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Is Hybrid Work Becoming the New Normal?

  • Published
  • 3 February 2022
  • Category
  • General

Hybrid work policies allow employees to rotate between working remotely and onsite. For example, an employee may work from home two days a week and onsite three days a week, split shifts or non-traditional hours to accommodate personal responsibilities.

There are tradeoffs. The flexibility afforded by hybrid work helps relieve stress and supports work-life balance. However, it also contributes to employees feeling overly dependent on technology, disconnected from colleagues and burned out. There are also mixed reports about impacts on productivity – ranging from higher, about the same and lower than it was before the pandemic.

Similar to questions about when the pandemic will become an endemic, some employers wonder when hybrid models driven by the need to reduce COVID-19 exposure risk will become the norm. Surveys show the transition is already occurring. For example:

  • In an October 2021 global Google Workspace survey on the status of hybrid work, over 75 percent of the 1,244 employees and managers who responded said they expect hybrid work to become a standard practice within their organization within the next three years; 70 percent reported they had never worked remotely before the pandemic.
  • In a McKinsey & Company survey, the majority of responding executives said they expect it will be routine for employees to be onsite 20 to 80 percent of the time, or one to four days per week, unless it is essential for them always to be onsite.
  • The Accenture Future of Work Study 2021 found 83 percent of responding employees prefer a hybrid work model and that 63 percent of high-growth companies have already adopted a “productivity anywhere” approach.
  • A May 2021 Mercer survey found 70 percent of responding companies believe a blend of in-person and remote work options will be the new normal, compared to just 6 percent who said a fully remote model would be commonplace.
  • In a 2021 FlexJobs survey, 65 percent of employees said they want to continue working remotely, 33 percent prefer a hybrid workplace environment and 2 percent want to return to the office; 35 percent of respondents said they would switch jobs if they were forced back into an office working environment.

What Now?

Whether working onsite or remotely, there are distractions that can make it difficult for employees to stay focused. Some distractions – call them social encounters– are actually important contributors to physical and mental health. People are wired to thrive when they experience human connection.

In the hybrid work world, employers are encouraged to redefine workforce engagement and develop health and wellness programs that match the needs of employees and their dependents. Employees accustomed to diffusing work-related stress through connections at the workplace (e.g., chatting with colleagues at meetings and during breaks, walking at lunch with a group, after-hours socializing) and using commute time to decompress now have to find ways to create buffers between their professional and personal lives. Picking kids up from school in the middle of a workday, shutting down a laptop in a home office or packing up a project that occupies the dining room is not the same as physically leaving a workplace until tomorrow.

Here are some ways to help employees adapt to a hybrid environment:

  1. Agree on expectations. An employee should clearly understand when they are required to be present, either virtually or in-person, and consequences for unexplained absences. Conscientious employees who work remotely may feel pressured to work harder and longer to demonstrate that they are not “slacking off.” It’s incumbent on managers to check-in, assess how employees are adapting to the hybrid environment, make adjustments and reward performance, as appropriate.
  2. Be willing to make changes:
  • Identify workplace processes that can be modified to better accommodate a blend of remote and onsite jobs.
  • Strive to create a seamless experience for employees when they rotate between remote and onsite work, for example, having a dedicated onsite workspace.
  • Be transparent about the direction the company is heading and involve employees in decisions about working conditions. (For instance, Amazon recently announced it will allow individual office teams to decide where they will work.)
  • Provide onsite and remote learning opportunities for employees so they can continue to build their skills and qualify for advancement.
  • Train supervisors and managers on human resources practices and techniques for managing employees in remote and hybrid settings.
  1. Invest in platforms and applications that help facilitate communication. Tools may include software to assign and track tasks and safety, health and well-being smartphone apps.
  2. Demonstrate a sincere commitment to employees’ physical and mental health, which is shown to improve retention rates. Develop programs that reward healthy behaviors. For example, sponsor a physical fitness, weight-loss or smoking-cessation challenge with prizes that acknowledge progress.
  3. Have an open-door policy, even if the door is a computer screen. Regularly schedule one-on-ones and inclusive team meetings. Invite employees to submit suggestions on ways to support employee well-being.
  4. Provide mental health resources and encourage referrals to behavioral health professionals, as appropriate. Employers who are willing to openly discuss mental health issues help employees overcome associated stigma and seek help.

Regardless of where and when they work, employees want assurance that their workplace is a safe place to be – physically and mentally. It’s important for employers to build trust and create a culture of empathy that inspires employee engagement, loyalty and creativity.

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