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Post-pandemic, employers are currently assessing the best way to move forward with improving employee engagement while ensuring smooth operations continue, and the hybrid workplace is the top attention-getter. Is the hybrid workplace here to stay for the long term? Multiple surveys of the younger generations of workers find the answer is a resounding “yes!” Many job candidates and employees make at least partial remote work a requirement for remaining in their jobs or accepting a new position.
This has not always aligned with the employer’s expectations, as some companies ordering workers back to the workplace full-time discovered when employees vigorously objected. For employers, the hybrid work model has become an employee engagement challenge and an operational challenge. The many surveys of employees and employers on this topic indicating the hybrid workplace is the future of work means employers will need to adapt going forward to remain competitive in the labor market.
In 2022, organizations have had to become more people-centric in response to so many changes that include a labor shortage, technology enabling mobility, and a need for elevated collaboration to remain innovative. At the same time, five generations of workers are now in the labor force, with millennials and Gen Z accounting for the largest percentage of workers. Combined, Millennials and Gen Z already make up approximately 40 percent of the U.S. workforce, but by 2030 that number will change to 74 percent.
Though there are differences between the generations, they have one major common attribute – a love of technology. Millennials are considered the first digital natives, and Gen Z grew up with some of the most advanced technologies to date. Surrounded by technology from birth, the younger generations of workers have expectations about the role of technology in the workplace. For example, they don’t like creaky legacy systems still used by so many businesses and want to work with state-of-the-art technology. Both generations like remote work, even if for different reasons.
Millennials embrace virtual tools for work and collaboration. An Axios Harris poll found that 84 percent of millennials say remote work is important. One reason is that many in this age group have children, and they spent considerable effort making working at home a success during the pandemic. Yet, despite being just as technology connected as millennials, multiple surveys have found that Gen Z wants to do some work remotely but also wants to network and socialize with coworkers. The 2022 Career Interest Survey found that only 13 percent of the 11,500 high school and college-aged individuals favored remote training and onboarding. They want flexibility. One of the reasons is they grew tired of years of remote schooling.
Another difference between the generations is that Gen Zers are more comfortable forming online relationships than millennials. But what about baby boomers? A McKinsey & Co study found that workers aged 18-35 years old were 59 percent more likely to leave than employees in the 55-64 years old group if their employer didn’t offer a hybrid work arrangement. The survey also found that 75 percent of survey participants said they prefer a hybrid working model. So, all generations, to some degree, want a hybrid schedule.
During the pandemic, employees got comfortable working remotely full or part-time, or they decided they didn’t like working remotely. For employers, the challenge is developing a hybrid workplace model that attracts younger talent yet promotes employee retention of workers of all ages. Many employers planned on requiring employees to return full-time to the workplace, but McKinsey & Co also found that 85 percent of employees already working in a hybrid model want to continue working that way.
There are three types of work models. Employees must work in a work setting, work remotely or work in a hybrid workplace. In the hybrid model, work schedules are a mix of onsite and remote work. There are three types of hybrid work models.
Employees work in-office for designated days and remotely for the remaining days, i.e., three days in-office and two days remotely.
Another form of the hybrid workforce is one in which home and office work time are flexible. For example, an employee can utilize a flexible schedule that allows working six hours one day in-office, leaving to take care of a personal matter, and completing another 2 hours of work at home.
The hybrid workplace model in which employees work a few days in-office and a few days remotely is the easiest for leadership because they know exactly when employees will be in the office for meetings and collaboration and for employees who like a set schedule.
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Not all work is suitable for hybrid work, and not all employees are candidates for remote work. Many employers assumed that post-pandemic forced remote work would end, and the hybrid workplace would cease to exist. Everyone would return to the workplace. However, there was a lot of pushback from employees who liked working all or part of the workweek remotely and had learned to balance work and their personal lives. They had set up home offices, established computers connected to the workplace, and developed schedules that supported important personal activities, like picking up children from school. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) surveyed 1,200 U.S. office workers and 120 executives in 2020 (during the pandemic) and found:
Before COVID, there was a slow move towards allowing hybrid work, but COVID accelerated it. The initial concern was that employee productivity would decline, but studies have found that people who enjoy working remotely are more productive because they have less stress, greater flexibility, fewer distractions from coworkers, no commute, better focus, more time for family and exercise, and a better work-life balance.
There are benefits for employers too. They include increased productivity, lower absenteeism, and reduced turnover. Employee engagement is strengthened when employees are more fulfilled and satisfied.
Some of the challenges employers face in accommodating employees include:
Of the executives surveyed by PwC, 29 percent said that keeping a strong organizational culture would mean employees should be in the office three days a week; 18 percent said four days a week, and 15 percent said two days a week. What works for one company may not work for another. Some companies may not be able to implement a hybrid workplace because of the nature of the work, i.e., grocery store workers, some retail workers, restaurant workers, construction workers, etc. The strongest candidates for instituting hybrid work are the technology industry, call center industry, and customer services industry, where work is mostly done on a computer.
How do you approach planning for hybrid work? What are the best practices for adapting Human Resources policies post-pandemic? Establishing a policy on hybrid work is a potential source of conflict between employees and management, and surveys and employers could lead to some of the younger employees leaving your company based on survey findings.
For example, Marcey Uday-Riley, Senior Consultant at IRI Consultants, has clients who have told her job candidates are turning down job opportunities when they are expected to work onsite. There are also current employees who worked remotely full-time during the pandemic and want to remain full-time remote employees, but their employer wants them to work in the office at least 2-3 days a week.
This is a topic that can’t be ignored. The FlexJobs’ 10th Annual Survey conducted in mid-2021 found that 58 percent of survey participants seeking jobs want to work full-time as remote employees and 39 percent want hybrid work arrangements. Add these percentages up, and 97 percent of workers want some amount of remote work. Survey respondents said that company culture is a top factor in deciding whether to accept a position, and an employer that isn’t concerned with work-life balance would influence their decision on whether to apply for a job, accept a position, or quit.
Following are some points to consider when developing a hybrid workplace model to take your company into the future of work.
Leadership training is crucial to implementing and maintaining hybrid work. The hybrid workplace has the risk of some remote employees being excluded or their work unfairly assessed for different reasons. Researchers have discussed the risk of “faultlines” that can develop between people working remotely and those working on site, which applies to a hybrid workforce in which some people will work onsite, full time, while others are hybrid workers coming and going.
Employee engagement is just as important for the remote and hybrid workforces as it is for the onsite workforce. Your leaders need specialized communication skills to ensure they understand how to engage a successful hybrid team. For example, they need to be intentional in explaining why some onsite work is necessary and not just hand down HR policies on a 3-2 workweek split. The head of people analytics at Microsoft, Dawn Klinghoffer, says managers need to maximize work-life balance by helping teams prioritize work to create production stability and empower the team to have a voice in the prioritization.
Clearly, developing a hybrid workplace is more complex than it appears at first glance. It involves a lot more than just saying, “You can work two days a week at home or another location.” A management consultant can help if the process seems too overwhelming, given all the other challenges your leadership team is likely facing.
Walter is IRI's Director of Digital Solutions and founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.