Contrasting hybrid, remote, and traditional work
When the coronavirus pandemic first struck, the world experienced 10 years of technological evolution in only three months. The shift to distributed work was one of the core trends driving this evolution, something it continues to do even now. In October 2020, Pew Research reported 71% of Americans were working from home, with 54% wanting to continue doing so “most of the time” post-pandemic.
In another survey conducted by PwC, only 8% of employees indicated they would not want to work remotely. Twenty-nine percent expressed interest in working from home five days a week. Meanwhile, further research by McKinsey suggests 85% of executives across all industries have either somewhat or greatly accelerated the implementation of technologies intended to support remote work. Of that 85%, 38% expected their remote employees would work two or more days a week, and 19% anticipated three or more.
Although distributed work is not practical for many, businesses that can support telecommuting clearly plan to do so. And though a completely remote workplace is unlikely, virtual collaboration has now become non-negotiable for most. To understand what makes hybrid work so valuable, let's look at how a hybrid workplace differs from a fully remote and a fully physical one.
Traditional work isn’t going away anytime soon
Although it’s overwhelmingly popular with employees, telecommuting will likely never fully replace the traditional workplace. Not every business is suited for distributed work, and not every job can be done from home. For example, tradespeople cannot work remotely, nor can most service industry staff. McKinsey estimates approximately 60% of workers in the U.S. economy cannot work remotely, either because they need highly-specialized equipment or to be physically present.
Economic development also plays a crucial role in whether a business can support a distributed or hybrid approach. Research from the University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute suggests less developed countries' share of work that can be done entirely from home is significantly lower — in some cases, it drops as low as 5%.
And though remote work has its advantages, the traditional office is not without merit. In-person collaboration boosts networking opportunities and deeper connections between colleagues, while also making scheduling meetings and other events easier. From a management point of view, a physical office also allows more effective evaluation and supervision. Careers in which remote work is challenging or impossible include:
- Food services
- Farming, fishing and forestry
- Transportation and logistics
- Production and manufacturing
- Equipment installation, maintenance and repair
- Personal care
- Protective services
Distributed work has redefined how we operate
By now, many of us have lots of experience with the distributed workplace. Supported by meeting platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom, collaboration tools like Slack, and project management software like Trello or Monday, a fully remote office allows employees to work from whatever location suits them. Although some may choose to travel to a public place such as a coffee shop or a co-work location, many prefer working from home.
Many of the concerns about remote work have, over the course of the pandemic, proved unfounded. For instance, a Stanford University study found during nine months of remote work, overall productivity increased by 13%, and turnover decreased by 50%. Another study by Great Place to Work, from March 2019 to August 2020, found workplace productivity either increased or remained stable thanks to remote work.
Comfort, flexibility, and a lack of daily commutes are among the benefits of remote work from an employee's perspective. As for employers, distributed work can lead to lower infrastructure and equipment costs while increasing employee satisfaction and significantly expanding the talent pool. Yet despite all its benefits, the all-or-nothing approach of distributed work is less than ideal. According to FlexJobs, although 65% of employees wish to work remotely full-time, 31% prefer to work in the office at least some of the time. And remote work is not without drawbacks.
Culture and communication aside, distributed work poses a significant security challenge for many organizations. Some employees may lack the necessary connectivity or equipment to collaborate virtually. Finally, isolation and loneliness can impact productivity, decision-making, and employee health.
Why the hybrid workplace is the future
The issue with both fully remote and fully physical boils down to one thing — each option represents the extreme of an all-or-nothing approach to distributed work. And the reality, is far more nuanced. Accenture’s 2021 Future of Work Survey found 83% of workers favor hybrid work over other options. The study notes how hybrid work blends the best of both worlds — allowing in-person collaboration and networking experienced in a brick-and-mortar office alongside the flexibility, larger talent pool, and comfort of distributed work. The greatest benefit of hybrid work is employee freedom. Supporting distributed and traditional work models allows employees to work however best fits their unique needs. The greatest drawback of a hybrid model is a more significant cultural shift than even distributed work.
Per Accenture, to effectively support a hybrid workplace, a business must:
- Design work around people rather than processes: Hybrid work doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach, and the best organizations are the ones who prioritize the safety and well-being of their teams
- Focus on building trust and accountability between employees and leadership: Consider a model Accenture refers to as Net Better Off — a framework based on the six dimensions of emotional and mental, relational, physical, financial, purposeful and employable, to rethink your workplace structure
- Make your company’s digital fluency a priority: Focus on updated technology, transformative processes, a collaborative approach to leadership, and place value on knowledge and skills to support digital transformation
- Recognize all change starts from the top: Emphasize the responsibility of leadership in creating a culture of autonomy, experimentation, and continual improvement.
No one could have predicted the pandemic and how it’s changed the world. But as we look towards a future without the current safety measures and restrictions, it's clear all the resulting challenges are largely positive. Working in a hybrid structure has massive potential and benefits. What remains is figuring out how to support and embrace it.
How is your company making the transition to the hybrid workplace? Let our team of experts help you with cloud communication solutions to streamline the process.