The genie is out of the bottle re: hybrid and remote work

Q:  I am working remotely and my manager wants us to return to the office July 1st.  He believes everyone who works from home is watching the “Price is Right.”  Without the interruptions at the office, I have been far more productive and more engaged.  I also have saved on gas and travel expenses.  I used to leave my house at 7:30am to be in the office by 8:30am.  Now I am online at 8am, and working more.   My team and I have scheduled a Friday lunch together, so we’re are connecting.  I have friends and relatives who have moved to Florida, Vermont and North Carolina.

A:  The genie is out of the bottle.  It will be a challenge for employers to return to the expectation that all employees will return to the office full-time.  Some industries have little choice, including healthcare, hospitality and lab services.  However, the vast majority of employers may need to re-think expectations.

During the summer of 2021, many of us were planning on a return to the office in 2021.  However, as a country, we saw COVID variants and many employees leaving the workforce.  The fight for labor became an uphill climb.  Attracting and retaining talent has become a challenge.

Employers are struggling with ways to attract talent.  A shortened or compressed work week, increased compensation opportunities, hybrid or fully remote schedules, strong benefits offerings and an increased commitment to wellness, including mental health support.  According to a 2022, Harvard Business Review article entitled “11 Trends that Will Shape Work in 2022 and Beyond,” 90% or more of employers are expected to offer some type of hybrid workplace for knowledge workers in 2022.  What was a Silicon Valley perk is now a necessity for organizations looking to compete for talent.   Many employers are more reliant on video communication tools like Zoom or Teams.  Virtual interviews and virtual performance reviews are now widely accepted.  Some of the benefits of this “new normal” include:

  • Employees can avoid long commutes, challenging parking, inclement weather and the “cost of lunch” hassles.
  • Employers are able to attract and retain employees outside of their normal commuting range.
  • Employers are able to reduce the footprint of their office space, thereby reducing their commercial real estate expense. They can look into site to invest in best properties.
  • Employees who enjoy a bit of flexibility in their day and can run to the dentist, make lunch at home, or pick up a prescription (without taking half-day off or running errands on a Saturday).
  • Some employees report more focused time and fewer interruptions than when they sit in their cubicle in an open office.
  • Many employees report a better work/life balance.  Instead of waking up at 6:00am to get into Boston by 9:00am, they can wake up at 7:30am, take a walk and start their workday by 8:30am.

Of course, with every change, there are some downsides also:

  • Increased isolation can be a problem for some.
  • Employers worry about less “impromptu” collaboration and communication opportunities.
  • Some employees struggle with not being to unplug.
  • There may be distractions at home, whether it is a dog barking or a the sound of landscaper.
  • Technology hassles like weak wifi or a less than reliable printer can impede productivity.
  • For new hires, it is sometimes more difficult to onboarding and feel connected to the employers.

Employers who dismiss hybrid work schedules will struggle to attract and retain candidates employees in the current employment market.  The pendulum will likely shift, back to employers, at some point.  However, in 2022 and likely 2023, candidates and employees are in the driver’s seat.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.