5 min read

Contrasting hybrid, remote and traditional work

Insights
Sinch Hybrid Work
Share to:

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% expressing the desire 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, and 29% expressed interest in working from home five days a week. Meanwhile, further research by McKinsey indicates 85% of executives, across all industries, have either somewhat or greatly accelerated the implementation of technologies intended to support remote work. Of those executives, 38% expected their remote employees would work two or more days a week, and 19% anticipated three or more.

Although distributed work is not feasible for many, it’s clear businesses who can support telecommuting intend to do so. And though a completely remote workplace is at present unlikely, virtual collaboration has now become non-negotiable for most businesses. As restrictions begin to ease and the pandemic gradually draws to a close, it’s apparent a new breed of hybrid work will remain, one which comes with significant benefits. To understand what factors make hybrid work so valuable, you must first look at how a hybrid workplace differs from both a fully remote and 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 easily 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 require highly-specialized equipment or because their position requires them to maintain a physical presence.

Economic development also plays a crucial role in whether a business can support a distributed or hybrid approach. In less-developed economies, notes research from the University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute, the share of work which can be done entirely from home is significantly lower — in some cases, the share drops as low as 5%.

And though remote work does have its advantages, the traditional office is not without merit, as well. In-person collaboration tends to promote greater networking opportunities and deeper connections between colleagues, while also making it easier to schedule meetings and other events. From a management perspective, a physical office also enables more effective evaluation and supervision. Careers in which remote work is challenging or impossible include:

  • Healthcare
  • Food services
  • Farming, fishing and forestry
  • Transportation and logistics
  • Production and manufacturing
  • Construction
  • Cleaning/Janitorial
  • Equipment installation, maintenance and repair
  • Personal care
  • Protective services

Distributed work has redefined how we operate

By now, many of us have extensive 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 is most convenient to them. Many times, the location ends up being their home, though some staff may choose to travel to a public place such as a coffee shop or a co-work location.

Many of the concerns about remote work have, over the course of the pandemic, proved largely unfounded. For instance, a Stanford University study found during a period of nine months of remote work, overall productivity increased by 13% and turnover decreased by 50%. Another study by Great Place to Work, conducted from March 2019 to August 2020, found workplace productivity either increased or remained stable as a result of remote work.

Comfort, flexibility, and a lack of a daily commute are among the most significant benefits of remote work from an employee perspective. As for employers, distributed work has the potential to lead to lower infrastructure and equipment costs, while also increasing employee satisfaction and granting access to a significantly larger talent pool. Yet for 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 itself not without drawbacks.

Culture and communication aside, distributed work poses a significant security challenge for many organizations. Some employees, furthermore, may lack the necessary connectivity or equipment to facilitate virtual collaboration. Finally, isolation and loneliness are significant problems, impacting not only productivity and decision-making but also employee health.

Why the hybrid workplace is the future

The issue with both fully remote and fully physical boils down to one thing as each option represents an extreme of an all-or-nothing approach to distributed work. And reality, as is so often the case, is far more nuanced. Accenture’s 2021 Future of Work Survey found 83% of workers favor hybrid work over other options. The Accenture study notes this is because hybrid work blends the best of both worlds — it enables the 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 to hybrid work is employee freedom, by supporting both a distributed and a traditional model of work, a business gives its employees the opportunity to work in whatever fashion meshes with their unique needs. The greatest drawback of a hybrid model is the requirement of 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: Your business can do this using a model Accenture refers to as Net Better Off, a framework, which calls upon 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: You can do this with updated technology, transformative processes, a collaborative approach to leadership and placing value on knowledge and skills which 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.

Future-focused

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 becomes clear all the resulting challenges are largely positive. Working in a hybrid structure has enormous potential and benefits. What remains is figuring out how you can best support and therefore 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 make your workplace transition a smooth one.