The pandemic reshaped the way we view and experience work. The office space, once the center of our professional lives, is being reimagined. In an ideal world, the post-pandemic office would provide employees with the connection, community, and collaboration opportunities that are hard to replicate while working from home. It would also serve to uphold an organization’s values and culture.
Flexible work is here to stay. In survey after survey, workers have made their preferences known: being able to work remotely provides work-life balance, eliminates time-consuming and expensive commutes, and improves productivity and focus. Being able to decide when and why they come into the office helps workers make the most of their on-site experiences and get more out of their face-to-face interactions with co-workers and colleagues.
With so much data revealing workers’ true preferences, it’s not surprising that the majority of employers have plans to adopt a permanent “hybrid” work model.
In the post-pandemic work environment, hybrid has emerged as a “best of both worlds” solution to the remote vs. in-office debate. Many have even called it the “future” of work itself.
How does hybrid combine the best features of working in the office with the best qualities of working from home?
Scott Gordon, Senior Vice President, Global Delivery
The benefits of on-site work
After two years of working from home, the drawbacks of fully remote work are almost as clear as the benefits. Many employees feel fatigued by isolation and constant video chats. Others have difficulty unplugging at the end of the workday. For younger or more inexperienced workers, being remote has made them feel out of touch with the leaders and experiences that are essential to building their careers.
- In an August 2021 survey of more than 1,000 U.S. workers, the most common responses when asked about the benefits of working in the office were collaborating with co-workers in person, the separation of work and home life, and hanging out with work friends.
- In the same survey, Gen Z employees said the biggest benefit was getting face-time with managers.
- In a mid-pandemic survey from the American Psychiatric Association, two-thirds of fully remote employees reported feeling lonely or isolated for at least part of the work week. 17% of respondents reported feeling that way every day.
- In a Pew Research Survey from 2022, 60% of remote workers said that working from home made them feel less connected to their co-workers.
- Remote work can create an “always on” mentality. In one survey of remote employees, roughly half said they struggle to set boundaries when working from home.
- In a Gallup survey, remote workers reported experiencing burnout at a higher rate than on-site workers.
A truly flexible, hybrid work model and a positive office environment can help alleviate many of these struggles. While commutes are often frustrating (and increasingly expensive), they do create “bookends” to the start and end of the workday, allowing employees to easily separate their work hours from their personal lives. The natural downtime created by conversations with co-workers can help break up the tedium and isolation of staring at a computer for hours.
Reinventing the office space for a post-pandemic workforce
To get the most out of their time at the office, employees need their organizations to create a shared space that meets their needs. The challenge lies in determining what those needs are—and understanding that office needs are unique to the function, workstyle and role of each department. Employee surveys can help companies determine which amenities, features and functions their teams value most in an office space. Surveys can also help employers determine which features of remote work are creating unhappiness or burnout in their team members.
At the very least, the post-pandemic office space needs to provide employees with a motivation for working on-site.
Google, which adopted an official hybrid work model in April 2022, reinstated on-site amenities like massages and fitness centers upon bringing workers back. The company also expanded its offerings for free breakfast and lunch, added more collaboration spaces, and improved their employee workspaces.
Other companies, like Adobe, have sought to make on-site work easier for working parents. Some companies have rolled out monthly subsidies to help employees pay for daycare or in-home nannies. Others have added subsidized on-site daycare services or built nearby childcare facilities which employees can utilize at discounted rates.
Some companies are trying to offset the high cost of gasoline and time spent in commutes by offering free daily lunch and happy hours to on-site employees. Others have added “mindfulness” rooms, complete with calming music, comfortable seating, and a light, airy design. Additional incentives focused on workers’ mental health, like on-site yoga classes and meditation breaks, have also gained in popularity.
Smaller companies (and companies without the budgets to offer splashier perks) are attracting employees back to the office by providing a more relaxed atmosphere and more flexible schedules. Allowing employees to choose an earlier or later “shift” at the office, for instance, can help them avoid the heaviest commuter traffic or finish up early enough to attend their children’s sporting events and school activities. Many companies have eliminated business dress codes, allowing employees to wear the yoga pants and t-shirts that characterized remote work during the pandemic.
Defining the hybrid work model
To build a hybrid work model that is truly successful—for both employers and employees—companies should understand the interests and expectations of their team members. Also key is keeping flexibility, not control, at the heart of their policies.
Allowing employees to choose their office hours, or letting individual departments select the hybrid model that works best for them, can help employees feel more in control of the shape of their workdays. Many hybrid policies permit employees to work from home unless there is a particular event, meeting or collaboration session happening on-site.
For younger workers, the ability to meet and interact with colleagues and business leaders is a main draw of the office space. Managers can make their younger team members’ office days worthwhile by facilitating meetings and learning opportunities with experienced colleagues.
Embracing the future of work
It’s no longer enough to “get through” the remote work reality. There is no going back to normal—and permanent change requires businesses to pivot for the benefit of their key stakeholders. The flexibility and freedom of remote work needs to be balanced by the community, friendship and collaboration that in-office work provides. For most companies, it can’t be entirely one or entirely the other. Flexible and hybrid work seeks to bridge the gap between workplace needs and wants.
The hiring and recruiting experts at Vaco help companies of all sizes find top talent for a variety of roles, whether they’re remote, hybrid, or on-site. Learn more about our expertise or reach out to our talent specialists to see how we can transform your hiring efforts.
Learn more about the author:
- Scott Gordon, Senior Vice President, Global Delivery