With the end of the federal public health emergency for the pandemic in May 2023, another wave of companies recently announced their return to office plans. It’s been an intriguing time for leaders and workers alike, who have been grappling with a new way of working for the last 3 years. Whether your company is fully remote, 100% in person, or a hybrid of the two, one thing we can agree on is that it’s a different world now, and there is no going back to the way we worked before the pandemic.
According to research recently reported by Forbes, 12.7% of full-time employees work from home, while 28.2% work a hybrid model as of 2023. Meanwhile, the majority of the workforce (59.1%) still work in-person. These stats are rather surprising given how much we know workers want the flexibility to work remotely.
That same research shows that 57% of workers would look for a new job if their current company didn’t allow remote work, and 65% would prefer to work remote all of the time, underscoring how important it is for most people to be able to work from home. And many of them are willing to put their money where their mouth is: 32% of hybrid workers report they would take a pay cut to work remotely full time.
Given these figures, it’s impossible to ignore that the pandemic taught us a valuable lesson as far as how effective digital collaboration tools can be and what that means for efficiency as well as the importance of balancing work and personal life. No question, we learned to work more effectively. But a lot of that was formulated as emergency measures that got us through a public health crisis. Now, as leaders, we have to ask ourselves, what may have been lost?
At this stage, companies need to get real as far as what functions need to be in person, what can be remote, and what can be hybrid. 53% of remote workers say it’s harder to feel connected to their coworkers. Not only that, but during the pandemic, I think most of us learned where the challenges were as far as what kind of work really doesn’t translate to Zoom meetings and Slack chats. For example, in the world of retail leadership, an item presentation where merchants collaborate directly with planners, visual merchandising, and marketing teams to ideate around displaying physical product can’t fully be replicated remotely.
To me, it’s a bigger issue than just productivity and whether or not individuals are getting the job done. After all, isn’t part of the job to be part of a team? I think so, but what that actually means is something that only those teams can decide. What works best for a particular individual, department, or business? It’s about being more intentional about optimizing what we’re doing when we’re in the office, and what we’re doing when we’re not. Otherwise, you are going to lose out on talent, because as we saw in the research, flexibility is paramount.
As much as I’d love to take a stronger position on one side or the other of this debate, there is no one right answer. This is truly situational management – you’ve got to find the right approach for your particular company, department, or circumstance. As leaders, we need to be most concerned with the issue of fairness. At the end of the day, everyone needs to work together to produce results for the company. And having different working expectations for different functions within the team or the company could potentially lead to resentment from those whose jobs are not conducive to working remotely. It’s a tough line to straddle, but that is the challenge of leadership in today’s work environment.
How does your organization balance collaboration and flexibility in this new hybrid world?