Are you thinking about if and how to allow your team to work remotely? It seems like everyone is high on hybrid work, with most companies reporting that they want a split between remote and at office! But how much remote work should one have in conjunction with being in the office? How to make hybrid work a functioning reality? These are among the burgeoning questions for executive teams around the world as they look at a post-pandemic future. And it’s likely to be far harder than many anticipate. While we’ve been in a grace period through the pandemic, the future of hybrid work will likely devolve into more prosaic issues such as competition, legalities, performance and market forces.
During the pandemic, we discovered that remote work is possible, quickly dispelling all the naysayers who previously held that being present at the office was the only way forward. We’ve all suddenly become familiar with new acronyms such as RTW, BTW, WAH, TWT, WFH, FOMO and WFA. But is remote work the best solution? Is it the best choice for every company, every employee? Or will companies offer flex remote work conditions (aka hybrid work) where they want some time in the office and some at home? Or will companies be mandating a full return to the office, as Goldman Sachs recently did for its UK workforce?
I’ve seen several US-based polls showing numbers ranging from 29% to 39% of employees who would be prepared to quit if their employer weren’t flexible about remote work.* That percentage tends to go up as the staff gets younger. In a Survation poll (source) in the UK of 2,000 employees (and 500 business leaders), they found more than half intend to become hybrid staff (Mondays and Fridays at home). The tug of war appears to be on.
Be careful what you choose
It’s one thing for employees to want to work remotely, it’s a whole other gig for management to make remote work work, especially when you add choice and flexibility into the equation. Whereas pre-pandemic, for all traditional companies, remote work was at best a privilege for the lucky few, during the pandemic it was thrust upon most companies as an obligation. In both cases, where we worked was more or less mandated, first at the office and then at home. As we crawl our way into a post-pandemic period, what are companies to do? And, as workers, is requesting to work from home always such a good idea? For example, could a Work From Anywhere (WFA) policy mean making you — as a local employee — redundant? As I lay out below, there are definitely some pros and cons to both sides of the equation.
Benefits for business
It’s clear that having workers be remote presents some benefits for a business:
Less need for office space (lower rent and running expenses…).Opportunities to recruit from a broader base, especially if the company deploys Work From Anywhere (WFA).Potential for a more motivated — even productive — workforce by offering the flexibility.Opportunities to serve customers who are working hybrid hours as well.Opportunities for businesses to be disruptive in sedated industries that are in need of a shake-up…
“There are [also] benefits of having hybrid working customers. We see people shopping online during work hours as opposed to only during lunch as they did before. Hybrid just gives people working from home more flexibility and helps to manage the systems so not everyone comes at the same time clogging the web cart and creating delays.” Eva Pascoe, Digital Retailer, NED and founder of the Retail Practice consultancy.
Benefits for employees
Less transportation costs.Time saved from commuting (stuck in traffic or overloaded trains).More time at home in an environment each can confection as they wish.Potential for more satisfaction and motivation thanks to the flexibility…
Benefits exist for others as well
Thanks to reduced commuting, we can expect less pollution for our planet.A reduction in those miserable rush-hour traffic jams for everyone else not working.A boon for co-working spaces, cafés with good wifi, etc.
For all these benefits, it will be incumbent on leadership’s ability to navigate through the changes, measure the cost/benefits appropriately and to ensure that they know how to keep an ear to the ground to monitor how things are progressing.
Crossing the HYBRIDGE & the downside(s) of hybrid work
While remote work presents plenty of benefits, there are some disadvantages and serious challenges posed with remote / hybrid work situations. Here are some of the major issues and questions that need to be addressed in crossing over to hybrid work:
Challenges for business / leaders
The first challenge is figuring out the best policy and office space. Will it be flexible or rigid? Will it be a fixed in-office schedule, such as Tues-Wed-Thurs (TWT) for all? In which case, the office space needs to be fitted for maximum capacity and lie fallow for two full working days (on top of the weekend).How to ensure that the business creates/keeps a bona fide culture? To the extent meetings are the most visible form of a company’s culture, how will meetings be run to ensure good business process and align with a desired culture? And, more broadly, how will leadership foster an enduring sense of belonging (a subject addressed in a recent HBR article)? To what extent should leadership allow the company’s culture to evolve? Given the new environment, it will be vital to create feedback loops to monitor how things are progressing and how employees are coping. A recent LiveCareer survey showed that half of employees who’ve been working remotely believe they don’t get as much feedback as when they worked onsite.How will your procedures for hiring, onboarding and training be orchestrated differently? What will be the requirements for new recruits? How will new recruits be onboarded to ensure that the history, desired mission and culture of the company are maintained?Adapting the company’s communications and systems to the flexible work conditions. What communication platforms and equipment will be needed to optimise the remote work?Setting and aligning clear objectives for teams and individuals.Keeping projects on track and managing the team’s productivity and effectiveness? As Anne Cantelo, Director at Onyx Communications, wrote in her book, The Agile Revolution, it’s important to be “goal-focussed rather than hours-focussed.”How to ensure those working at home are appropriately protected, insured, trained and mentally fit?Ensuring cyber security with a more porous workforce.What compensation schemes should be deployed? Will/should people working from home be paid more or less than those working at the office (and all the permutations in between)?
“For many companies, facing the move to hybrid work means recognising that the best hybrid environments have foundations that are built on 100% remote working, backed by great company culture. You also need to identify the right tech and digital solutions that will bridge the gap between physical and virtual environments.” Zoltan Vass, Chief Remote Working Officer / Co-Founder and Co-Chairman at GTA Future of Work
Challenges for employees
Managing your energies day in/day out.Staying engaged and connected to your team / company, especially through the difficult and stressful times.Adapting your online learning and networking skills to make up for the lesser frequency in office.Creating a schedule that will work for the long-term, including managing the thinner walls between home and work while working remotely.
Challenges exist for others
Those involved in city planning and public transportation will need to review the new travel flows and economics.How will ancillary services (hospitality, sandwich and coffee shops…) survive with a reduced presence at the offices?Family members (and roommates) will need to adjust to the home office situation…
As I have written before, I believe that the hybrid model is going to be messy and far harder to implement than many currently suspect. As my philanthropist friend, Mike, reminded me: the people who are returning to work after these lockdowns are returning as changed beings, with new skillsets, but also with a whole new set of fears and expectations. Even leaders will need to lean into their own feelings and energies to make sure they are bringing the best and authentic version of themselves to work.
As a leader examining how to move forward — notwithstanding the fact that the pandemic is not over and certainly not wading into the debate about vaccination and sanitary policies — it is incumbent on each team to find the best solution that works for them, with their particular culture, and in their context and industry. Just by the volume of points above, the challenges (not to say disadvantages) outnumber the benefits of going to a hybrid working model. Whereas in the past, there was a relative lack of choice in the matter, going forward the changing market forces will oblige teams to be flexible as they navigate into the new working conditions.
It is my strong conviction that those companies that have carved out a de facto and powerful purpose in which all stakeholders believe, combined with a strong culture, will manage most successfully the transition to a hybrid workforce. This is what I call taking the High Road to Hybrid.
Ask yourself these three key questions:
What’s your brand purpose and how credible is it? Are the company values carried on the leaders’ sleeves?Does trust reign within and without your company?
Further resources about remote work:
Take a listen to the podcasts I recorded with Remote Experts: Lisette Sutherland and Kevin Eikenberry (on mastering long-distance leadership).Compilation of remote work sources from Nira (a real-time access control system that proactively secures company documents) including pertinent research, articles, blogs, podcasts and more.
Thank you to Eva Pascoe, Zoltan Vass and Anne Cantelo for your contributions above!
*A May survey of 1,000 U.S. adults showed that 39% would consider quitting if their employers weren’t flexible about remote work. The generational difference is clear: Among millennials and Gen Z, that figure was 49%, according to the poll by Morning Consult on behalf of Bloomberg News. The survey by Live Career (also US centric), 29% of employees said that they would quit their job if they were told they were no longer allowed to work remotely.