Many organizations have had to change their plans for getting back to work because of COVID-19 variants in the past year. Expectations were that a lot of people would go back to work in September 2021, but employers quickly put a stop to this by extending their work-from-home policies into another miserable pandemic winter. As spring gets closer, both employees and bosses are getting ready for what their new office will look like.
For many employees, going back to work means that things are getting back to normal, or at least that the office is more like it was before the pandemic. Others don’t like the idea of giving up their cozy pajama and a good cup of coffee from their kitchen.
But one thing is clear: We won’t be going back to the same job. And most employees who can work from home are looking forward to a hybrid office environment in the future, where they can work from home part of the week and in the office part of the week.
Hybrid work is just starting to take shape for each organization, and the lessons we learn from it will shape the way we work for years to come. In the end, how this new hybrid era plays out will depend on the kinds of hybrid experiences employers create and how managers adapt.
To help organizations chart their way forward, 5 key questions that we think need to be answered:
- Where are employees working now, and where will they work in the future?
- What happens if organizations do not support remote flexibility?
- Why do many remote-ready employees prefer hybrid work?
- What will the future workweek look like?
- How can we make hybrid work more productive and engaging?
Table of contents
- 1. Where are employees working now, and where will they work in the future?
- 2. What happens if organizations do not support remote flexibility?
- 3. Why do many remote-ready employees prefer hybrid work?
- 4. What will the future workweek look like?
- 5. How can we make hybrid work more productive and engaging?
1. Where are employees working now, and where will they work in the future?
To figure out where we’re going, we need to look at how we got here and what plans are in place for the future.
About 60 million full-time workers in the U.S., or about half of the full-time workforce, say that they can do their current job at least part of the time from home. “Remote-capable employees” is what we call these people.
Before the pandemic, only 8% of employees who could work from home did so exclusively, while about one-third had a mix of work arrangements.
Then the pandemic happened, and almost all employees who could work from home had to do so in some way. By May of 2020, as many as 70% of employees worked only from home.
Let’s jump ahead to February 2022. Most employees who could work from home still did so at least part of the time, but the mix changed: 42% had a mixed schedule, and 39% worked from home all the time.
The future of the office is at a turning point because more people than ever are working hybrid jobs or fully from home. What plans do employers have for working from home? What do workers need?
Most of the employees like where these changes are going. At the moment, nine out of ten employees who can work from home prefer some degree of remote work flexibility in the future, and six out of ten prefer hybrid worMostost employees like being able to work from home, and they now expect to be able to do so in the future. Even though permanent plans that allow employees to work from home are on the rise, there are still a lot of employees who won’t get the flexibility they want.
2. What happens if organizations do not support remote flexibility?
According to Gallup, global analytics and advice firm, polls leaders and managers prefer mixed work to entirely remote work. Leaders usually want to give employees the flexibility they want, but they worry about how team performance and culture will hold up if most team members work from home for a long time. Because of this, some leaders may be tempted to make it harder to work from home in the future.
We don’t yet know what the long-term effects of large-scale remote work will be. But we know that letting employees work from a place that doesn’t meet their needs well messes up many parts of their lives.
In fact, when employees are forced to work fully on-site, even though they would rather work hybrid or fully remotely, they:
- significantly less participated
- had poor health
- a lot more people wanted to leave.
- a lot more people are getting burned out.
Location and rules at work are not the only things that affect how employees feel about their jobs. Companies must create thriving workplaces by focusing on their employees’ engagement, and health, having great managers and having a strong company culture.
Even so, the “Great Reshuffling” of the workforce today means that the remote-work question needs to be answered if top talent is to be attracted and kept.
Gallup asked employees directly if they would look for a new job if their employer stopped letting them work from home. 54% of people who work exclusively from home said they would probably look for another job, and 38% of people who work in both the office and at home said the same thing.
3. Why do many remote-ready employees prefer hybrid work?
We asked employees who could work from home and liked the idea of hybrid work why they wanted this arrangement to continue. And the answers that most people gave were worth mentioning.
The main reason people like hybrid work is to save time on their commutes.
People are not in a hurry to cut back on the time it takes to get ready for work, drive to the office, and drive back home every day.
The top three reasons why people like hybrid work show that they want more freedom to work when, where, and how they want. Their requests for better health, a better balance between work and life, and more freedom show a new “will of the workplace” that won’t accept the traditional office in the future.
The fourth and fifth reasons show that, even though our world is becoming more digital, people still need to feel connected to their coworkers and their company. It’s just easier to connect with their team and feel like they’re part of the company culture when they’re there in person.
38% of people who work completely from home would rather do a mix of work. In other words, people who work from home full-time like the freedom it gives them, but four in ten of them would give up some of their time at home to work in an office.
Overall, the main reason people want a hybrid work arrangement is to have more control over how they spend their week while still feeling like they belong to their company. A recent study found that getting a better work-life balance and feeling better about yourself are two of the top reasons people would change jobs.
4. What will the future workweek look like?
The questions that leaders and managers most often ask us about hybrid work are:
- How often should my team come to the office each week?
- What kind of rules should we have about scheduling?
To help leaders figure out the answer to the first question, we asked employees who want hybrid work how many days of the typical workweek they would like to spend in the office.
Unfortunately for employers, employees don’t agree on how much time they want to spend working from home versus in the office. Four out of ten employees want to work two to three days a week, but that is by no means the majority. Another third of employees would rather only spend one or two days a week in the office.
On the plus side, most employees agree that spending a reasonable amount of time at work is important, and we have seen has shown over and over again that work flexibility is the best way to keep employees engaged and prevent burnout, both before and during the pandemic.
In a hybrid environment, highly independent teams need to do more to communicate, even if it means overcommunicating. They also need to take responsibility for how their work turns out and find time to work together. The most dangerous thing for them is to work alone for too long or at the wrong times. Highly independent teams also run the risk of losing their culture and ignoring coworkers who work from home.
Even though hybrid work schedules should look different for each organization and tea everyone needs to keep evaluating, changing, and reevaluating how well the current arrangement is working.
In the end, both employees and organizations will need clear answers about why people should come to work and how they should spend their time there.
5. How can we make hybrid work more productive and engaging?
With so much uncertainty, many organizations are trying to create a solid ground for their new normal. Even so, it can be easy for organizations to get bogged down in policies and rules concerning hybrid work. Based on our analysis, the new hybrid workplace needs to provide three things:
Productivity: Getting the work done efficiently and effectively
Flexibility: Allowing personalization so people can thrive at work and at home
Connectivity: Encouraging the partnerships that support teamwork and organizational culture
Here are some of our recommendations:
- Make hybrid strategies based on how productive they are, not just how well they follow policies: Now is the time to rethink what high performance means for your team and how everyone can work best together to reach that goal. Make sure you are focused on the right performance outcomes and that you have the right tools to track your progress. Find out which team activities are best done in person and which ones can be done from a distance.
- Think about how the work is interconnected: As we’ve already talked about when teammates depend on each other more, they need to coordinate their schedules and time together in person more. Many people have a mix of interdependent and independent tasks to do. These people should think about where they can work best on the tasks and when they should be in the office to improve teamwork and culture.
- Allow room for flexibility: There probably isn’t a single hybrid work policy that will be best for all teams and all workers. Given that people in your organization have different work and life situations, it’s likely necessary to give managers some freedom to make policies that fit their own needs. It is also important to make clear when employees are expected to be there and when they are not.
- Think about online first: When people are in the office alike if everyone works from home, people who work from home alike merely feel like they belong to the team. For instance, bringing laptops to all meetings so that everyone can be seen on screen can make everyone feel more included. Taking the time to learn together is another great way for a hybrid team to grow. Try setting up a training session that will teach your team how to work better together in a virtual setting.