Hybrid, home, or office? The future of work post-pandemic
December 8, 2021
It seems like only yesterday that we were opening up our laptops at the beginning of the pandemic and having our first real encounter with the world of remote working.
Initially, working from home was a series of awkward moments playing out on our desktops. Accidentally leaving our cameras and microphones on, dealing with frozen screens and faulty connection, cringing when a family member would stumble into the room and interrupt a call with the boss.
We’ve all been there.
Almost two years on, it’s safe to say that we’ve come on in leaps and bounds since then, having adapted to remote working.
With offices now slowly opening their doors back up again – a steady stream of commuters trickling back into their company buildings bright and early each morning – we’re in a bit of a limbo stage.
It’s difficult to ascertain how remote working will be incorporated into our working lives post-pandemic.
So, where do we go from here?
In this article, we’ll try to paint a picture of the different scenarios at hand: office, home, or hybrid. We’ll dive into the pros and cons of each, in a bid to determine what the future of work looks like.
Back to the daily grind: returning to the office
As a rule, most large corporates are keen to get their employees back in the office. A number of different factors play into this decision.
Training and support in the workplace
There’s no denying that working from home makes it harder to communicate effectively and establish genuine relationships with colleagues.
When our screens are constantly freezing over and our lagging microphones lead to awkward interruptions, it can be difficult to feel truly connected to those we’re working with.
Especially for new starters and graduates, there’s no replacement for human interaction. It’s crucial that young, entry level staff get the support and training they need in a new role.
Larger, corporate firms in particular need to provide effective orientation and mentorship to their employees.
According to research by the Harvard Business Review, both our personal and professional networks have dwindled by close to 16% in the aftermath of the pandemic.
If companies want to cultivate a true community amongst their employees, in-person facetime is indispensable.
Less distractions, more convenience
True – the prospect of getting up every morning and dragging our feet to the office can seem a little bleak. But we’d be lying if we said that the office didn’t serve a crucial purpose.
In order to work efficiently and productively, we need a stable environment dedicated to hard work and focus.
The power of a stimulating work environment is undeniable.
In the office, we have far fewer distractions than within the four walls of our homes. In-person work also makes it easier to draw a line between work and home. It establishes a much-needed boundary to separate our personal lives from our careers.
Long-term stress and lack of motivation are far more common when working from home, a fact that we explored in our blog post on burnout.
Convenience-wise, working in an office ensures that you’ll never be left in the lurch when you need a particular resource.
In an office, everything you need for work is at your disposal. That book you need for research purposes? That tool your next task requires? Chances are, these are all no more than a few paces away from your desk.
For the sake of fairness
It’s also been argued that it’s fairer to have an in-person work policy.
Working from home can be very comfortable…for some. Given that you have a roomy, peaceful setup in your five-bed terraced house with a garden and your own personal office, that is.
But for those without a designated workspace at home, remote working is a little less appealing.
Returning employees to the office full-time ensures a universal policy across the board. One that doesn’t put employees who may have challenging home situations at a disadvantage.
Staying put and working from home
For smaller businesses in particular, there’s a lot of appeal to the prospect of working solely from home. So, what are the benefits of remote working?
One of the obvious benefits of working exclusively from home is the slashing of office rental costs.
The process is already underway for many companies across the world. According to a survey by RSM conducted in January of this year, three-quarters of UK-based mid-sized businesses are considering or have already begun reducing their physical office space.
Looking at one example in particular, Capita have set out with the goal of closing a quarter of their offices by the end of this year in a bid to cut spending.
Fairness and freedom
When discussing the benefits of in-person work, we mentioned the fairness of a policy that insisted on employees returning to work in the office. There is a counterargument to this, however.
Some claim that working from home is in some ways more beneficial to disadvantaged employees.
Remote working means that employees can avoid spending money on the daily commute into the office. It also benefits disabled employees, as well as those with young children who perhaps cannot afford to juggle office work with childcare.
Working from home unlocks a whole new level of freedom for workers.
Working an office-based job, we sometimes run the risk of clocking in at 9am, scrolling on our phones whilst sat at our desks and then leaving the office promptly at 5pm, thoroughly convinced that we’ve had a productive day.
Remote working ensures that companies measure outcomes and results over the number of hours spent chained to our office desks.
The freedom that working from home permits us is unprecedented.
What would’ve been unheard of ten years ago is suddenly very much within the realm of possibility. This is due to rapid advances in technology.
Instead of travelling across the country (or the globe) for the sake of a business meeting or event, you can log on to a Teams call with colleagues based in India or Sweden, from the comfort of your flat in London.
Going hybrid: the best of both worlds?
Both office and remote working have their fair share of pros and cons. Is a hybrid approach the future of work?
Whilst it’s easy to fall into the trap of presuming that hybrid working is the perfect compromise, it’s definitely not the fix-all solution you’d perhaps expect it to be.
A number of companies have adopted the approach of designating certain days of the week to in-person work, often using these days for projects that require more collaborative efforts, whilst setting aside other days for remote working, where employees can get their teeth into more independent tasks that don’t require an office environment.
Sounds great in theory, right?
The flaws in the hybrid working model
The reality is that hybrid working is not one-size-fits-all.
For one thing, it’s extremely industry-dependant. Whilst hybrid working is possible for businesses providing a service, such as recruitment, consulting, financial and law firms, it makes little sense to those working in the hospitality and retail sectors, for example.
A more mixed / hybrid approach to work also runs the risk of causing inequality.
It could cause diversity problems, as many employees with mobility issues, children to look after, or further distances to travel would be less inclined to go into the office. Meanwhile, young working professionals living centrally, in close proximity to the office, would likely commute more often, in a bid to make themselves more visible to their superiors and earn promotion.
Office workers would be disproportionately favoured for career progression. To many, hybrid working does not cultivate the positive company culture that comes with working exclusively from the office. It instead creates an unequal playing field that counteracts the freedom and fairness of purely remote working, too.
Sid Sijbrandij, CEO of GitLab, labelled hybrid working ‘the worst of both worlds’.
Then what’s the solution?
Hybrid working is sure to become the norm in sectors where it’s possible to implement. However, the extent to which this will be the case remains to be seen.
One thing’s for sure: gone are the days of purely office-bound work. The pandemic and advances in technology have fundamentally changed the landscape of work forever.
We’re not quite sure what that will look like. But we’re thoroughly convinced that the world of work will never be the same again.
December 19, 2023