More than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic first upended work and life, business owners, HR leaders, and workers are continuing to adjust to an ever-evolving situation.
Now, as offices reopen and vaccinated workers are brought back into a centralized workplace, the big question is:
What can we expect from the near future of work?
Is it “back to normal?”
Some organizations, such as Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan, are steadfastly going back to their pre-2020 normal.
Other companies are bringing employees back to the office on a part-time basis, while some are going full-time remote. One example is Quora, which announced early during the pandemic that it was switching to a remote-first culture for good.
What’s the best way forward?
The clear answer is that it depends on the individual company. More importantly, it depends on the individuals within your company.
Think about it this way:
We have lived alongside coronavirus for more than 18 months. Employees have been expected to upend their daily routines and find a way to work from home productively while adapting to the terrifying enormity of the health crisis.
It took a great deal of coping, adjusting, and compromising.
As a result, our perception of “normal” has shifted. And the expectations and needs of workers have changed, too.
Unsurprisingly, many people aren’t happy to go “back to normal.”
“The great resignation”
One study found that nearly three in 10 employees (29 percent) would quit their jobs if they were told they were no longer allowed to work remotely.
That’s why the current situation is being dubbed “the great resignation” or “the resignation boom.”
Even now, amid continuing uncertainty, people are willing to leave their place of employment in favor of greater flexibility.
Ignoring employees’ needs will only risk demotivating staff, eroding company culture, and increasing turnover.
Is WFH here to stay?
Although working from home is far from perfect, it’s impossible to ignore the benefits of remote work.
Trusting employees to work remotely is empowering.
This leads to motivation, loyalty, and productivity. In fact, studies show that people who worked from home during the pandemic maintained, or exceeded, productivity levels.
The real question is, do your people actually want to work from home?
One study found that 89 percent of people want to work from home at least some of the time after the crisis ends.
However, the same research found that it is actually flexibility that most workers are interested in, not a wholesale rejection of the traditional office model.
Only a relatively small proportion of workers–one in four–would switch to a completely remote work model if they could.
Remember that these are general studies. What happens in your company depends on your own research.
As noted in a recent TalentCulture blog by HR specialist Cheryl Halverson: “It’s imperative to understand employees’ needs and hopes for this new world of work. You can achieve this through active listening via focus groups, ongoing employee pulse surveys, employee advisory groups, and honest discussions between managers and direct reports.”
Armed with these insights, Halverson recommends using them to co-create “an envisioned future.”
This is a future where employees are involved in the development, understanding, and communication of that future so they can adopt, advocate for, and believe in it.
Moving forward, flexibly
For those companies that choose a flexible future, this can manifest itself in various ways.
Considered the best of both worlds, a hybrid model combines two or three days each week working from home with the rest of the time in the office. This provides plenty of in-person collaboration with the benefits of a reduced commute and home-based flexibility. Some studies show that the sweet spot is two days of remote work each week.
Hub and spoke
Rather than bringing workers back to a central office, employers can utilize coworking spaces or other branch offices to provide a workplace that’s near their employees’ homes. By decentralizing, workers can still enjoy a reduced commute but are free from any home-based distractions.
Full-time remote work
Some companies have shifted to a full-time remote work policy. It’s an extreme move, but after more than a year of working from home, these employers have had plenty of time to fine-tune their strategy.
Some companies that continue to work remotely may want to keep a central office, mainly as a collaboration hub for team meetings or simply to “keep up appearances.”
However, retaining an office lease for the primary reason of keeping a physical presence is an expensive option.
As an alternative, some companies are now switching to a virtual office solution.
A virtual office provides companies with a head office address, a place to receive mail, and access to on-site meeting rooms and private offices when required.
However, the cost is considerably lower because the company doesn’t rent physical office space full-time. Instead, they only rent the address.
When physical space is required, it’s available on a pay-as-you-go basis.
This way, companies can keep an active presence in a specific location without the cost of maintaining a physical office.
The virtual office model has been around for decades, but in response to the pandemic, the popularity of virtual office centers has grown considerably.
The near future of work
Going forward, we can expect to see a medley of workplace models and trends.
Rather than a dominating trend, the future of work is a sliding scale.
At one end is the full-time corporate office, at the other is home-based remote work, and somewhere in the middle is the hybrid work option: the happy medium.
Various strategies accompany this sliding scale, including the use of virtual offices and on-demand meeting room rentals.
What’s absolutely clear is that, following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the future of work is being influenced by those who really matter: your people.
You have the opportunity to co-create a new, positive culture and a stronger future for your company.
What comes next depends on your individual organization and the individuals you employ within your organization. Finally, the choice is where it belongs: in the hands of the people.
This post is sponsored by Alliance Virtual.