Two years after the initial shelter-in-place orders, there is a clear divide in how leaders, managers and workers envision the future of work. Organizations across industries have demonstrated varying levels of commitment to implementing remote work when a few ambitious companies announce their plans to return to the office.
Some organizations have announced a permanent shift to remote work, while others have adopted a hybrid model. There is no single understanding of hybrid. Some companies keep a few offices open for employees to come to work, with a few team members working remotely 100% of the time, while others insist on two to three days in the office a week.
On the surface, it appears that hybrid work is utopia. With the flexibility of remote work people experienced over the last two years, it appears to marry the collaborative, in-person workforce seen pre-pandemic. In practice, hybrid work detracts from the employee experience.
There are some drawbacks of hybrid models that may not be immediately apparent and could lead to attrition.
The New Corner Office
When teams are split between those who work from the office and those who work from home, they often experience a reinforcement of professionalism and optics. Although remote workers will experience the benefits of avoiding a commute, they will miss out on informal conversations and relationship-building opportunities with senior leaders and executives
The office dynamics are similar to the “boys club.” After organizations have made so much progress in how they approach diversity, inclusion and belonging, it is a step back to reinforce the old idea of professionalism when it comes to hiring and promoting.
Those who commute to the office will experience additional costs due to public transit and gas prices, lost time spent on trains or in cars, and the lack of flexibility that comes with an on-site job. This could cause resentment among employees and lead to staff turnover.
The other model, which requires at least a few days in the office per week or month, is not much better. A lack of consistency in an employee’s schedule is caused by these mandates. Workers are forced to switch between in-office and remote days, and have to devote extra energy to manage their responsibilities.
When organizations request that employees come into the office at least a few days per month, workers lose their freedom to move to whichever location suits their lifestyles. Without giving up career opportunities, fully remote organizations give workers true flexibility and the ability to decide where they live.
It’s possible that you’re too big of a leap to commit to remote work, or that you have specific concerns about how your organization can function while fully remote. Some of the most common concerns surrounding remote work can be addressed.
Silos and a lack of visibility into an organization’s internal practices are issues that arise in all organizations not just the ones that embrace remote work. In remote organizations, all team members are required to have a central place to access all processes, values and company norms. Keeping this information central to the company ensures that each individual has the same visibility regardless of their rank, tenure, or location.
New employees are asked to read the company handbook before they start work. Once they’ve looked at the document, they sign a certificate stating that they understand the company’s policies, and likely never look at the handbook again. If this is the case, I encourage you to look at what your handbook can do. Small changes can lead to big changes, even if you start by creating a single page. It is possible for employees to find their own answers, create solutions and contribute to your organization’s culture using scaled knowledge.
People will suffer from loneliness, anxiety and isolation as a result of working remotely because they need day-to-day interaction. It’s true that people need human interaction in their daily lives. For a long time, work friends and relationships were a mainstay of employees’ networks. I believe that the widespread adoption of remote work can allow workers to experience deeper friendships and communities outside of work by allowing them to live in a locale of their choice and invest in the communities that mean the most to them. It is possible for leaders to bring distributed teams together for strategic moments that team members will actually look forward to.
Strong working relationships can be built virtually, it just takes a bit more intention to enable a distributed workforce to connect. Informal communication is important for building relationships. In order to facilitate this, organizations should set up systems that allow employees to informally connect over the internet. It can facilitate connection even if the conversation is just fifteen or twenty minutes long.
Focus on How You Work
It’s time to shift focus from where your team works to how. It’s a big undertaking to make the transition from in-office work to all-remote work. Many leaders believe that hybrid work isn’t happy. By changing how you work, you’re building a more durable work model. You’re breaking down notions of office bias. You are on the path to creating a people-first environment where innovation is not tied to an address.