May 1, 2023
Not so long ago, when contagion ran rampant, fully remote work was touted as the new normal. While that hasn’t quite come to fruition, it wasn’t too far off-base. A mitigated version that blends on- and off-site work, dubbed “hybrid,” has turned out to be the sweet spot for most companies — particularly those that weren’t fully remote before the Covid-19 pandemic began in early 2020. Hybrid employees still enjoy a good deal of flexibility, though not as much as some would like, and business leaders love the in-person aspect as well as the cost-cutting benefits. Hybrid also expands their respective talent pools.
“Hybrid is no longer just an employee perk but an employee expectation,” said Ranjit Atwal, Senior Director Analyst at Gartner. “Many employees started to partially return to the office in 2022, but the hybrid workstyle will remain prominent in 2023 and beyond. To adapt, employers have been implementing a human-centric work design – including flexibility, intentional collaboration and empathy-based management – which suits hybrid employees.”
Gartner forecasts that by the end of 2023, 39 percent of global knowledge workers will be hybrid. That’s up two percent from 2022. But the same report also points out that remote and partially remote (hybrid) levels differ “significantly” by country.
- Japan: “Employers are focused more on employees returning to the office full-time compared with other employers around the globe. In Japan, the number of fully remote and hybrid knowledge workers will total 29% of its workforce in 2023.”
- Europe: Face-to-face interaction is preferred across the continent, but in Germany “fully remote and hybrid knowledge workers will account for 49 percent of the German workforce in 2023.
- United Kingdom: “Fully remote and hybrid knowledge workers will represent 67% of its workforce in 2023.”
- United States: “Fully and remote and hybrid knowledge workers will account for 71% of the U.S. workforce in 2023.”
Reflecting hybrid’s popularity among workers, a recent poll by flexible workspace provider IWG found that 67 percent of more than 1,000 people surveyed would take a cut in pay to avoid coming into the office every day. “Data shows the higher the salary, the more the individual is willing to give up in order to maintain a hybrid work environment,” an analysis of the survey by CFO.com revealed. “Nearly a quarter (24%) of respondents making over $150,000 annually told IWG they would give up over $40,000 of their own salary versus going back to the office full-time.”
What Must Business Leaders Do?
Business leaders must adapt to that or risk losing talent — both by attrition and by failing to lure the most qualified employees. A recent Washington Post article summarized insights from Janet Pogue McLaurin, global director of workplace research at Gensler: “Flexible office arrangements will better reflect the needs of the workers, whether the emphasis is on productivity, collaboration, or just plain old quiet time. Even within the same organization, McLaurin said, there’s a realization that different people perform better in different environments.”
Skepticism Among Leadership
While lots of leaders remain skeptical or are vociferously against fully remote work, even old-school managers and C-suite executives are increasingly allowing hybrid — especially as more of them are convinced (even if grudgingly) that it can in fact increase productivity. “Leaders that aren’t shaping a new future of work that delivers on worker expectations risk exacerbating existing problems, such as attrition,” according to a Accenture’s 2022 Future of Work survey. “Workers who do not feel they can be productive, healthy or happy in any work location are 7.7 times more likely to want to leave their organizations. In contrast, workers enabled to perform their work anywhere are 2.3x more likely to stay with their company, even in high-turnover industries.” Still, the study noted, “Sixty-six percent of CEOs know that things need to change, but they are reluctant to pursue work models and approaches that differ from those used in the past.” And this: “Only 26 percent of CEOs have a future-ready strategy that is holistically focused on changing how, why and where we work.”
A majority of leaders still want their employees to show up in the same place on a regular basis, but a significant number of them are conceding that it doesn’t have to be every day. (Three days in the office and two days out is a typical hybrid schedule.) The reasons for retaining at least some measure of in-person work vary, but maintaining and strengthening company culture, more fruitful collaboration (there are differing views) and enhanced psychological well-being are a few of the most-cited ones. In a Forbes column, however, LeadershipIQ founder Mark Murphy offered this bit of insight: “Working in the office does not magically make leaders more effective, company values stronger, or teams more effective. Collaboration, culture and leadership could potentially benefit from working in person, but just being in person does not automatically improve any of those issues.”
Consequently, hybrid work has forced leaders to adopt new skills and approaches or fail miserably at this new workplace experiment. McKinsey researchers discovered four of the most helpful management shifts:
- Managing performance through outcomes, impact and ownership.
- Doing more to build trust and togetherness, in part by role-modeling reliability, acceptance, openness and authenticity.
- Facilitating and engaging with teams by being emotionally present at meetings and delegating decision making, among other things.
- Encouraging team problem solving instead of going it alone and issuing edicts.
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