different ideas, diverse points of view and all those kinds of thing. So I think that’s a win-win. There’s clearly a societal win in terms of less commuting and travel and people having more time with their families, and all those kinds of things, which is fantastic. That was always a big factor for me working remotely that I could balance that busy work life with family. And I think, productivity as well for me. We always managed to recruit people who were massively over-skilled for a small organisation, or massively over-talented if you like, because we’re just a bit more flexible. And so we hired some great people, even though we were a very small organisation, because we were more flexible than the rest of the world.

PL: Downside?

KH: Downside, because I’ve worked remotely for so long now, I don’t see a lot of downsides. I do know that all of the current concerns around culture, around innovation, they can be fixed. And many organisations have been doing it for decades. So, I don’t really see any downside unless you own a building, or you’re operating a coffee shop in the middle of London, where you’re losing traffic as the economy moves away from that. But I think that’s part of the normal development of work.

PL: Indeed, and Jo, I think that you’re attached to the real estate team at Deloitte. Give us your key wins and losses?

JL: Key wins for me would be from a well-being perspective. I think flexibility just allows you to balance what you’ve got going on elsewhere, and just being able to manage your well-being in a more effective way, I think is really important. I think that presenteeism has dropped, there’s a reduction in that presenteeism that needs to be physically in-person in front of someone. From a well-being perspective, I think that’s amazing. The downside for me, I think is time. I think it does take more time to be more deliberate, more planned to do things effectively. We’re all up against time constraints in our role. So yeah, time for me would be the downside, but I think we’re learning more efficient ways to do things.

PL: I’m interested to think about some of the savings that organisations can have. Because I think we’ve heard Google’s thinking about reducing the on-site catering because there aren’t people in, concierge services, laundry, all that sort of thing. Presumable these are costs that are going away in organisations?

KH: It’s certainly reducing, for obvious reasons. If you’re in facilities management, that’s an issue for you. But people say, ‘Are we spending less?’ Well, you’re just spending different. As individuals, we’re not spending so much going into London and eating in a coffee shop, but we’re still spending the money. We’re spending in local communities or on leisure or other things. So, it’s a switch in the economy. I just want to pick up something that Jo’s mentioned there, which is this risk of proximity bias, I think it was something that you were saying. When we speak to leaders, that’s their biggest concern, that some people will be treated differently because they happen to be physically present relative to the ones that aren’t. And I think creating that similar employee experience across the remote staff and across in-the-office staff is going to be one of the biggest leadership challenges.

PL: Nick, wins and losses?

NB: As Kevan said, the biggest win is the work-life balance. People get to choose how much time they spend in the office or not, and if they want to spend it with their family or doing other activities. In terms of losers, I think it’s the relationship side of it. You’re really missing out on fostering the really deep relationships, and we are a relationship business. That’s what’s going to intrigue me going forward. Are we just moving away? Is the whole industry and our relationship with clients, for example, going to change?

PL: It’s not just in-house is it?

NB: Yeah, and audits don’t need to be done on site anymore, we can do audits remotely. So is that going to change the relationships we have and does that change the expectations of our audit clients as well? So I’m not sure if that’s a loser at the moment, but I’m intrigued to see where that goes in the future.

PL: One to watch.

NB: Very much that.

PL: My sense is there’s going to be a lot more to discuss here as hybrid embeds over long periods of time. Is that your feeling too?

NB: I think so. I think we’re all still learning, as managers and as people working on a hybrid schedule. There’s lots to still take in and many lessons to be learned.

PL: Jo, Kevan, Nick, thank you all very much for coming in, really appreciate it. The next Insights podcast will be with you in early June, when we’ll hear from experts across ICAEW about the latest developments affecting the work of chartered accountants. Later in June, the Insights In Focus podcast will return. We’ll be discussing the progress made in sustainability assurance and whether it is simply too costly for many SMEs. Join us for those two. Thanks for being with us today, and remember to rate review, share, and subscribe to the series on your podcast app.