- Although there are certainly benefits to being able to work from home (including no commute time and an infinitely more casual dress code), there are benefits to visiting an office too (including a sense of belonging and a greater ability to collaborate).
- According to Keypoint Intelligence’s Future of the Office Survey, 30% of respondents indicated a desire to split their time between the home and office once the pandemic has passed. An additional 30% wanted to continue to work from home full-time.
- Periodic Zoom meetings might alleviate a few of the issues associated with remote/hybrid work, but video calls and e-mails simply don’t foster the same level of connection as face-to-face encounters.
By Mark DiMattei
In a recent Boston Globe article, author John Levy argued that hybrid workplaces—where employees spend part of their time working remotely and another portion of their time visiting an office—will likely not last when the pandemic is officially over. During the lockdown phase of the pandemic, many full-time office workers were suddenly forced into a full-time remote working situation. Although it was a struggle at first, plenty of people discovered that there were benefits to working from home. As time passed, they became reluctant to give up these newfound benefits.
What’s the Best Option?
With the widespread availability of a vaccine, people will hopefully be able to congregate in enclosed spaces soon. When this occurs, what will the workplace of the future look like? Although there are certainly benefits to being able to work from home (including no commute time and an infinitely more casual dress code), there are benefits to visiting an office, too (including a sense of belonging and a greater ability to collaborate). There’s also a lot of gray area—some people swear that working from home makes them more productive, while others feel equally strongly that they are more productive in an office. The same could be said about the work/life balance and employee morale—the ability to work from home at least occasionally will likely improve employee satisfaction, but too much isolation and an inability to “unplug” from work obligations isn’t good for anyone’s morale. Some people feel that there are fewer distractions at home, but parents of young children or those with noisy roommates/spouses would likely beg to differ.
Although John Levy’s article argues that hybrid workforces likely won’t be sustainable for the long term, there is no questioning that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how many employees—and business owners—feel about a hybrid workforce. It remains to be seen what the workplace of the future will look like, but some businesses are at least considering a hybrid model. Fortunately, many companies have recently released services, solutions, and technologies that may help support hybrid work even after the pandemic becomes a part of modern history.
The Home as an Office?
There is no question that COVID-19 had a major impact on knowledge workers and disrupted their lives in a variety of ways. As a result, it is perhaps not surprising that the January 2021 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) had several sessions that were dedicated to understanding the pandemic’s lasting effects on remote/hybrid work. Many presenters noted that the digital transformation is penetrating all areas of business, with a focus on restructuring the architecture of work with new tools and technologies. A few speakers reported that their employees appreciated the flexibility of being able to work from home when needed, which may help boost employee morale and improve retention. Having the flexibility to hire remote workers also opens up a much wider talent pool, since businesses are no longer limited to hiring employees within commuting distance.
According to Keypoint Intelligence’s Future of the Office Survey (June 2020), 30% of office workers reported a desire to adopt a hybrid work schedule (where they split their time between the home and the office) once the pandemic had passed. Another 30% wanted to work from home full-time. In addition, our IT Decision Maker Survey (November 2020) indicated that most IT respondents from medium-sized or large companies expected to see at least a semi-permanent increase in the share of knowledge workers who worked from home.
Share of Knowledge Workers Working from Home
Base: Total IT Decision-Maker Respondents
Source: IT Decision-Maker Survey, Keypoint Intelligence 2020
Of course, this survey was conducted in late 2020, and hopes for herd immunity are surely much higher now than they were even six months ago. Remote work—at least on a part-time basis—certainly has its benefits, but there are disadvantages as well. These include fewer networking opportunities for employees, difficulties associated with monitoring/supervising/evaluating work, the potential for lower productivity among some employees, and feelings of isolation. As Levy points out in his article, factors like vulnerability and trust become basic parts of human interaction when people are face-to-face. Periodic Zoom meetings might alleviate a few issues, but video calls and e-mails simply don’t foster the same level of connection as face-to-face encounters. According to Levy, “A weekly Zoom happy hour where the extroverts talk over everyone won’t cut it. Camaraderie tends to come out more naturally when people are in the same physical space.”
The Bottom Line
Our workspaces have clearly changed due to the pandemic. Some have already returned to the office full-time, and some essential workers never left their offices in the first place. Others have embraced a fully remote work situation, and still others express a desire for a hybrid situation where they have more control over where their work gets done. Different employees can have vastly different ideas about the ideal work situation, and matters are further complicated by the fact that some of these employees will likely work for the same company!
There’s clearly no right answer, and only time will tell what the future of the workplace will look like. Managing a group of employees isn’t getting any simpler, particularly when some are eager to return to the office (at least part time) and others never want to set foot in an office again. Much like your customers, employees will have their own unique perspectives and opinions. As we move forward, business owners will need to balance their employees’ (often differing) preferences with what makes the most sense for profitable business growth.
Mark DiMattei is the Manager of Keypoint Intelligence’s Publishing, Editing, and News department. In this capacity, he oversees the formatting, editing, and publication cycles for many different types of deliverables. He also assists in the production of blogs, analyses, research reports, and multi-client studies.