Just over a year ago, the world of work closed down. For millions of employees around the world, remote work became a reality – for many, literally overnight.
At the time, many people thought it would be a 21-day lockdown, and we’d be back in the office again in no time. 12 months later, we’re wrestling with the next big disruptor: the move to ‘hybrid work’, where we try and balance some employees returning to the workplace while others work from home (WFH).
As the Wall Street Journal pointed out this month, it’s not as easy as it seems. In an article headlined Companies Wrestle With Hybrid Work Plans—Awkward Meetings and Midweek Crowding, it talked about the challenges involved in deciding who goes back to the office (and when), how to reconfigure offices to ensure socially distanced working, and how to conduct meetings when half the people are in a room and the other half are dialling in. We know the pain.
Some people may never go back to the office
At the height of the pandemic last year, many companies were quick to announce permanent WFH plans. E-commerce giant Shopify said it would allow its 5,000 employees to continue working remotely after its offices reopen in 2021. Facebook is steaming ahead with its plans to transition thousands of jobs out of the office over the next decade. Companies like Dropbox, Atlassian and Twitter said they would allow most employees to work from home "forever."
Some workers may never return to the office – and we need to start wrapping our heads around that. In fact, as I wrote in February, remote work is creating new job opportunities for millions of people in the new digital-first, virtual economy. In a hybrid work world, talent is everywhere. This is a massive inflection point.
Finding the best of both worlds
But here’s the challenge. Lots of people want to go back to the office, for at least some of the time. They’re hungry for the human connection and camaraderie of the workplace. They want the best of both worlds: a survey of more than 2,000 office workers found more than 70 percent of workers want flexible remote work options to continue, while over 65 percent are craving more in-person time with their teams. Software company Salesforce found that 80% of its workers want to maintain a connection to a physical office space.
For Salesforce, the solution has been to permanently switch to three ways of working: fully-remote, office-based or flex, with most employees set to work in the office one to three days a week for team collaboration, customer meetings and presentations.
Microsoft has developed a Hybrid Workplace Dial that defines six stages based on current health conditions: Closed; Mandatory WFH; WFH Encouraged; Soft Open; Open with Restrictions; Open. It’s just moved to Stage 4, Soft Open, where people can choose to go to the office, but are still encouraged to WFH.
Google said in December that it would be testing a flexible workweek once it’s safe to return to the office, with employees required to work in the office at least three days a week.
At TransUnion, we’ve long promoted working from home as part of an inexorable shift towards a flexible working model. This is what the future looks like. But this only works when we make a clear mindset shift to a workplace that focuses on the health and wellbeing of its people, and is committed to giving them the best employee experience possible.
The way forward
So what does this all mean? The fact that every company is developing its own approach and guidelines shows that none of us has the definitive answer yet. We’re all learning as we go. What we do know is this: the world of work has shifted fundamentally, and we need to be more flexible and open to hybrid work environments than ever.
For me, this is the perfect time for us as business leaders to revisit our workplaces and explore ways to accelerate our transition to a digital workforce while keeping our culture and social capital alive and thriving. What remote working did was make us all more human: we met each others’ children, spouses and pets. We saw into our colleagues’ homes. We have the opportunity to bridge the physical and digital worlds in a way that keeps us authentic, engaged and innovative. We must not waste this chance.
What hybrid working plans does your business have in place? Are you considering permanent WFH plans, or downscaling your physical offices? I’d love to hear from you.