The in-person vs. remote shuffle – what’s next? Hybrid!
This is the conclusion of a series of blog posts pulled from our extensive New World of Work 2022 Survey Report. Here, we look to understand how we arrived to where we are in this new working environment – and what’s coming in the road ahead.
In the ‘before times’, in-office and on-location work was absolutely normal. Some forward-thinking organizations did push the envelope on remote work, such as Ryan Malone at SmartBug. Ryan, for example, built his entire company offsite and in a purely remote environment in the late 2000s when the idea was seen as somewhat outlandish.
Other companies did the same, presenting their employees with the opportunity to work offsite where they were able to and where it was possible. But ultimately, it wasn’t a standard at all – for most, it was either fully on site or, perhaps, one day at home every now and then and only with managerial approval.
Then something changed. In the turbulent early days of COVID-19, many organizations shifted to a fully remote model – which was labeled at that moment as a stopgap measure to begin with, and then a bold and new experiment going forward. Remote work was even described by some as something that was bound to happen sooner or later – and that the social impact of the virus (i.e. lockdowns and social distancing requirements) merely expedited it.
And then, we saw a rise in productivity and performance in the remote working environment. This comes as little surprise to those who have studied the relationship between productivity and employee engagement and remote work.
But as the pandemic dragged on, productivity started to falter. Mental health challenges also rose in remote work – and we’ve seen the rise of anxieties in this new survey. Asynchronous work also presented its own challenges – especially when it came to communication between teams.
What also rose to the surface are the challenges connected with on-location work. When we saw organizations start talking about a return to office as the pandemic loosened its grip on society, the pushback from employees was strong and defiant. Many didn’t like the idea.
Many workers – according to our Great Discontent survey report in 2021 – want to retain their flexibility in work. Why? Family commitments. Personal priorities. More time in the day. The list goes on.
In short: people just don’t want to go back to the way things were, and likewise, industries and businesses – which are irrevocably transformed – can’t envision a full return to the way things were. In other words, the cat’s out of the bag. The toothpaste’s out of the tube.
In the midst of all this, candidates have the upper hand with talent at a premium for employers. They’re not afraid to leverage that to their benefit – be that in terms of compensation or working environment.
So this forced a new agreement onto the world of work. The ‘agreement’, if we can call it that, seems to be a third road. A middle ground. That’s hybrid work.
Hybrid work, for all its definitions (i.e. two days in office and three days remote, office space availability for those who want it, etc.), is rising as one of the major new standards in this next world of work. Perhaps it’s the best of both work worlds. Whether that’s a temporary solution on the heels of other temporary solutions or whether that’s finally a new standard in the workplace after years of disruption – that’s yet to be determined.
Some do think this is the new status quo. One survey respondent told us: “I believe that the hybrid model is here to stay. The challenge will be to establish and develop greater empathy among remote employees.”
“I believe that the hybrid model is here to stay. The challenge will be to establish and develop greater empathy among remote employees.”
This speaks to the old axiom that for every retaliatory adjustment or new solution, fresh challenges and problems are going to reveal themselves.
This happened with in-office and on-location – a centuries-long standard – and happened again with the opposite extreme of distributed teams and remote working.
Now we have hybrid.
The more things change, the more things will change – that’s been our experience since the crazy early days of 2020. Is hybrid the next world of work, or is it just the next experiment or the next stage in the ongoing negotiation between employer and employee?
Honestly, it’ll be a bit of both.