What Hybrid Worker Preferences Reveal About the Future of Work
We don’t need research to tell us the future of work will be much different from pre-pandemic norms. But Covid isn’t the cause. Disruption was happening before 2020. The pandemic merely focused our attention and accelerated the rate of change. So, where is work headed next? It’s impossible to chart this course without considering hybrid worker preferences.
This is why my firm, NextMapping, recently conducted extensive research to explore factors that are redefining the workplace. The result is our 23 Trends For Future of Leadership 2023 Report, based on data from client surveys and online polls, combined with insights from McKinsey, Gartner, and the World Economic Forum.
Wellbeing Remains a Central Concern
Our analysis uncovered a single overarching theme — worker wellbeing. People want work that is flexible enough to fit into their lifestyle. In fact, they’re willing to make professional adjustments to address this priority. And because the market for talent remains competitive, employers need to make workforce wellbeing a priority, as well.
How does this translate into hybrid worker preferences? We see clear trends in how people want to work, where they want to work, and who they want to work for. There’s no doubt that hybrid work is here to stay! These data points make a compelling case:
- 66% of workers worldwide prefer to participate in a hybrid workplace.
- 26% of U.S. workers currently operate in some kind of hybrid mode.
- 40% of workers say they’re more productive working remotely. However, 52% prefer hybrid work over a fully remote model.
- People consider in-office work important for networking, team camaraderie, and enhanced relationships. They also think onsite work can improve training, learning, and knowledge sharing.
- Remote work is perceived as helpful for including workers from various locations and completing projects or tasks with minimal interruption.
Hybrid Work is Not One-Size-Fits-All
There are multiple ways to define hybrid work, as these statistics suggest:
- People want to structure their own hybrid schedules. Most would rather choose their in-office days, with 76% preferring to work in-office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays.
- Workers want fewer meetings, and they want each meeting to be more effective. In fact, 66% say ineffective meetings reduce their overall productivity.
- People prefer accessible leaders who are strong coaches. This is so important that 81% of workers say they quit a job to leave a “toxic” boss at some point in the past three years.
- Workers want an employer that invests in their future. 55% note that their company provides learning roadmaps, growth opportunities, and succession plans.
Overall, our findings indicate that hybrid workplace success depends on leaders who are comfortable managing the unique and variable needs of people who are operating in multiple work modes. It requires flexible, agile leaders who can adapt to diverse personalities and work styles. These leaders need higher-order soft skills. I call them super crucial human skills.
How Leaders Can Support Hybrid Worker Preferences
To better understand how to lead more effectively in this new environment, let’s look closer at hybrid worker preferences:
1. More Scheduling Choice
Knowing workers want to choose the days they work on-site and offsite, leaders will benefit from conducting ongoing conversations with individual team members about scheduling that works best for them.
Some leaders have proximity bias. In other words, they want everyone to be in the office because it’s their preference. Proximity bias creates a barrier that keeps leaders from listening to employees and developing trusted relationships.
Some leaders have told me they don’t think people are working as hard when they work remotely. This, too, is a bias. Leaders can’t be effective if they base decisions on inaccurate performance data and make assumptions based on personal biases.
2. Fewer and Better Meetings
I know several hybrid work leaders who have fallen into the trap of booking more meetings because they think this improves inclusion. But it’s time for everyone to re-evaluate meeting practices with a more discerning eye.
The rise of virtual meeting tools makes it easier to schedule more meetings. But less may be more. When does a topic or project truly deserve a meeting? Who really needs to attend? Could a modified approach lead to better results?
Ideally, every meeting has a “why” and a facilitator who is ready to make good use of participants’ time. Some creative thinking can help you build a more effective agenda and achieve useful outcomes.
For example, polling and survey tools (such as PollEverywhere and SurveyMonkey) can help you gather worker insights about subjects that require team input. This means you can sidestep some meetings intended to gather verbal input. In other cases, these tools can help you prepare an agenda that will make meetings more productive.
3. More Access to Leaders
Hybrid workers prefer accessible leaders who are great coaches with high emotional intelligence. This is an excellent opportunity for leaders who want to coach and inspire their teams more effectively. But leading with high emotional intelligence requires great skill.
The hybrid workplace has increased the need for leaders to adapt to a combination of in-office communication and virtual communication. In the past, we called these capabilities soft skills. But for success now and in the future, I think we should reframe these skills as “super crucial human” skills.
The ability to pivot and navigate uncertain waters, while also remaining open and caring is the most critical skill development challenge for leaders in 2023.
4. Deeper Involvement in Future Plans
Lastly, workers prefer to know “what’s next” when it comes to their future. Organizations that offer a roadmap of growth opportunities, succession plans, and talent mobility enjoy higher workforce retention. These practices will become even more important, going forward.
Leaders can collaborate with their team members to help co-create a professional path that is flexible and fulfilling. When workers feel that their leaders care about their future and are invested in helping them succeed, it strengthens their commitment to their leaders, their work, and their organization.
This is Only One Leadership Priority
No doubt, hybrid workplaces will continue to shift and require everyone to adapt. But we see other important trends emerging this year, as well. For instance, automation will have an increasingly important role in helping people produce better-quality work. Also, leaders will benefit from shifting their perspective from “me” to “we.”
To learn more about all 23 trends we’re tracking for 2023 and beyond, watch our research summary video: