We have all witnessed the ongoing transformation of the traditional working model, particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, more than three years later, the changes accelerated by the pandemic remain. Despite this, the debate over working from home and in-office continues.
While some have since returned full-time to the office, and others are in the process of mandating the return, the shift to remote and hybrid working has left long-term impacts. In a 2022 McKinsey & Company survey of over 13,000 global workers, flexibility was second only to salary in motivators to stay in a role. Businesses who roll back these flexible working options look to lose valued employees and significantly reduce the talent pool available to them. On the other hand, employers are conscious of providing the option to engage face-to-face to those who want it.
So, how do businesses address this stalemate?
A hybrid-first approach
A remote-first approach is designed to enable employees to work effectively from anywhere, prioritising remote collaboration and communication. In a remote-first workplace, even employees who live near the company’s physical office space have the option to work remotely by default. Technological advancements aim to make remote working as seamless and cohesive as possible.
Similarly, hybrid working aims to give employees the option. Characterised as a blend of remote and office-based work, hybrid working allows employees to divide their time between remote and in-office work. This model aims to strike a balance between the benefits of remote work and the advantages of in-person interaction.
Despite the recent rise in companies mandating a return to the office, hybrid working is likely to persist for several reasons:
- Employee expectations: Many employees have experienced the benefits of fully remote or hybrid work, adjusting to its parameters and coming to rely on the flexibility it offers. Companies ignoring these expectations may face challenges in attracting and retaining top talent as employees set the standard.
- Flexibility and wellbeing: As the discussions around work-life balance and mental health gain prominence, businesses are recognising the importance of flexible work arrangements in supporting employee wellbeing and making the workplace culture more accessible. Hybrid-first models offer a compromise that can meet both company and employee expectations while accommodating various workstyles and fostering a more inclusive environment.
- Innovation and creativity: Hybrid and remote working can promote innovation by allowing employees to work in environments where they feel most creative and inspired. A combination of remote focus and in-person collaboration can lead to breakthrough ideas.
- Cost considerations: Organisations are realising the financial benefits of reduced office space, utilities, and other overhead expenses and the associated costs. Embracing hybrid models can lead to substantial savings without sacrificing productivity. These savings can be reinvested into employee benefits, development programmes, and innovative projects.
- Talent competition: As companies compete for top talent, offering remote or hybrid options can be a differentiator. Refusing to adapt to the changing landscape of work can create a disadvantage when trying to attract the desired skills. Embracing remote and hybrid working options also gives businesses access to global talent pools. Minimising geographical barriers allows companies to diversify skills and gain new perspectives.
Although remote and hybrid working have raised concerns when it comes to the effectiveness of communication, collaboration, and overall productivity, the data can be skewed either way to support whichever side of the argument you align with. The argument is dependent on the metrics used to measure them, and perhaps it is time for an overhaul. The benefits presented by remote and hybrid working models should not be ignored in favour of tradition and comfort as we look to reshape the way we think about work and workplace dynamics.
One of the most significant impacts of remote and hybrid working is the newfound flexibility afforded to employees. Remote work eliminates the need for long commutes and allows individuals to design their workdays around their personal lives. This increased flexibility can lead to improved work-life balance, with 43% of employees stating this as their most valued aspect of hybrid working. A greater balance between work and home life will reduce stress levels and enhance overall wellbeing.
With flexibility comes a higher sense of autonomy. Employees provided with the freedom to choose where they work tend to feel more valued and empowered, which can lead to higher engagement levels.
Engagement is vital to productivity. Fewer distractions and the ability to create personalised work environments contribute to heightened focus and efficiency. This is not to say that in-office work and face-to-face interactions are a thing of the past. Collaboration and the sparking of ideas both present more naturally in a free-flowing environment, best facilitated in person. Hybrid working combines the best of both, allowing employees to choose their work environment based on tasks and allows employees the opportunity to work in a way that serves them best.
Additionally, this flexibility has the potential to boost employee satisfaction and retention as a result of a greater balance between work and home life. Employees who have the autonomy to choose where they work tend to feel more valued and empowered, which can lead to higher engagement levels.
Adaptability at the core of future-proofing
The evolution of work toward remote and hybrid working has ushered in a new era of flexibility, efficiency, and adaptability. The long-term impacts and benefits of these models are challenging the traditional notions of work and expanding on what it means to deliver a nurturing workplace culture that is adaptive to employee needs.
The pandemic highlighted the need for organisations to be agile and adaptable and, now that we are on the other side, these qualities remain vital. Remote and hybrid working inherently foster agility by making it easier for companies to pivot in response to fluctuating circumstances and, as digitisation continues and we undergo further changes in the wants and needs of employees, being able to adapt is the key to future-proofing businesses.
Ultimately, considerations for alternative ways of working are leading to more satisfied employees, innovative companies, and sustainable business practices. While some companies may resist the shift in favour of reverting to the conventional, evidence suggests that remote and hybrid working is here to stay, driven by the collective recognition that the future of work is one that embrace flexibility, diversity, and employee wellbeing.