As the global pandemic retreats and organizations start publishing return-to-office plans, it's possible that previous conversations around hybrid work were just the beginning of a period of tension. At Apple, employees are pushing back against a three-day-per-week hybrid work plan, and according to Pew Research, 78% of employees who can perform their jobs from home would like to work from home most or all of the time going forward.
At the same time, some executives still want to see workers return to the office at least part-time. A GoodHire survey of 3,500 managers found that 75% prefer some version of in-person work, and a CNBC article from March 2022 quoted multiple leaders, including Apple's Tim Cook, expressing excitement about returning to the office.
Is there a disconnect between leader and employee expectations? In some cases, perhaps, but other surveys suggest more alignment in expectations. One study found that only four percent of companies are requiring all employees to return to the office full-time, and only 45% are requiring some to return five days per week. Generally speaking, hybrid work arrangements are slowly becoming the norm, especially for office and knowledge workers.
In some sense, even though it feels like we've all been working from home forever, we're still relatively early in the hybrid and remote work revolution. The pivot to working from home happened under duress, and settling into a long-term arrangement will take time, patience, and possibly some false starts, reversals, and shifts.
As you think about your long-term hybrid or remote work arrangements, here are several important factors to consider and review with leadership teams and employees.
1. Employee Concerns
Don't just ask employees what kind of work arrangement they want—full-time in the office, full-time at home, or some combination. Ask other questions that will help uncover barriers to employer preferences. For instance, the Apple employees pushing back cite concerns about equitable treatment and subtle bias toward privileged employees. If this concern exists among your own team members, what solutions can they offer? What might leadership consider a fair solution?
2. Productivity Statistics
Many studies and surveys suggest that productivity rose sharply during the pandemic as people pivoted to work-from-home models, but productivity peaked and then dropped sharply as fatigue crept in. Where do you stand now? Has your team recovered and stabilized? Is work getting done? If employees are more productive at home full-time, it may be worth letting them stay at home full-time. However, if productivity is still unstable or waning, a return to the office part-time might help.
While having one overall policy about working from home makes sense, that policy can include room to customize based on team dynamics and needs. Some teams may need to work in person because of the job's physical demands, while others may find it impossible to work in person because they are geographically dispersed. Think about how to write a policy that allows for different job duties, demands, and functions. Are there ways to give leaders and employees some autonomy to find what works best for their teams or individuals?
4. Focus on Flexibility
It may be that some employees in certain functions feel marginalized because they cannot work from home. Rather than fixate on either in-the-office or work-from-home as the only two ways to work, think about other ways to be flexible. Can some in-person workers have more flexibility in what hours or days they work? Are there ways to automate some tasks so that workers can do some parts of their jobs remotely?
Leaders should expect some tension as organizations figure out how to navigate the hybrid work revolution. Still, that tension doesn't have to mean failure. Rather, taking the time to have honest conversations and a willingness to be creative and try new things might be exactly what employers and employees need to create a productive and successful future of work.
If you've published a return-to-office plan, was that plan well-received? Why or why not?
Have employees had an opportunity to voice concerns about future work arrangements? What concerns did they have that leadership hadn't considered?
What's one flexible arrangement that you could try that doesn't require working from home?