The pandemic has shaken up the workplace, accelerating many of the trends that already existed and likely changing the landscape for good. Case in point: Prior to COVID, only 17% of U.S. employees worked remotely five or more days per week and only 7% had access to flexible work arrangements. During COVID, 71% of employees worked remotely all or part of the time, a benefit that the majority of workers want to keep in the post-pandemic work world.
As vaccinations continue rolling out and the nation turns its eyes to opening back up, an increasing number of organizations are opening — or planning to open — their physical workspaces. The question of what that will look like continues to linger. More than 70% of employees want flexible remote work options, 66% of companies are already putting hybrid work changes in place and 80% of organizational leaders are looking to keep remote work as an option for at least part of the work week.
COVID-19 essentially forced many businesses to undergo a large-scale remote work experiment. For some, it was a seamless transition. For others, there were benefits and drawbacks for businesses and employees alike. The solution? Perhaps the hybrid work model that’s shaping up to be the next big disrupter.
It offers the best of both worlds, something that many major corporations are already considering as part of their return to work plans. For example, GM recently announced that its 155,000 employees across the globe would be able to choose between working in-office or remotely. JP Morgan Chase announced that its hybrid plans could mean it would only need 60 in-office seats for every 100 employees. And many big tech companies are extending their remote work policies with limited capacity for in-office work.
The Rise of the Hybrid Work Model
Where and how we work has changed. Back in 2018, a Harvard Business Review revealed that 96% of professionals needed flexibility, with only 47% reporting having access to it. Although the demand for flexibility isn’t new, the pandemic has demonstrated that remote work isn’t just possible, but it can also be a game changer. Hybrid work models open up a new world in terms of redefining the physical workplace, broadening the potential talent pool and delivering the benefits that employees don’t just want, but need.
Productivity has remained high. But many employees crave having space outside of the home to work from at least some of the time. Thus, the rise of the hybrid work model. What that looks like depends on a variety of factors. After all, what many employees want is the flexibility to split their time between the physical workplace and home. And what the physical workplace looks like varies widely. For some, it's company headquarters. Others want to divide their time between home, HQ and other locations, including flex space, satellite offices and public workspaces like cafes.
What Hybrid Work Might Look Like
Employees aren’t the only voice supporting hybrid work models. Recent research from PwC reveals that fewer than one in five executives want to see their offices function exactly as they did before COVID. Data from the WeWork survey shows that 79% of executives plan to allow employees to work on a hybrid basis as long as their roles allow it. What's more, employers have found that employees who have access to hybrid arrangements report higher levels of engagement and productivity. Hybrid work is also linked to higher profits and turnover that's roughly 65% less compared to traditional work models.
Statistics offer strong support for those considering a shift to hybrid work. But what that looks like differs from company to company. After all, what works for one organization and its employees won’t necessarily work for another. As leaders evaluate how and when their work gets done, they need to keep company-specific factors in mind to develop a hybrid work model that will be successful for their business. For example, some employees might need to be physically in the office to handle sensitive information, collaborate on projects and meet with clients. Employee experience level and personality might also factor into the plan. For some of your newest employees, having more in-office time to work with supervisors and mentors can be beneficial.
Ultimately, what hybrid work looks like depends. To work well, it should be tailored to each organization. A few common examples include:
Office-centric: This model requires workers to be in the office most of the week, with just one or two days set aside for remote work. It's ideal for companies that believe in-person interactions enhance employee well-being, collaboration and connection.
Fully flexible: This model puts employees in the driver's seat, allowing them to choose when they come into the office and when they work remotely. It requires careful coordination and organization to prevent inequities and chaos from causing issues.
Remote-ish: This model works in a little added structure to employee options for working remotely. For example, it may limit the option on certain days or require a certain percentage of employees to work in-office.
Hybrid remote offices: This model is like one of those choose your own adventure books that so many kids love. It offers employees a menu of options to choose from, including a fully remote, fully in-office and flexible options.
Remote first: This model defaults to remote work, with in-office interactions limited on an as-needed basis.
The New Negotiation
Some employees want to remain working remotely indefinitely. Others are fatigued by the isolation that the pandemic required. Employees are willing to negotiate to get it. A recent survey conducted by WeWork and Workplace Intelligence indicates that three-quarters of employees would give up one or more of their other benefits to be able to choose the environment they work in. Another 64% would pay to be able to access office space as needed.
The future of the office is being shaped now. The new negotiation over job benefits and perks has a guiding hand in that design. For organizations making plans for in-office work, the workplace will likely look vastly different. Employees can expect to see smaller footprints and more open conference rooms. Additionally, the demand for flex space, including co-working spaces, is experiencing an uptick, accelerating pre-pandemic trends. Both of these changes provide space for employees who need a break from in-home distractions or space to collaborate with coworkers.