- Company leaders plan to only offer half the number of work-from-home days that employees want.
- 40% of workers are prepared to leave their jobs if forced to return to the office.
- This growing divide among employees and leaders can lead to significantly lower engagement and higher turnover.
The post-pandemic return to the office doesn’t signal the return of work life as we knew it. Rather than a temporary shift, the forced exodus from workplaces in 2020 have opened up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redefine work.
Instead of heading back full-force, employers and employees alike have been reconsidering old norms and assumptions about effective workplace models. In other words, we’re seeing an unprecedented openness towards adopting more flexible hybrid work.
But there’s just one problem: for all the talk of embracing hybrid work, leaders and employers aren’t seeing eye to eye on what such arrangements will look like.
For example, a recent survey by the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics found that employers only plan to offer half the number of work-from-home days (1.2 per week) that employees want (2.4 per week).
The lack of alignment is about more than those 1.2 days might suggest—and if companies don’t get their hybrid strategies right, it could spell disaster for the future of their workforces.
The employer-employee divide
Why is there so much disagreement about what the future of work will look like?
To understand the current divide between workers and businesses, it’s important to consider what employees have been through the last year and a half: isolation, uncertainties over their employment and health status, a shakeup to life as they know it.
It wasn’t all bad though. In many cases, being stuck at home together strengthened family bonds. Some remote workers relocated to be closer to family support systems or improve their lifestyles in other ways. These shifts—some small, some seismic—have caused many to re-evaluate the role their jobs play in their lives.
There’s no debate that some aspects of working from home have been surprisingly effective. But while productivity has remained high, a majority of C-level executives believe a return to the office is instrumental for maintaining company culture, and thus want to tilt the scales more heavily in favor of office-based work.
The impacts of forced return to work
Employees, on the other hand, want their work futures to look more flexible. If leaders fail to consider employee attitudes in their return-to-work plans, they risk inflicting major damage to their workforces.
A whopping 40% of workers say they might quit their jobs this year if they’re unhappy with their employers’ approach to return to work. And if they don’t leave, unhappiness and misalignment over new work arrangements can destroy company culture and workers’ willingness to go the extra mile for their employers. This creates challenges recruiting new talent and worsens performance in other ways.
It’s time to let people work their way
The pandemic proved that many workers can get their jobs done away from the office. That’s why in determining hybrid plans, it’s not enough to consider productivity.
Businesses need to pay attention to employees’ needs and how they want to work so they remain engaged and connected to their jobs. Here’s what workers want and need right now.
Although businesses are working towards developing sustainable long-term hybrid models, no one really knows what that will look like yet. Rather than fully baked, these early days of hybrid work are experimental and transitory.
Identifying the optimal models for moving forward will require paying close attention to what works in these early days—and what doesn’t. This means taking every opportunity to listen to workers about what they’re experiencing and asking questions about what support they need via regular check-ins.
During the pandemic remote work era, many workers discovered a newfound ability to do their work when it suited them best.
Whether it was a night owl pounding out a report in the late evening hours or a working parent scheduling around their children’s mealtimes, remote work gave many the flexibility to do their jobs while also accommodating other needs and preferences in ways the old 9-to-5 never allowed.
When we talk about hybrid work, we’re really talking about maintaining this personal flexibility.
Hybrid work is new for everyone, and both employers and employees will need time to adjust. Instead of rigid expectations, now is the time for understanding as workers get used to new styles of working.
Trust is critical in the workplace, with high levels of trust improving outcomes at the individual, team, and organizational levels. And trust plays a fundamental role in hybrid work too. In considering aspects such as scheduling, leaders need to trust employees to be productive and get their jobs done.
Working better together
There are few changes more exciting than those that we’re seeing in the workplace. After decades of one extreme of office-based 9-to-5 work,and then a year and a half of the other extreme, hybrid work presents an opportunity to build on what works for employers and employees alike (and to ditch outdated aspects of work that don’t make sense anymore).
But we’re still figuring out what hybrid work will look like—and finding the optimal approach starts with giving people more freedom to work their way.
Originally published Sep 30, 2021, updated Oct 11, 2021