Hybrid, work from home or full-time in office?

by Susan Mullin

By Fredda Hurwitz, Founder and Chief Nut, Gingernut Thinking

For many of us, we’ve spent more than a year working from home instead of in an office. According to a recent survey, 61% of people are looking forward to going back to the office 2-3 days a week. 18% say they want to return full time, and 27% don’t want to return to the office at all. In another survey, 54% said they want to work remotely at least three days a week.

back to the office

For employers, perspective on a hybrid model is largely dependent on where they are located.

As part of West Monroe’s quarterly executive poll, CEOs were asked what the most important metric was that will decide when their company can return to onsite work for all employees. For those based on the West Coast, 35% ranked “employee willingness to return to work onsite” as their number one metric vs. 14% for their Southern-based counterparts (the U.S. average is 26%). That said, few are committing to a full-time return to work any time soon with nearly 50% of CEOs confirming that they expect their hybrid model to start this summer.

Given the range of priority for employers coupled with employees’ view of their desired work environment, it’s no surprise that Gartner’s recent survey shows that roughly 60% of HR leaders are planning for a hybrid work future, with only one percent saying they expect all of their workers to return to the office full time.

It’s time to embrace change

Before COVID-19 hit, more traditionally-minded bosses and organizations held the view that work only happened in the workplace. If you weren’t seen at your desk by a certain time, the assumption was that you were slacking, and outside of certain industries, working from home was considered taboo.

Employers today are faced with some big existential problems.

A large number of people aren’t keen on returning to the office full time, one in four Americans have said they would refuse a coronavirus vaccine if offered one (NPR/Marist poll), and many businesses aren’t prepared or able to sustain an ongoing hybrid model (industries such as construction and engineering come to mind). How then, do we move forward with a solution that accommodates as many people as possible without jeopardizing productivity or personal well-being? Flexibility.

Last May, Twitter announced that people could work from home, forever. As Simon Sinek, author and inspirational speaker commented, “Twitter’s policy isn’t about working from home. It’s letting people work where they feel most productive. They don’t need to ask permission. They don’t need to feel guilty.”

The point is this: we’re at a unique and unchartered crossroads where we’re all feeling our way through the dark. For industries able to facilitate a hybrid model, they’re paving the way for new approaches to working and living.

“Leading organizations are recognizing the importance of still maintaining some form of in-person interaction, without the need to mandate a full return onsite,” said Alexia Cambon, director of research in Gartner’s HR practice. “Effective hybrid work means correcting the balance between one extreme of the spectrum—being fully co-located—and the other extreme— being fully distributed. Effective hybrid working means becoming intentional about how, where and when to collaborate across multiple modes of working.”

So where do we go from here?

Encourage open and honest communication

Getting this right is going to take time, effort and understanding. Business leaders need to continue reaching out to their teams for regular mental well-being check-ins. Also, employees need to recognize that this is going to be a give-and-take process. A little stumbling along the way is to be expected but in time, we’ll figure this out, together.

Don’t leave anyone behind

It’s essential that no one is penalized because they’re not in the office full time. According to Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University economist, his fear is that down the line. Single young men will be heading into the office full time, while college-educated women with young children may only go in a couple of days a week. Eventually there’s a huge disparity in terms of promotions amongst other challenges simply because they’re not being “seen”. Taking a step backwards simply isn’t an option.

Give it a shot

Not so long ago people went nuts when smoking was banned from indoor spaces or when seat belts became mandatory. But we adapted. Some folks grumbled (and may still be moaning) but that didn’t prevent us from learning to live with change. If your business can support a hybrid model, terrific, but if yours can’t, there are other ways to alleviate pressure. For example, more flexibility around sick time, or extra personal days. Also consider contributions to childcare needs, staggered work hours, time off for volunteering…

Instead of viewing hybrid as the downfall of the workplace, perhaps we can view it as a natural evolution.

And let’s face it – being happy at work tends to have a wonderfully positive ripple effect on the rest.

Check out our other blogs on remote work.

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