Roots Of Resistance

Roots Of Resistance


Understand resistance to hybrid work and learn how to lean in to flexibility

Being nimble has always been beneficial, but it’s critical now. Ripple effects from Covid variants continue to send waves through the business world, and clinging to old systems will make it tough to survive. The most effective leaders will be those who are willing to accept uncertainty and changing scenarios, and enable their teams to respond and adapt.


1. Survey after survey in the spring of 2021 showed that employees, with more urgency than ever, want options to continue hybrid work schedules, and they’re voting with their feet. This summer, behemoths such as Google and Apple faced significant internal opposition to initial plans to compel workers back into the office, plans which have been delayed amid a surge in cases. A comprehensive July article by McKinsey & Company states:

“At best, the rosy messaging of a grand return to the office is falling flat. At worst, the tone deafness of the messaging may also be accelerating what’s already shaping up to be the “great attrition” of 2021 (and 2022 and even 2023). At companies across the globe, workers are leaving at much higher rates than normal. Recent surveys found that 26 percent of workers in the United States are already preparing to look for new employment opportunities and 40 percent of workers globally are considering leaving their current employers by the end of the year.”

2. Sticking with hybrid work can boost the bottom line. Business Wire and Forbes have reported on research released by Owl Labs in late June, which shows that “close to two-thirds (62%) of European business leaders reported that hybrid working makes companies more profitable, with Enterprise businesses (1,000+ employees) the most likely to think so (73%) versus small and medium-sized companies (55%).”

3. The gulf between employers and employees is better bridged than broadened. The McKinsey report warns, “Employers are underestimating the disconnect and failing to realize that the ‘finish line’ is a mirage. In the enthusiasm about the return from remote working, business leaders run the risk of actually increasing the disconnect between themselves and their people. The idea that we will cross a finish line and suddenly be done with all the hard stuff seems to exist only in the minds of senior leaders.”


Why aren’t some leaders ready to give the green light to hybrid work? Aside from logistical factors, some psychological, emotional, and situational forces are at play.

While virtually no one was unaffected by the pandemic, there’s no denying that most business leaders experienced it differently than most workers. Many had the good fortune to be insulated from the worst that COVID-19 brought to the world, making it easier to imagine a quick and eager return to pre-pandemic routines.

A host of reasons for resisting more permanent hybrid work can be attributed to cognitive biases, or mental blind spots, which Gleb Tsipursky explores in depth, writing in Fortune in June.

Tsipursky examines the following five biases that can hinder leaders from enacting long-term change.

  • Status quo bias is the simple but strong desire to return to what we know as normal, and therefore deem appropriate and right.
  • Anchoring bias: Similar to status quo bias, this one anchors us to our early experiences. Executives who built their careers on long hours at the office, surrounded by people and group energy, have a greater leap to make in conceiving of increased productivity by employees working alone at home.
  • Confirmation bias: “Our minds are skilled at ignoring information that contradicts our beliefs, and looking only for information that confirms them,” Tsipursky writes. “Reluctant leaders usually tell me they don’t want to do surveys because the feel confident that the large majority of their employees would rather work at the office than at home. They wave aside the fact that large-scale public surveys show the opposite.”
  • False consensus bias: A cousin to confirmation bias, this blind spot leads us to assume that people in our shared environment (such as a company) think the way that we do – more than they actually do. This excerpt from McKinsey & Company’s article shows the bias in action:

“More than three-quarters of C-suite executives recently surveyed by McKinsey report that they expected the typical “core” employee to be back in the office three or more days a week. In stark contrast, nearly three-quarters of around 5,000 employees McKinsey queried globally would like to work from home for two or more days per week, and more than half want at least three days of remote work.”

  • Functional fixedness calls to mind status quo bias, but fits even more precisely the moment we’re in now. We are inclined to stick with existing perceptions of how systems should work, ignoring other possible functions and methods – even if they work better.


Understanding the forces that lead us to resist change can free us to embrace it. By seizing the opportunity to redefine the way your business works, you can retain talent and experience within your company and avoid the cost of replacing employees. If you’re hiring, you’ll definitely need flexibility to be competitive. Here are a few ways to get started:

  • Expand the psychological safety zone. In order to master the complicated scheduling that successful hybrid systems require, employers need information. More than they have, and more than they used to request from employees. An article on INSEAD’s Leadership and Organizations blog, titled “Without Psychological Safety, Hybrid Work Won’t Work,” advises leaders on “the delicate task of expanding the range of work-life issues that are safe to raise.” To discover what workers need and want, managers need to develop sensitive ways of asking more, and employees need to feel safe answering honestly.
  • Openly listen. This is the time to truly be open to differing opinions and concerns. You may need to meet employees where they are and embrace compromise. Admitting that you don’t have all the answers is a good thing, and allowing employees to serve as partners in designing a new work model can boost its success. Be clear from the start that creating one will take some time.
  • Bend your knees and be ready for bumps. Challenges pop up fast and aren’t always foreseeable. Our new landscape demands that we get comfortable with uncertainty, maintain readiness to expand or contract, experiment, and learn from our experimentation.
  • Budget and train for change. Look for ways to make change more affordable or, at minimum, budget for unexpected modifications. Help managers and employees be mentally ready for change. Have open communication from the start so that everyone shares the same expectations of a new system, and continue the conversations by creating official forums for discussions or Q&As.


We’re still social people who like to work with other people. The pandemic taught us that some face to face time is critical, especially to strengthen connections, build trust, and develop new relationships. Hybrid work still delivers those benefits, along with increased productivity and profit from incorporating remote work.

To begin building a flexible work model, ask, listen, and partner with your people. Lead with transparency and curiosity. Strive to employ fewer mandates and more experiments. ProspectBlue can help