Over a year after non-essential workers quickly adapted to operating from home, a survey by PwC found that nearly 70% of executives believe that employees should return to the office three days a week while just 20% of employees agreed with that sentiment. In fact, that survey also found that 30% of employees would stay remote a full five days a week if allowed. Additionally, the New York Times found that just 25% of workers would prefer to go back to an office full-time. As COVID-19 restrictions continue to be lifted, the compromise for many offices has been hybrid work models. These models not only accommodate workers both remote and in the office as a means of safety, but have also become staples of employee satisfaction.
“Compromise,” however, is the key word. As hybrid work is new to much of today’s workforce, a learning curve is to be anticipated. Here’s what you need to know about the future of hybrid workplaces.
Why go hybrid?
In a post-pandemic world, only one thing is for certain: there is no “back to normal.” Many everyday practices have evolved to accommodate new health and safety protocols, including day-to-day office life. In a hybrid model, social distancing is made easier by having less people in the office, thereby minimizing the chance of a virus running rampant.
Going hybrid may also help companies save budget otherwise spent on office space. As of January 2021, demand for office leasing was down 61% from December 2019, according to Business Wire. As some businesses opt to let go of their leases, they might also choose to stagger in-office and work from home days for some teams to accommodate staff while maintaining less space.
While some companies may fear that this newfound flexibility could hurt productivity, research shows that it is simply not the case. A 2020 report by Microsoft found that 82% of the leaders they’d surveyed found their teams to be at least as productive working in their new remote environments as they had been in an office.
In addition to flexibility, other advantages include:
- Employee happiness. The option of remote work is an appealing benefit for HR to slip into a job offer. In fact, 74% of professionals expect it to be the standard, according to a recent article by Forbes.
- Less commuting. Road vehicles account for three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Not only does working from home more often save people time, it could be helping to save the planet.
- Safer workspace. Social distancing and mask wearing helped nearly decimate cold and flu season in 2020. Hybrid workplaces might be designed around squashing COVID-19, but they can also help keep more common illnesses at bay.
Disadvantages of remote work
As many workers have now experienced, not every aspect of remote working is a positive. While the hybrid model might help remedy some of the disadvantages, there are still some concerns:
- Burnout. Perhaps you’ve heard of, or even experienced, “Zoom fatigue” — the physical and mental exhaustion brought on by too many video conferences. Screen burnout is very real. In a hybrid work culture, time spent with your team truly face-to-face may help relieve that draining feeling associated with spending hours meeting virtually.
- Company culture. One disadvantage of working from home cited repeatedly through the pandemic was the feeling that company culture and values are harder to upkeep virtually. Bringing workers back to the office a few times a week may help create physical reminders of the company mission.
- Reliance on technology. Technology is not infallible. There are internet outages, security risks and keyboards accidentally taken out with a spilled water bottle. When a single laptop is your only means to get the job done, there’s a lot riding on a little piece of technology.
Considerations for employers
With so much uncertainty about what the next year holds, flexibility and adaptability in the workplace is an important consideration for all employers. According to the Society for Human Resources Management, these are a few of the questions that company leaders should ask themselves when considering a hybrid workplace:
- Why does a specific employee need to perform his or her work in the office?
- To what extent does an employee need to collaborate with others?
- How is someone feeling about working from home versus in the office?
- Is that person feeling disconnected or overwhelmed?
- Is the employee clear about the organization’s strategy and his or her role and responsibilities?
- What types of meetings are best to hold in person?
Perhaps the largest lesson for employers from all of this is that employee safety should always be at the forefront. Whether employees spend their days at home or in the office, keeping them viable, healthy and happy is a victory in and of itself.