Each year around this time, “future of work” conversations start to gain more traction in preparation for the annual predictions about what “normal” work-life will be in the coming year. The ongoing pandemic, however, has accelerated those discussions as more employers and employees are operating efficiently in their so-called new normal state. In previous years, there were multiple, opposing models that defined the future of work, but this year is different. The overwhelming majority of workforce planners looking to the future are certain that in order for employers to be competitive, attract, and retain the best current and prospective employees, they must embrace a hybrid work model:
All employees work a portion of the week remotely and a portion of the week onsite.
Some employees work fully remotely and some work fully onsite.
A combination of A and B.
While there is an agreement that the future of office work is hybrid, determining how best to apply one of those options is being heavily debated. The surge in infections from the Delta and other variants, concerns over unvaccinated and vaccinated employees’ ability to spread the virus, and debates over mask mandates, requires employers apply the lessons learned over the past 18 months and institute hybrid work models that can be adapted, managed, and realigned at lightning speed to mitigate long-term adverse disruptions to employee satisfaction and engagement, productivity, and efficiency.
To that end, apply the following factors when selecting and instituting a model:
1. Put safety first
In January 2021, PwC released a report stating 43 percent of employers want employees fully back in the office as soon as possible while the majority of employees wanted the return to office to take place more slowly. And while an April 2021 Zoom survey revealed that 66 percent of workers are eagerly anticipating returning to the office (at least a few days a week), given the uptick in COVID-19 infections since these results were published, it can be assumed that one of the factors contributing to extending the timeline is safety. Throughout the pandemic, safety, both physical and emotional, has been a hot topic. When designing their hybrid models, employers can look to OSHA and the National Law Review, which offer the following safety recommendations.
Follow CDC, state, and local guidelines with respect to capacity, social distancing, mask mandates, testing, and vaccination requirements.
Conduct a hazard assessment.
Adopt stricter cleaning and disinfecting protocols and provide items like soap, water, hand sanitizer and paper towels that encourage employees and visitors to be more diligent with hygiene.
Provide training on the signs, symptoms, and risk factors, and proper use of PPE.
Ensure employees understand their rights to a safe and healthy work environment, rights to raise concerns and seek inspections, know who to contact with questions or concerns, and are aware of prohibitions against retaliation for raising workplace safety and health concerns.
Allow for self-evaluation and monitoring of signs and symptoms, require that they stay home while sick, implement return to work guidelines post-illness.
Keep face-to-face meetings small and/or require face coverings and social distancing when meeting.
Configure shared office and common workspaces that support a flexible workforce and/or individual workspaces used by multiple employees with alternating schedules.
Ensure there is a policy for visitors to certify they aren’t experiencing symptoms and that they will follow your worksite policies.
You can also learn about the importance of valuing safety in the workplace in terms of diversity recruitment in InHerSight’s own data: Want to Attract Female Talent Post-Pandemic? Take Care of Your Team Now
2. Determine the ideal number of remote workdays
When asked the question, “How often would you want to work remotely after COVID-19 is no longer a concern (if your employer allowed you to work remotely as you want to)?” PwC reported only 8 percent of employees surveyed would not want to work remotely and 55 percent of employees say they’d want to work remotely at least three days a week.
These findings highlight a disconnect between employers and employees since only 24 percent of employers surveyed expect many or all office employees to work remotely for a significant amount of their time. Coupled with LinkedIn data that revealed since March 2021 there has been a 60 percent increase in volume of job seekers looking for remote work, employers who fail to chart a plan with their employees to determine optimal remote work schedules that shift to hybrid models will likely find themselves a part of the “Great Resignation” and have a harder time attracting future employees.
3. Be flexible
One of the top reasons employees leave organizations is a need for flexibility. As such, a successful and efficient hybrid work model will have to be flexible. When designing hybrid models, employers should go beyond flexibility in working hours and location, but also account for and provide flexibility that addresses the various needs of different employee populations, such as by age, family situation, and tenure. According to the Zoom survey, younger remote workers between 18–34 prefer to work mostly from the office, while older remote workers who are 65+ prefer to work mostly from home. The PwC report found that women are more likely to prefer three or more remote days, and only 41 percent of women with children believe that their employers have been successful in extending benefits for child care.
They also reported that those who are least experienced want more time in the office and those who have recently onboarded believe that transitioning to hybrid remote work after being acclimated in the office is preferred. As general rules, flexibility should always promote team-building with those who are co-located, and there should be mechanisms in place (equipment and resources) to support various employee demographics.
4. Communicate effectively
Effective communication in the workplace has myriad benefits such as boosting productivity, innovation and job satisfaction, increased employee engagement, collaboration, and team-building, and reducing workplace conflict. When rolling out a new hybrid model, clearly communicate expectations, ensure that all levels of leadership and employees are on the same page, and share information early and often.
Lastly, when communicating your plan, be mindful of how your messaging is being received. For example, framing your hybrid work model as a “return to work” as opposed to a return to the office can be a huge turnoff for an employee population that has maintained or exceeded productivity and performance goals despite the extreme challenges brought on by the global pandemic.