In-Office Work, Hybrid Work

2022 Perspective Check: is waiting to ‘return to normal’ hurting your business?

2022 perspective check: is waiting to ‘return to normal’ hurting your business?

Gartner, Inc. predicted that 51% of all knowledge workers would be working remotely by the end of 2021, up from 27% in 2019. That’s a huge jump, and companies that are ‘waiting out the pandemic’ and gearing up for a big migration back to the office could be missing out big time. Not having access to this massive talent pool because of how your business chooses to operate makes it even harder to attract top talent in an insanely competitive market.

Below, we’ll take a deeper look at research on the massive pivot to remote work that many companies are still resistant to. We’ll also discuss the impact it may be having on your business.


Remote work is not just a trend

How much growth are we really talking about when it comes to the percentage of companies making hybrid or remote work available to their teams? The 2019 Global Workplace Analytics and FlexJobs report show that 58.6% of the total U.S. workforce are remote workers.

Remote work has increased by 44% in the last five years and a staggering 91% over the past ten years – and that was before the pandemic. These numbers skyrocketed in 2020, and a year into the pandemic, over half of the American workforce was working remotely.  We’ve seen remote work grow by 159% over the past 12 years and can safely anticipate that providing remote or hybrid work opportunities will continue to be the standard way of operating for many companies.

Despite resistance, businesses, hiring managers, and leadership are adapting

Upwork conducted an in-depth workforce analysis titled Future Workforce Report 2021: How Remote Work is Changing Businesses Forever. They surveyed 1,000 hiring managers and used their findings to make projections on what the future of work will look like as we move deeper into 2022 and beyond.

Here’s what their key findings reveal:

  • Businesses are starting to embrace a remote-first model. 40.7 million American professionals are predicted to be fully remote by 2026 – a 90% increase from pre-pandemic levels.

 

  • Executives and managers have been tested by the pivot to remote work. 67% of businesses reported that there were many more non-pandemic related changes to long-term management practices than in a normal year. Meaning, despite being back to some form of ‘business as usual’, leadership is dealing with more change management than is usual for their company.

 

  • Businesses are more readily adopting freelancers as key team members. 53% of businesses say that remote work increased their willingness to use freelancers to fill skill gaps. 71% of managers plan to sustain or increase their freelancers use in the next six months. IT and developer freelancers are in particularly high demand. Below is a visual graph of the survey results.
Freelance up since Covid
While remote work is quickly becoming a standard way of operating, Owl Trends reports that 44% of companies don’t allow employees to work remotely at all.
Assessing another angle – what employees want

The results are in, and the message is clear: employers are at risk of losing talent if they don’t allow some form of remote work. Gallup reports that 3 in 10 employees working remotely say they are extremely likely to seek another job if their company eliminates remote work. FlexJobs’ March 2021 survey surfaced an even more startling statistic: 58% of respondents said they would absolutely look for a new job if they cannot continue remote work.

Gallup’s research also revealed:
  • Of employees working from home full time, 49% want to remain fully remote, while 45% prefer a hybrid arrangement. Only 6% wish to be fully on-site.

  • 70% of employees working remotely part-time prefer a hybrid arrangement; the rest were divided. 15% want to be fully remote, and the other 15% want to be fully on-site.

 

There’s a pretty critical disagreement between employee and company desires. To reconcile this without massive repercussions, there will have to be some degree of compromise. 

 

Why some companies are pushing to return to the office

While remote work is quickly becoming a standard way of operating, Owl Trends reports that 44% of companies don’t allow employees to work remotely at all. There can be lots of reasons for this. The glaring one is that in some industries, employees aren’t capable of doing their jobs remotely. Among companies that have the option, here are some common reasons why remote work is not preferred:

 

  • Real estate commitments are expensive
    Logistics play a big part in a company’s desire to return to the office. Many businesses are in long-term leases on big buildings that, when sitting empty, are just eating up profits. Rather than taking a loss, some executives are pushing for at least a partial return to work to make use of one of their most significant line item expenses.

 

  • Managers don’t trust their ability to manage a remote team
    Harvard Business Review research found that 40% of the 215 supervisors and managers expressed low self-confidence in their ability to manage workers remotely. 38% of managers agreed that remote workers usually perform worse than those working in an office. The question becomes, how much of this is perception versus discomfort?

    Looking at perception, trust is low. The same report states that a third of managers surveyed report not trusting the competence of their employees. At the same time, 29% question whether their employees had the required knowledge to do their work, and 27% believe their employees lack essential skills.

    What’s interesting about this is in an ideal workplace, the capability of a team member to do their job effectively falls under the jurisdiction of their direct manager, so it’s unclear whether this is illustrating the failure of an employee, a less than ideal hire, an employee training issue, or a manager training issue.

 

  • Managing a distributed team requires more work
    For hybrid teams, time in the office usually needs to be scheduled as space is limited. When it comes to general people management, an SHRM survey of managers leading a fully remote team reports that 67% say they spend more time supervising remote workers than on-site workers. Interestingly, 42% also say they sometimes forget about remote workers when assigning tasks.

 

  • It’s new and different – therefore uncomfortable
    Resistance to adopting remote work as a permanent way of life can also be as simple as creature comforts. Some leaders want to go back to ‘business as usual’ – in the office, with coworkers –  because it’s what they know. 

 

With all these hurdles at play, it’s understandable that some companies and leaders are resistant to change, but is it hurting their ability to attract and retain talent?

Ragu Bhargava, the CEO at Global Upside, thinks so. In a recent Forbes article, he says, “There’s this clinging narrative of a ‘return to normalcy’ that many employers are holding onto, when in fact, the world of work will never truly return to the way it was before. The pandemic served as a massive wake-up call, teaching us not only that work was more than capable of being completed from home, but showing the need for flexibility for employees to take control of their own schedules.”

So what should you do?

 

Deciding what’s next for your company

Ultimately, the choice on whether to incorporate a remote or hybrid work environment into your business is up to your leadership team. Some companies don’t have an option because remote is not possible for some or all of their workers. However, if you do have an option, it’s time to really think through what’s at stake and come up with an informed decision. We recommend following these three steps to determine the best option for your business:

  • Weigh the pros and cons, then plot your course
    Step one is to determine whether you want to allow full-time remote work, prefer a hybrid model, or want to go against the grain and push for employees to be fully in-office. In any case, it’s important to consider the statistics detailed above and the impact any of these choices will have on your workforce. Read this post to help guide your decision-making process.

 

  • Develop processes and best practices that fit your setup
    We talk a lot about the importance of organization, a workspace that supports asynchronous communication, developing virtual culture, and process clarity for remote teams. If you opt to go with a hybrid or remote work approach, it’s time to start considering how each of these things impacts you. We recommend you start by nailing down a solid remote onboarding process. This is the key to long-term success, as new hires typically decide whether they’ll stay with a company within their first six months on the job

 

  • Consider unique new team needs and adjust benefits accordingly
    If you decide to go fully remote, think about little things you can do to show your team you care. For example, determine if you can offer additional benefits – like a home office or coffee stipend, or childcare benefits – since you no longer have such high office overhead costs. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that employers save over $11,000 per year per employee thanks to increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, less turnover, and lower office space costs. If you opt for a hybrid setup, consider a gas stipend or monthly meal allotment.

 

  • Make sure your technology can effectively support your team. Having the right technology (or lack thereof) can make or break a remote team. G2 – the world’s largest tech marketplace – issued this warning two years ago in their State of Software Happiness Report: “More than half (51.95%) of all employees are unhappy at work because of the software tools they’re using.” Prioritize assessing your tech stack fit. Get feedback from employees and make an effort to address any gaping holes or major pain points. 

 

Above all else, don’t pivot blindly. We’re not in pandemic-panic-abrupt-change-mode anymore. Be intentional. Find out what’s important to your people, and build for their needs as you decide on the best path forward.

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