Two years into the pandemic the workplace has, of course, continued to evolve. Lately, companies have once again delayed their return to office requirements following surges in new coronavirus variants, with some maintaining a fully remote stance. But of the ones requiring at least some physical office presence of their employees, I have noticed a lot of misplaced complaints.

To me, the primary issue is not whether a business is mandating in-office time two or three days a week for a so-called hybrid work scenario. That’s not what is causing the great resignation. Instead, the crux of the problem is whether people feel a base level of trust from their employer that allows for flexibility in their work. It is flexibility, not hybrid — or fully remote, or fully in-person, for that matter — that we should be striving for.

Flexible Work Is Not a Place, It’s a State

Nearly three quarters of employees want flexible work options to stay in the years to come. But when we say flexible work, that goes beyond simply having the option to remotely, or only being required to go into the office a third or half the time. Flexibility means having the freedom to incorporate work into life.

For example, not having to go into the office on days when your child needs to be picked up from an after-school activity is important. If you get a rush of endorphins from a midday run, meditation or guitar session, so be it. Even in hybrid working models, these activities can be accommodated and achieved.

Of course, large meetings should for the most part, take place during traditional working hours — and there are benefits to having teams available at the same time. But when given the autonomy to build a cohesive work–life schedule, employees will be much more satisfied.

Related Article: Digital Workplace Flexibility Is Far From Being a Done Deal

Trust Is the Foundation of Flexible Work

The key to creating a flexible work environment is by forming mutual trust and understanding between employees and their employers. For me, that starts with always assuming positive intent, and believing that your employees will do the right thing. I even have a sign with the phrase “assume positive intent” behind my desk, so on every Teams call it’s visible to all participants as a reminder.

When businesses assume positive intent, at a base level, it means they value the individuals’ quality of work, as opposed to the method and time in which they get things done. Flexible working, in my opinion, results in more outcome-based performance — where employees are not criticized for working in ways conducive to their lives but instead rewarded for high-quality work, without caveats. 

Learning Opportunities

To give another personal example, for years, I’ve had a line in my email signature that reads “my working hours may not be your working hours. Please do not feel obligated to reply outside of your normal work schedule.” I tend to work best in the very early morning hours — and that was especially true during the years of my career when I was constantly on the road. Having this note in my email is my way of showing respect for my colleagues and their working hours. Similarly, it showcases that a flexible and integrated work-life can be achieved.

Related Article: You'll Want to Read This Article About Trust at Work

Human Connection, When Safe, Is Important

In the hybrid versus fully remote workplace conversations, I believe another piece of the puzzle has been missing: people still crave human connection. In fact, 67% of employees want more in-person work or collaboration post-pandemic. Further, according to Dice, a company that supports recruiters and hiring managers in the technology space, only one in five workers have vowed to never come to the office again.

That’s why we cannot demonize businesses that choose a hybrid work model. Hybrid work is not the problem. It is when hybrid work is not equally flexible that employees get frustrated or feel undervalued.

At the end of the day, the traditional 9-5 office workday will likely never return in full — and it’s for the best. Embracing a more realistic and durable work-life-integration is critical for employers. The onus is on businesses to create flexible, integrated models built on a foundation of trusting their employees to do their best. It’s the best way to improve morale, increase employee retention and efficiency, and it’s a critical evolution in the way we see work as a part of our whole lives.

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