These past couple of years you’ve likely seen as many “back to the office” fans, as “let’s stay remote forever” ones. While COVID restrictions lasted, the debate was rather theoretical. But it’s gotten hard to imagine going back to the olden ways, hasn’t it? After all, what does “normal” mean anymore when it comes to how we want to work?
Since we can’t set our clocks back to 2019 and pretend that hybrid and remote work hasn’t entered the mainstream, let’s see how we can navigate this new reality.
Before going all-in on the “back to the office” debate, here are some numbers and trends you should be aware of.
Pre-COVID vs Post-COVID percentages of fully remote workers
Pew Research says that as of 2022, 59% of U.S.-based employees whose work doesn’t bind them to a specific location chose to work from home (at least most of the time). The research center noted an all-time high back in October 2020, when the numbers hit 71% of workers. So, while the number of fully-remote workers has shrunk, it’s still way more than the number of telecommuters before COVID. Back then, a mere 23% said they worked remotely regularly.
I think the most important thing though is the circumstances. The main difference between 2020 and 2022 is that those who don’t work at the office today choose not to. Two years earlier, it was about being forced into such an arrangement by lockdown.
Source: Pew Research Center
The hybrid work model is on the rise
Currently, as many as 63% of high-growth companies operate in a hybrid model. This isn’t surprising, knowing that 87% of American employees want to work from home once a week, minimum. While 68% say that the combination of remote and on-site work is a great solution for them.
Only 8% of remote employees would agree to return to the office full-time after the pandemic. The situation in the UK is also pro-hybrid work. The number of employees working in a hybrid model rose from 13% in early February 2022 to 22% in May 2022. However, the percentage of people working fully remotely fell from 22% to 14%.
According to Salary.com, 97% of companies whose employees aren’t planning to go back to the office fully won’t reduce their salaries. 21% of employers say that they will adjust the pay to reflect the employee's current geographical location.
The latter is a risky approach, as 94% of employees believe that salaries should be set based on their experience and skills and not on where they are.
A shift in employee work arrangement expectations
Gartner says that the average organization would lose up to 39% of its employees if they told them they had to go back to work at the office. Only about 9% of those who quit would do so because they’ve moved far away.
It really isn’t just about where you work from. Employees who’d leave their on-site employers for a more flexible company would see an average salary increase of 10.5%. Talk about getting an extra nudge to jump ship!
What workers want now is a stipend to set up their own home office. According to Prudential, one-third of remote staff expect to receive extra compensation for the costs of working remotely (rising electricity bills being a major factor).
With all of the above in mind, it’s not like offices will become obsolete altogether, as I discuss next.
The office won’t disappear completely
Even though it looks like the back-to-work trend is hugely dominated by employees wanting to work remotely/ in a hybrid model, it doesn’t mean that offices will disappear. PwC has run a survey to check how people’s approach to working from an office has changed.
It seems like those who have the least experience prefer to be office based. 30% of them say that it’s OK for them to work remotely but only one day a week. 34% feel less productive while working from home. This makes sense – newbies need to spend more time with their managers and more experienced colleagues as it gives them more opportunities to learn.
While offices are here to stay, their role is about to change. They will be treated as a place for nurturing collaboration. Visiting the office will be a chance for people to get together and catch up. That’s how 87% of employees see it. Only 13% of executives feel ready to let go of the office work completely.
Pros Of Hybrid Or Fully Remote Workplace
Here’s the sunny side up of hybrid and remote work.
Cutting back on operational costs
Cutting down on office leases and operational costs like electricity can help organizations adjust to the new situation on the market. Companies that decide to operate in a hybrid model can rent out a smaller office. While those that wish to move fully online will avoid office-related expenses altogether.
One of the prime examples is the work-for-hire company TaskRabbit. In May 2022, they decided to close all of their offices. Before COVID, they had a fancy downtown San Francisco office, which spanned nearly 20,000 square feet. In early 2022, they already cut it to just 7,500 square feet. And now, they’ve taken it down to zero.
Companies can redirect office-related expenses to salary bumps to retain talent and welcome new employees. This brings me to the next point.
Lowering the impact of inflation on the business
Inflation has been creeping in for many months now, and it puts that extra pressure on employers. Businesses must not only account for additional operational costs, like bills, rent, and electricity. They have to support their employees, too. Unfortunately, many organizations can’t keep pace with inflation, even if they intend to. And this makes them worry that they’ll start losing the teams they’ve put so much time and resources into.
Here’s where remote and hybrid arrangements can be the savior. By limiting or eliminating office expenses, they get more bandwidth to counter the effects of rising costs and equalize salaries.
Easier for employees to focus on work
Allowing employees to decide if they want to go back to the office or not has a good impact on work focus. 34% of respondents to a Dropbox & The Economist survey said that face-to-face interruptions from colleagues were the biggest reason they lose focus at work. They’ve even done the math and say that workplace distractions lead to a $1.2 Trillion (yes, you’ve read that number right!) loss in productivity.
But you know what they say – every problem is an opportunity in disguise. If you set clear communication guidelines for synchronous and asynchronous work, then you can expect to see a productivity bump.
Employees can optimize the way they work
One of the greatest things about hybrid work is that it’s asynchronous. This means that people can choose their own schedules, based on when they’re most productive. There will be employees who are early birds, as well as those who are night owls.
What’s more, employees are also able to perform activities that they wouldn’t be able to do if they were office based. Such as taking a gym break, washing their clothes, or cooking lunch. Flexibility has a positive impact on employees' well-being as their life doesn’t have to fully revolve around work.
Better access to talent
Another great perk of remote work is access to a wider talent pool. Organizations are no longer limited to specific locations. They can seek the best candidates all over the world. And the chances of hiring them are now even higher, as they won’t have to relocate. This is a win-win for both businesses and candidates. The first party saves on relocation costs, while the second gets peace of mind. After all, they don’t have to turn their life upside down to get their dream job.
It also means that you can explore working with more than just full-time employees. A remote or hybrid business can work with freelancers and contractors. Something that you might have not considered viable when operating in a 100% in-house model. This shift is what I’ve noticed across many companies, having started off as a 100% self-employed content marketer just a couple of months before the pandemic.
Cons Of Hybrid Or Fully Remote Workplace
In all objectivity, fully remote or hybrid work isn’t always just sunshine and rainbows. Especially, if you’re unaware of the risks. Here are some of the top challenges for getting it right.
Risk of worsened diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs
Managing and improving your DEI strategy can be difficult, especially in two scenarios:
You’re a global employer, with staff from all corners of the globe
You offer an office space employees can, but don’t have to use
Let’s assume you’re a manager. If there’s a team member who shows up at the office (as do you), you might like them more than your 100% off-siters. In fact, 76% of managers admit that they are more likely to promote someone whom they work with at the office. This is very worrying, as you might end up discriminating against underrepresented groups. For instance, women and employees with a disability.
Also, being a hybrid or remote employer introduces new processes, which raises the risk of bias. Say you have a group of global workers, but schedule weekly team calls at 10 AM EST. This could be seen as discriminatory, as it would force employees in South East Asia to jump on a call at 9 PM. Meanwhile, your EST-based staff would be fresh and at their peak performance.
An easy fix for this would be shifting hours so that they’re inclusive of other time zones. But I think it’s a good example of why a hybrid/remote work model might call for extra effort.
If left unchecked, the culture of burnout can creep its way into the workplace, even in a hybrid model. Your remote team might work longer hours and take fewer breaks than the on-site folks. They might even feel more guilty for taking personal time off in the afternoon and overcompensate by working later.
On the flip side, your on-site employees might have to deal with long commutes, adjusting their personal routines or family emergencies that make it harder to get into the office. That’s why it’s so important to create easy and flexible work schedules that empower employees to find one that works for them, whether at home or in the office.
If you create a culture where employees can speak up or take breaks when they’re feeling overwhelmed, it will help fight remote burnout. Also, if you create an office that is productive, efficient, and delightful, it will help reduce on-site burnout.
Feeling of isolation
When employees are office based, it’s easy for them to stay in touch with each other. They can go for lunch with their team or grab a quick coffee. This changes completely when “back to work” means working remotely. The opportunities for get-togethers are much rarer and have to be very intentional.
It’s understandable that some employees might feel lonely, demotivated, or even sad. This is an especially serious issue for misrepresented groups such as women or employees of color who get fewer opportunities to show what they’re capable of.
Working remotely can also negatively impact collaboration, as exchanging ideas and face-to-face discussions become harder. This can result in poorer decision-making due to lesser input from colleagues.
The pros and cons above focus on the full-time employee perspective. Still, as I’ve mentioned earlier, remote work means you can also explore what freelancers can bring to the table.
Here’s how you can use the shift to hybrid & remote to get the most out of freelance, global talent.
Adjusting To New Paradigms: How to Utilize Freelancers
Perhaps you’re wondering – are there any companies that will benefit from freelance support more than others?
It might come as a surprise, but it’s great for both hybrid/remote companies and 100% office-based ones. How come?
Here are two scenarios.
Option 1: Using freelancers to temporarily fill talent gaps
It might take you a while to find a suitable candidate to fill a position. Especially, if you don’t offer hybrid/remote work. Say you’re looking for a senior React Native (RN) developer. As you look for your employee and run your standard phone and tech interviews, you can work with a talented RN freelancer. To make sure you’re working with the best of the best, you can turn to an elite freelancer community like Match.
Your freelancer (or an entire custom team of freelancers) will work on the project until you’ve brought the full-time employee(s) on board.
Plus, you might end up wanting to keep your freelancers on a long-term basis, which I discuss below.
Option 2: Working with freelancers on a continuous basis
Freelance doesn’t have to mean “one-off”. In my past life, I’ve actually run a software development team that featured both full-time employees and independent contractors. And let me tell you, they’ve complemented each other ideally.
In such an arrangement, you can outsource some of your full-time team’s tasks to the freelancer. Or, you can assign completely different work that they’ll tackle all to themselves.
Imagine that you have a Content Manager but no writers on board. Your employee could assign topics to freelancers every month and focus on executing the content strategy. Meanwhile, the freelancers would provide the blog articles.
Whether you want a freelancer for a short-time project, or bring them on as an alternative to hiring, MVP Match can give you a helping hand.
Best Practices For Designing Return To Work In 2022
Before you make the “back to the office” announcement, here are a few best practices that you can follow that should make it a little easier for your employees.
Pay attention to your employees’ mental health
Employees' mental well-being has worsened because of the pandemic. We are stressed and worried about the future. If you want to make “back to work” a little more pleasant then create the right work environment for your employees. Make it friendly and welcoming! Encourage them to take regular breaks – including screen breaks and holidays.
Make them aware that if they experience mental issues or simply have a worse mood they can talk about it with you or their colleagues. It might be a good idea to also provide them with access to professional help, if necessary.
Check how employees feel about returning to work
While many surveys show that the majority of employees want to work fully or partly remotely, some employees still prefer to be office based. Neither of the two groups should be ignored. Plus, all organizations are different, so the best way to decide if going back to the office is the right decision is to ask your staff how they feel about it. How can you find that out? By running a survey, of course.
Include both closed-ended and open-ended questions to give people the chance to share their thoughts. Consider covering topics like:
Remote work experience
What processes and communication rules do they need
What are their work preferences
What do they need to feel comfortable at work?
Trust your employees that they’re doing their best work, wherever they are
This one goes to all the hybrid employers out there. Don’t judge employees by the number of days they work at the office. If you expect an employee to work from the office two times a week, make sure you don’t think they’re less engaged than those who decide to work on company premises four days a week. This is something that many of my colleagues have told me was happening to them after lockdowns have ended. Their employers were still expecting to see them go back to work at the office.
Treat all your employees fairly and hold them up against the same standards.
Turn to the science of ‘nudges’
Did you know that you can gently encourage your employees to be in the office at the right time? It’s called “nudging” and refers to the practice of helping people with decision-making, without restricting the outcome. For example, you could use a calendar to schedule meetings, with all your subordinates having access to it. If they got a notification that an important meeting is taking place in, let’s say, two days, they’d know that the rest of their team might be there. So, they might feel more motivated to come to the office, too.
After all, it would be a great opportunity to hang out and catch up with their colleagues. You wouldn’t have to make it compulsory for everyone to come. Still, letting the team know that others will be there will give them a little nudge to show up.
Explore freelance support before hiring more full-timers
I know I’ve said it (guilty as charged), but I’ll say it again. Freelancers can help your company reach its objectives without spending time and resources on recruiting and onboarding new full-time members. You get access to global talent, which means your company can become more diverse and benefit from a fresh perspective. Many talented, experienced folks have decided to leave their jobs and become freelancers. So, before you start your standard recruitment process, give it a shot. There’s nothing to lose!
Back to work doesn’t mean “back to the office”
Being back to work means different things for different companies. While some firms are going fully remote, others prefer to go back to the “good, old days” and return to the office. Whichever option you prefer as the employer, it’s worth asking your employees how they feel and what their preferred work model is. And that’s best done through a survey.
If you decide to return to the office, then make sure to:
Look after your employees’ mental well-being
Make the office friendly and welcoming
Explore freelance support before turning to full-timers.
Working with freelancers can be a great way to explore new ideas and gain a fresh perspective; some of the best remote companies work with freelance talent. You can either cooperate with them temporarily to fill talent gaps or use them as long-term support. Whichever option you choose, be sure to check out MVP Match. You’ll get access to some of the world’s best freelancers, and we will match you with the right candidate within 48 hours.