Many companies and employees have celebrated the rise of remote work as one of the few positive effects to emerge from the pandemic. It has allowed people to keep their jobs while enabling continued productivity for organizations. Skeptics have been proven wrong as tasks get accomplished, often with increased productivity.
Yet evidence also shows that remote work has been a solution that raises problems of its own. Online communication in any form is less responsive than our face-to-face interactions. Workers feel isolated, and messages get confused. The long-term repercussions may be detrimental to mental health and overall productivity.
Many workers actually want to return to the office. Distancing and wearing a face mask simply becomes part of job safety, just like a welder wears their Speedglas 9100 series helmet. If it’s necessary in order for them to enjoy the various benefits of socialization, then it’s worth the effort.
Companies can’t stop adapting to change. And some of the newest issues to emerge will be how to transition from a remote workforce to a hybrid one. How do you find a balance between workers who prefer full-time remote work and those working under a new model?
Accommodating different needs
Studies on remote work have continually emphasized common pros and cons. In favor of the workers are generally improved work-life balance, lowered costs in terms of transportation and clothing, and greater autonomy. Working against them are the distractions present in the home, the burden of household duties, subpar communication between colleagues, and overall loneliness.
But any good manager knows that people need to be treated as unique individuals. Their needs and values will vary. One size doesn’t fit all.
For some employees, the drawbacks of remote work outweigh the positives. Young people, in particular, use their early years of employment to accelerate their development and extend their social circles and professional networks. For them, remote work may be an obstacle to career progress.
On the other hand, veteran employees are more likely to be settled. They will appreciate the benefits of remote work while being able to mitigate potential issues. Intangibles such as better-developed communication skills, or stronger relationships within their communities, can help them overcome any challenges associated with these arrangements and lifestyle.
Finding balance through a hybrid option
There is considerable evidence in favor of a hybrid working arrangement. Surveys have shown that the least engaged employees in any company tend to come from both extremes. Those who never come to the office, and those who report for work each day, report only 30% engagement.
Further studies also show that the ideal balance for an individual lies somewhere between 2-3 days of remote work. The rest of the week would be spent reporting to the office.
Under this model, employees could achieve an optimal combination of workplace interactions and the benefits of working from home. But it dodges the question of what’s actually good for the organization.
How flexible can you be when it comes to handling employees who’d really rather not go to the office at all? If you allow some people to stay at home more often, don’t the others miss out on the potential interactions?
Companies will have to implement their policies on a trial basis. We’re all in this boat together, and no one can claim to have charted these waters before. Getting it right will require new metrics to measure productivity. Leaders will also need to listen, and ask the right questions to gauge employee engagement.
Crafting optimal environments
One thing that employers and individuals can do to improve any new hybrid arrangement is to maximize their respective workplaces.
Homes need to be optimized for productivity. Towards that end, workers who choose to remain at home more often than not have to be coached on how to create a conducive environment for work. That includes follow-up checks, measurement of improvements, and accountability if progress is not made.
Offices need to be improved with a deliberate focus on becoming great venues for collaboration and interaction. This will be a difficult balance to achieve in a future that will still be leery of close contact.
You can start by making sure that interactions are intentional, and that people are present, not distracted. Mentors must be available. Leaders must use face-to-face time wisely in order to build trust with new team members and develop existing relationships further.
With improvements on both ends, together with a hybrid model, there won’t be a noticeable drop-off in performance, no matter where employees choose to work. And they can exercise their power of choice to prioritize what they value most.