Even before the pandemic, remote work was increasingly popular. In 2019, nearly a third of U.S. workers performed part or all of their duties from home, according to a Gallup survey. Since then, there has been extensive coverage of the “Great Resignation” which saw unprecedented movement across the country as workers found new opportunities. Now, there is indication that the height of the Great Resignation may have eased, at least in some sectors. And the extensive move to remote work, which was a necessity of the pandemic, has also seen shifts. Some companies have asked their employees return to the office full time, and a great number are now in hybrid work structures. While hybrid work structures are more common now, they were often implemented in an unplanned way and fast-tracked into action because of the pandemic. Now employers and employees are working to make a hybrid work arrangement a more permanent solution, without sacrificing the benefits of on-site work.
Hybrid work arrangements reinstate the practical and emotional benefits of on-site workplace experiences.
Short term solutions can become long term challenges. There was rapid adoption of technology in the workplace and at home during 2020 and 2021. While videoconferencing and work from home and online work platforms like Slack were all popular before Covid-19, use skyrocketed over the first two years of the pandemic. For junior employees, especially recent grads who were not only new to the organization but working life in general, there had been little introduction to the company. Orientations were online, meetings were digital, and nearly all interaction was virtual. For the most experienced workers, the institutional knowledge they brought was compromised as they had to quickly overcome learning curves on multiple fronts at once. They not only were dealing with an unprecedented day-to-day life, but they were having to learn technology solutions under pressure with no warning. At that time, the impact on productivity or office morale was (understandably) overshadowed by the health risks. Now, however, many employers – and employees — have become concerned about the long-term effects of teams no longer working together.
Fear should not drive decision making. The Great Resignation not only meant a lot of companies found themselves without sufficient staff, it also created more broadly a “worker’s market.” Millennial and Gen Z employees, in particular, expected many more benefits and commitments from prospective employers. High among those expectations was the ability to work fully remote. Some employers were concerned that it wasn’t in the best interest of the employee, or the company to have a fully remote workforce long term, but struggled to find a common ground without risking losing employees (current workers or future talent). Now that the market has become more balanced, there are ways to promote a hybrid work arrangement by articulating how it helps everyone. Less experienced workers who spend two to three days per week at work can benefit from the traditional workplace: this includes everything from the casual mentoring that occurs when people are in the same office, to the increased productivity when teams can brainstorm together and bounce ideas off each other. This isn’t the same thing as a formal meeting, which tends to have a focused agenda, but rather the impromptu conversations you can have when you bump into someone in the hall.
Hybrid work arrangements help: better mentoring, stronger culture, balanced experience. Successes at the office are sweeter when shared with a team who can gather to celebrate. Less positive experiences can also be moderated by an in-person check-in with team members, as real time support is easier. In fact, some of the workers who were most likely to leave during the height of the Great Resignation – Gen Z – are now also finding that a rush to change jobs has been met with a mixed reality. Not only are they adjusting to a new corporate culture, different expectations, possibly a new city, and other changes that come with a new job, they are doing it with less experience to handle all the upheaval. Add to that working from home, and they can feel isolated and unsupported. There are personal and professional advantages to going into an office. From having structure and a schedule, to feeling less overwhelmed and more able to find mentors, the workplace itself can provide community. What might surprise some is that among the concerns for those who work entirely remotely is not lack of productivity (you’re at home binging Netflix instead of preparing that presentation) but burn out (lack of a commute has also led to lack of a clear time to turn off your work brain). One way to get employees on board is to point out these kinds of work-from-home risks. And it might take less convincing than you think: one survey found that thirty-eight percent of fully remote workers would prefer a hybrid arrangement.
Hybrid work arrangements are still new. Take time to figure out the right solution.
Hybrid work arrangements can vary widely, but one of the most popular is a simple two- or three-day per week on-site schedule with the remaining days from home. Some teams find it better if everyone spends the same days in the office so meetings can happen in person. Others allow employees to choose – for example, some employees might be commuting from a considerable distance and find an inexpensive hotel for midweek, returning home Thursday evening to Tuesday morning. For most employers, the right type of hybrid work arrangements for their teams is still a work in progress. Communicate this often and honestly and solicit feedback from employees about what is working and what is not. Employers face a complicated reality – trying to resume the benefits of the traditional office while accommodating employees looking for a different definition of workplace. The hybrid work arrangement can be not only a middle ground, but actually the best of both worlds.