In early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to allow their employees to work remotely. For many business owners, there was significant apprehension over this shift due to concerns about logistical issues, reduced productivity, and limited ability for managers to observe and guide their teams.
More than three years later, these concerns have largely been debunked. Data has found many employees have in fact become more productive, managers have identified ways to effectively supervise their teams, and technology such as Zoom and cloud-based file sharing platforms have rendered most logistical issues moot.
While it’s become clear that many businesses can not only function, but actually thrive in remote environments, we’ve also made another discovery over the last few years – most employees prefer working in these remote and hybrid environments. As a result, we’re seeing a large number of workers prioritizing remote and hybrid work opportunities during a job search.
Regardless of your feelings about the effectiveness of remote and hybrid work models, it’s time to acknowledge that they’re no longer temporary responses to a crippling global pandemic. Remote and hybrid work models are here to stay, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that they represent the future of how businesses will operate. Companies that embrace these working models will be better positioned to attract and retain the top talent in their industry, and this will set them up for long term success.
If your business can accommodate remote and/or hybrid work models, it’s in your best interest to at least consider adopting one of these models. But as with any other critical decision you make, it’s always important to be armed with the knowledge necessary to make the right choice for your short- and long-term success. To help you accomplish this, we’re going to:
- Examine some of the data on remote and hybrid working
- Clarify the difference between these two models
- Highlight some of the benefits and challenges associated with these flexible working arrangements
- Provide some tips to help you set your team up for success if you choose to adopt a remote or hybrid model
Data Shows Many American Workers Prefer Remote and Hybrid Work
While it’s easy to make the claim that workers prefer these flexible models, it’s important to back up these assertions with hard data. Fortunately, there have been enough studies to support the fact that our country is moving towards a more flexible work environment that features remote and hybrid options.
McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey evaluated responses from over 25,000 American workers. This survey included workers in all types of industries, in every part of the country and every sector of the economy. With data from traditional “blue collar” jobs that would be expected to require on-site employees as well as “white collar” professions that would be more ideally suited to remote and hybrid working models, the data becomes even more significant:
- 58% of workers surveyed had the ability to work at home at least once a week
- 35% were able to work remotely five days a week
- 87% of workers who have the chance to work remotely take advantage of the opportunity
- 65% of workers would be willing to work remotely all the time
The results of the McKinsey study reflect sweeping changes currently impacting the US workforce. The study estimates that roughly 92 million workers are offered remote or hybrid work options, 80 million employees actually have one of these working models as part of their job, and a significant number of workers have indicated a search for more flexible work options as a major motivator to change jobs.
A study from Owl Labs found that remote and hybrid workers:
- Were 22% happier than employees in onsite office environments
- Stayed at their jobs longer
- Had less stress, more focus and were more productive
- Experienced better work-life balance
- Experienced better physical and mental well-being
A study by Ergotron also yielded data that indicates many employees view remote and hybrid work environments as beneficial:
- 56% of workers experienced mental health improvements, more physical activity and better work-life balance in remote and hybrid settings
- 88% of workers felt the flexibility to work from home has increased their job satisfaction
- 75% of workers move more frequently and have a more active work style in remote settings
Data from Prodoscore found a 5% increase in productivity during the pandemic work from home period. Furthermore, their data revealed that an employee’s personal traits were a greater indicator of their productivity than their work environment – employees that were highly productive in the office were still productive at home, while individuals who slacked off in the office were more likely to do so at home as well.
According to data by Gusto:
- The number of fully remote employees has increased by 240% since 2021
- Every state has experienced at least a 10% year-over-year increase in the number of fully remote workers since 2021
- 60% of companies now have at least one remote worker, and many of these employees live out of state
- 35% of workers identified location flexibility as the primary deciding factor they used to accept their last job offer
- 48% of workers consider location flexibility to be their primary deciding factor when considering future job offers
- Fully remote workers are 13% less likely to quit within three months of hire, saving businesses thousands of dollars per worker in annual turnover costs
Remote vs. Hybrid Work: What’s the Difference?
There are two different types of flexible work models:
- Remote work
- Hybrid work
In remote work models, employees work at home full time. Generally, there is no central office for employees to come to, although many businesses maintain a smaller office setting where a select number of employees, such as executive team members, have the opportunity to work onsite. Often, these offices are in shared working spaces where each company has just a few offices and access to a conference room to meet with clients. In many fully remote work environments, employees have the ability to live anywhere, including out of state. This provides the benefit of a larger pool of applicants for each job, allowing businesses to hire the best talent regardless of where they live.
In hybrid work models, employees split their time between working in an office and working at home. The number of days in-office vs. remote varies based on the policies of that specific business. Depending on the size of the company and where the bulk of the employees are geographically located, there may be one or more onsite office locations. It’s common for very large national companies that adopt a hybrid model to have several hub offices around the country where their employees must work onsite several days a week. This model limits the ability for employees to live in locations that are too far to commute to the office, eliminating the benefits created by access to a larger talent pool associated with fully remote work.
Benefits of Remote and Hybrid Work Environments
Both employers and employees experience a variety of benefits associated with remote and hybrid work environments.
Many employees find remote and hybrid situations appealing due to:
- Flexible schedules that improve work-life balance
- Less time spent commuting
- Reduced burnout
- Improved productivity
- More efficient use of time
- Improved mental and physical well-being
These working models also present a variety of benefits for employers, including:
- Reduced costs – Businesses can save money on office space, utilities and other expenses
- Expanded talent pool – Businesses can attract the top talent in their industry from all over the country (or even the world) rather than be limited by the options in their local area
- Greater ease of filling open positions – A larger talent pool increases the likelihood of finding a candidate who will be the right fit for open positions sooner, and the attractiveness of remote and hybrid opportunities make your opportunity more appealing to candidates
- Improved productivity – This benefit applies to employers and employees alike, as everyone wins when your team is more productive
- Improved morale – Employees who experience better work-life balance and improved overall well-being will be happier and have higher morale
- Greater employee retention – As a growing number of workers prioritize remote and hybrid opportunities, offering one of these models will make it easier to retain your top talent
Challenges Associated with Remote and Hybrid Work Environments
While the benefits of remote and hybrid work models make these options worth pursuing for most companies that can accommodate offsite employees, it’s still important to be aware of some of the challenges that may arise in these settings.
Maintaining Employee Engagement and Collaboration
When working remotely, it can sometimes be challenging to maintain the same levels of engagement and foster opportunities for collaboration compared with what can be accomplished in an in-office environment. Lack of face-to-face interaction can sometimes result in miscommunication, reduced teamwork and delays in decision making.
Employers can avoid this challenge by prioritizing ways to keep remote workers connected to their team members and including them in important decisions. This requires implementing tools and strategies that improve communication between remote workers. In hybrid formats, in-office days can be structured in a way that promotes collaboration, ensuring that your team has an opportunity to work together.
Blurred Work Boundaries
In a remote or hybrid work environment that allows for flexible working hours, many employees will keep more of a nontraditional schedule where they work outside of typical 9-5 hours. This can sometimes make it more challenging for team members who choose to work less traditional hours to create the boundaries necessary to separate their work and personal lives. Without these boundaries, employees may end up responding to emails late at night and working longer hours than would occur in an office.
To help employees maintain a healthy work-life balance, employers should establish policies that encourage their team to set and stick to established work schedules, even if these schedules aren’t specifically 9-5 working hours. Team members should be discouraged from checking and responding to emails outside of their typical work hours, making it easier for them to disconnect from the stresses of work and recharge before the next day.
Reduced Social Interaction
Many employees who express a preference for working in an office often cite social isolation as the primary reason. Certain individuals thrive on social interactions, and the lack of spontaneous exchanges or informal conversations with coworkers can make them feel disconnected or isolated. While this isn’t an issue for all remote and hybrid workers, it’s still a challenge that exists for some employees and must be addressed by employers to reduce the risk of burnout among individuals who are prone to experiencing social isolation when working at home.
There are many ways to get creative and foster social interaction in remote settings so that employees feel connected to one another. In hybrid settings, giving employees the opportunity to choose how often they come to the office can help those who prefer greater levels of in-person interaction to get what they need and avoid feeling socially isolated.
Greater Difficulty Coordinating Work Schedules
Allowing flexible schedules is a great benefit for your employees, but it also may mean that you won’t have all team members working the same hours each day. This is especially true in fully remote work environments where employees live in different time zones. This can create challenges scheduling meetings and other opportunities for collaboration.
This challenge can easily be overcome by establishing certain times of the day where all employees are expected to be available. Then, meetings and other collaborative projects can be scheduled during these common working hours. Ideally, these common working hours should occur during the middle of the day to avoid a situation where employees in certain time zones must get up extremely early or work extremely late to attend a meeting.
Best Practices to Set Remote and Hybrid Employees Up for Success
Remote and hybrid work models are here to stay, and it’s likely that they will become increasingly prominent over the next few years. For businesses that can accommodate this type of working environment, the benefits are significant, and it’s worthwhile to strongly consider adopting one of these models.
While the challenges discussed above must be taken into account, they’re hardly insurmountable. As long as you put a great deal of thought into how you set up your remote or hybrid work model, you can easily create an environment where your employees can thrive and your business is successful. The following best practices will help you set your team up for success.
Choosing Between Hybrid and Remote Models
The first decision you’ll need to make involves determining whether to adopt a remote or hybrid model. The lessons learned during the pandemic have dispelled many of the myths associated with the importance of employees working in an office. Therefore, if you’re going to require employees to come to the office one or more days a week, there should be a purpose for this decision.
If there is truly a benefit to having all of your employees in the same place one or more days a week, then by all means you should choose a hybrid model. Just keep in mind that you’ll lose some of the most important benefits associated with remote work when you choose a hybrid model:
- Employees will not be able to consider living in other locations since they will need to remain within commuting distance from your office.
- You won’t have access to a larger talent pool that is possible when you’re able to hire the best people, regardless of where they live.
- You’ll still need to incur all the expenses associated with keeping a large office even though it will be empty several days of the week. This will negatively impact your profitability.
- Shifting to remote-first workflows may become more challenging since your office will serve as a crutch to collaboration.
- Informal (unscheduled or unplanned) meetings and brief interactions between coworkers passing each other in the office can hinder productivity compared to what can be accomplished when all team members are working at home with fewer disruptions and distractions.
- If you stagger the days of the week in which employees are in the office, meetings will still need to be held on video conferencing tools such as Zoom. When some team members are in the same room for meetings and others are at home, it can create suboptimal conditions for meetings.
Engage Your Employees to Find Out What They Want and Need in a Work Environment
When deciding what type of work model to implement, it’s always best to engage your team in the process. Speak to your employees personally to find out what they think. Send out surveys to gather additional information and feedback. This will help you establish a work model that more effectively addresses the needs of your entire team.
Some items to seek feedback on include:
- Work preferences of each employee – Some employees may prefer to work at home all the time, others may prefer a hybrid environment, and some may want to be in the office every day. In addition, some employees may prefer flexible work hours while others may want to retain a traditional 9-5 schedule. Understanding the different work preferences of each employee will make it easier to establish a policy that allows everyone to thrive.
- Needs of specific teams – Do teams across your business have different needs or preferences? Some teams may be able to work successfully in a fully remote environment, while others may find it beneficial to collaborate in person several days a week.
- Technology needs – What technology does your team need to thrive in a remote environment? Will you need to provide employees with laptops, extra monitors and other items that allow them to do their job? Are there specific software tools and platforms that must be adopted to allow everyone to access the information they need in a remote environment?
- Best ways to spend time – If you opt for a hybrid model, it’s important to make sure that the in-office time is spent purposefully and productively. Ask your employees about the different types of tasks they feel are ideally suited to being completed at home vs. in the office. Perhaps your team will prefer in-office meetings, but focused work time at home. Perhaps there are certain projects or tasks that need to be worked on in the office, while others are easily completed at home. Making sure you understand how to best structure your work week is critical in hybrid environments.
Not only will engaging your team in the process help you understand what’s truly important to them and make it easier to set your employees up for success, but it will also show them that you value their opinions. When employees feel like their leadership team listens to them and values their ideas, they typically remain more engaged and derive greater satisfaction from their job. This can help you improve employee retention over time.
Provide Opportunities for Communication and Collaboration
The potential for social isolation is real when employees work in remote or hybrid environments. As a result, it’s critical to establish a process that facilitates employee communication and collaboration. Utilizing tools such as Slack or Google Chat can make it easy for team members to check in with each other and ask quick questions. Using video meeting tools such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams can make collaboration much easier as well.
While facilitating work-related communication is critical, it’s also important to provide remote employees with ways to socialize. “Water cooler chats” that occur in offices may detract from productivity, but they are important ways for employees to get to know one another and build camaraderie. A tight-knit team will help boost morale and provide a more positive work environment.
There are several things you can do to ensure your employees maintain social communications:
- Have new employees schedule brief 1:1 “get to know you” meetings with all other team members when they are hired. Keep the focus of these meetings light and personal, allowing new employees to learn about their coworkers’ interests, hobbies, families, etc. This can help establish a rapport more quickly in remote environments.
- Schedule periodic Zoom happy hour meetings where team members can spend a few minutes chatting and catching up with each other. This will help maintain personal connections and improve camaraderie.
- If all your employees live in the same geographic location, organize a monthly in-person happy hour where team members can chat and socialize.
Find the Right Balance of Flexibility and Consistency
The flexibility provided by remote and hybrid work environments can result in less structure than occurs in traditional in-office work environments. While this flexibility is typically an overall benefit, it must be balanced by providing your team with the consistency necessary for them to thrive. Therefore, finding the right balance between the two is critical to achieving a successful work model.
Establishing this balance may involve:
- Coordinating schedules to allow for set meeting times
- Clearly defining the purpose of in-office work and the tasks that must be completed in-office vs. at home (for hybrid work models)
- Establishing agendas for meetings in advance to maximize the value of the time your remote employees spend on these meetings
- Providing clear documentation of all expectations and policies, and ensuring remote employees know where to find these documents
Create Opportunities for Communication Between Leadership and Team Members
When adopting a remote or hybrid work environment, it’s critical that you provide your employees with opportunities to communicate with your leadership team. Employees should have regular check-ins with their managers to ensure everyone is aligned on goals and that employees receive the assistance they need when challenges arise.
In addition, you may want to consider scheduling regular 1:1 meetings between each employee and a member of your executive team. These can be brief 15-minute check-ins where your employees have the opportunity to remain connected with your leadership team, even when they don’t interact face-to-face. This will also make it easier for your leadership team to understand the needs of your employees.