Working from home for over a year has made one thing very clear for employees: They now know which type of work setup suits them best. Opinions on returning to the office full time can be clustered into two main camps. There are those who are eager to go back to their corporate workstations and those who are more inclined to perform their tasks at home. These preferences are heavily influenced by their job responsibilities and tenure.1
Those whose tasks require constant communication and face-to-face collaboration, such as product developers, would benefit more from being in the office with their colleagues.2 Similarly, those in management positions—which reportedly comprised 6.2 million employees who worked from home in 2020—would most likely be back full time as their jobs require them to closely monitor people and processes.3 New hires, particularly fresh graduates who have yet to learn the ropes, may also prefer to be mentored directly rather than remotely.4
On the other end of the spectrum are workers whose outputs and deliverables are not reliant on place and time. Take, for example, the US financial industry. Last year, while working remotely, bankers were able to generate record profits for their respective firms.5 Those in marketing and communications have also reaped the benefits of off-site work. As their tasks are more creative in nature and tied to market trends and research, being able to change their environment and adjust their work hours positively affects their productivity.6 Employees who have also enjoyed a long tenure at their respective companies, especially those with families of their own, have gone on to express wanting more flexibility so they could spend more time with their children and also prioritize their health.7
To some extent, generation also plays into these preferences. Some older senior officers, who are accustomed to the “hustle” and the structured environment of the office, are not very comfortable with the idea of letting their employees go unsupervised at home.8,9 They tend to be more conservative and prefer to keep the status quo. Millennials (employees born 1980-1996), who now make up the biggest share of the workforce10 may be less averse to hybrid work as they grew up using different technologies to streamline their tasks. A recent study showed that around 90% of millennial and Gen-Z (born 1997-2012) employees are not keen on going back to the office full time.11
According to Pew Research, compared to previous years, 2020 saw a significant increase in the number of boomers (born 1946-64) who retired.12 This ultimately skews the ratio of generations making up the current workforce. If millennials had made up 35% of the labor force in 2017,13 that share is much larger now.
These opposing views have caused some friction between employees and the organizations they work for. While industry giants like Google, Ford, Citigroup, and the like have extended some forms of flexibility to their employees,14 there are still many companies that want their workers to return to the office and maintain the same working hours they did prior to the pandemic. From a sample of a thousand employees interviewed in May, almost 40% were sure that they would quit if their companies made them work in the office full time.15 These sentiments are consistent with the massive amount of resignations at the beginning of the second quarter of 2021.16
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 4 million workers, including those in professional and business sectors, quit their jobs. This resulted in a high number of job openings. In April of this year, around 9.3 million positions were left vacant.17 This trend does not necessarily mean that those positions will be filled by transferring employees. Although many workers are highly confident about finding other companies willing to grant them more flexible terms,18 based on some accounts from those who resigned, working from home had made them realize that they could still make a decent living by either freelancing or starting their own businesses.19
How then can employers prevent their organizations from bleeding out talent?
Industry analysts like Gartner are recommending a shift to hybrid work as this setup strikes the balance between institutional goals and employee needs.20 Analysts explain that hybrid work will be the permanent setup for many organizations moving forward. Not only does it ensure operational resilience, but it also helps businesses retain quality talent. In order to do this, organizations will have to change their strategy.
Gartner suggests that companies should consider a more “human-centric” approach as they reopen their offices.21 Here are three general steps they can take:
1. Ask: What do your employees need?
Collecting employee feedback is important when deciding what type of hybrid setup to adopt. Every employee has their own preference regarding when, where, and how they want to work. These preferences will have to be tempered according to their roles. Is the flexibility they’re requesting suitable for the type of work they’re doing? Based on previous work-from-home experiences, has the quality of their output changed? Employers and their employees need to find a workable compromise that would help improve work-life balance.
2. Assess: Do current work processes grant flexibility?
With a better idea of what employees need, organizations can then look at their existing processes and check which parts will be affected. For example, which stages of a project can be done remotely and which ones would require face-to-face meetings? Identifying these stages will make it easier to create a schedule for remote and in-person work.
3. Adapt: What can we invest in to make these changes possible?
With remote work, organizations only needed to consider video conferencing software and hardware to keep coworkers connected. But moving to a hybrid work setup provides new and unique challenges. With functional teams in the office and some members working remotely, simple video conferencing may not be adequate.
For example, if someone were to annotate on a board during a meeting, those attending through a conference call would be at a disadvantage. You would need to use either a cloud whiteboard so they can follow the changes from their own devices, or at least have high-quality webcam to capture all the details on the board.
Do you currently have the right business solutions that would help you facilitate hybrid meetings?
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