The Oxford English Dictionary has designated a strange term as its word of the year for 2022: “goblin mode,” which means behavior that’s “unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly or greedy.” The Economist, however, arrived at a term with more relevance to today’s business scene: “hybrid work.” And despite news snippets about companies that are demanding full-time returns to the office, hybrid work is here to stay, something that describes the way work will be conducted for the foreseeable future.
The votes are in, and it isn’t even close. Close to three-fourths (74%) of employers now offer hybrid work arrangements, a recent survey out of the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans finds. In addition, a majority of employees, 68%, prefer hybrid work, versus 28% wanting to work full-time from home and eight percent preferring full-time on-site work, according to a survey out of the World Economic Forum.
“We believe that remote and hybrid work are here to stay as we see value in a balance of spending time in-person and working virtually,” says Sue Cicco, head of human resources and employee experience for MassMutual. “Working remotely often offers a greater level of accessibility and work/life balance, while in-person collaboration fosters connection, creativity and innovation.”
Hybrid work “is an incredibly superior way of working over the old commuting/office-centric model,” says Mark Dixon, founder and CEO of IWG, which provides hybrid office space. “It’s hardly surprising that recent research we’ve undertaken shows that around half of employees would sooner resign and look for another job if they were forced to return to the office full time.”
Supporting hybrid work is also essential to attracting and maintaining talent. “I see an openness to how companies view their version of the best talent,” observes David Roberson, president of RoseRyan, a ZRG company. “I work very closely with staff who are in different time zones, and as long as I’m able to reach them, and we can meet occasionally at the same time and they get the job done, it doesn’t matter where they are located.”
While remote work is popular for many, there’s still a need to have the connections that in-person work affords. Hybrid workplaces offer that option. “It’s often the fluid conversations, sidebars, and bump-ins that come from being in-person that can lead to the best solutions,” says Cicco. “In addition, we know that professional networks and mentoring relationships are important in the workplace. This is especially important for those early in their careers, whose first job may have been at their kitchen table instead of in an office due to the pandemic. This is where people in their mid-to-late careers can make meaningful contributions, by paying it forward and nurturing talent, just as they may have learned from mentors early in their careers.”
Dixon agrees that there is a middle ground between remote and onsite that fulfills both the need for flexibility as well as for in-person interactions. “Some people, myself included, really don’t work well from the home office, kitchen table or garden shed,” Dixon says. “I’m too easily distracted to focus on what needs to get done. And many simply don’t have the right space or set-up to create the right working environment.”
The interactions that make businesses work cannot be replicated online on a full-time basis, Dixon adds. “Sure, platforms like Teams and Zoom are incredibly important and reliable. They work perfectly. But we are social animals and screens just aren’t fully capable of igniting that creative spark that comes with face-to-face teamwork. The call culture that’s developed over the last couple of years may well be efficient, but it’s also pretty brusque and impersonal.”
As part of hybrid workplaces, there’s more emphasis on curated meetings, which Dixon describes as “bringing people together for a purpose, from brainstorming to training to company announcements to straightforward social events. Many are also actively incorporating time and space for personal and inter-personal moments during the working day, encouraging people to get together and chat about work as well as subjects of personal interest. As it stands, bookings for our meeting rooms to date in 2022 are up by 166% over the same period last year. And that shows just how seriously businesses are taking the power of interpersonal contact.”
“With most employees working 100% remotely during the pandemic, we learned to successfully operate in a virtual work environment,” relates MassMutual’s Cicco. “Nevertheless, we believe there’s still great value in meeting in-person to spur creativity, social connection, and collaboration, so we now employ a model with employees coming to the office 2-3 days per week. We focus on coming together with purpose and coordinating at team levels to ensure people come in to connect with people, not just find a change of scenery for Zoom meetings. And we are intentional in how we bring people together to foster real connection through fun onsite events and amenities that inspire and unite us.”