All signs indicate hybrid work is not going away.
Hybrid work? Is that even a thing anymore? If national statistics and trends are anything to go by, remote or hybrid work, as defined by Webex.com and Cisco, is a mix of in-office, remote, and on-the-go workers. Although structures vary by company, hybrid work generally lets employees work wherever and however they are most productive. Moreover, this is not an aberration. As Nick Bloom, a Stanford economist and scholar on remote work, noted in The New York Times, “This is the new normal.”
Normal? Really? Bloom and his colleagues who participated in the research admit that some aspects of remote work, such as measuring productivity, can be hard to define but working remotely is generally becoming more common. Did this start in the pandemic? Sure, but it seems to be a sticky trend that is continuing.
If you talk with your customers or other business owners, you quickly find that remote or hybrid work differs in every company. Some are all in, some dole remote status out parsimoniously, and others refuse to entertain the notion, thinking remote working to be a bridge too far. It may be for now.
According to recent research by Forbes, about 59% of employees are still in the office, making the traditional model still common, but change is afoot. The Forbes study showed that some 13% of full-time employees presently work from home and more than 28% work remotely at least part of the time. The study estimates that about 33 million Americans will work remotely by 2025. Moreover, some 98% of employees want to work remotely at least some of the time. Microsoft reports that 73% of workers surveyed in a 2021 study want flexible remote work options to continue.
As a result, American executives are developing remote and hybrid work plans with more permanence, setting clear performance and communications requirements for remote workers after months of expectations that morphed almost daily. What their plans look like varies widely.
“Well-organized hybrid is the best of all,” Bloom told The New York Times. “The problem is that it requires managers to have discipline.” Not only discipline but also the willingness to adapt to a workforce that may be more dynamic and vocal, thanks to communications channels like Slack, than a workforce of employees sitting in their chairs eight or so hours a day.
The Forbes research also found that 16% of companies now operate fully remote, typically foregoing a physical office. Such enterprises are leaders in the remote work movement and may be harbingers of a future in which lightly populated offices are the norm.
Hybrid Work is Not for Everybody
Not surprisingly, Forbes found some occupations—so-called “knowledge workers” are better suited to being in an office while others require a physical presence. Obviously, people in the trades and some segments of legal, medical, political, and other areas must be on location daily. So do chefs, waitstaff, retail workers, and other service-oriented employees. Yet, offices can function well with reduced populations. A software engineer neighbor works for a company on the opposite coast. “Code is code,” he said. “I can write it anywhere.” And he’s right. Forbes lists the leading occupations for remote work as:
- Computer and IT
- Accounting and Finance
- Project Management
- Medical and Health
- HR and Recruiting
- Customer Service
None are a surprise, and some require the services and support of an office technology dealer. A search on job posting sites like Glassdoor, Indeed, Monster, and ZipRecruiter shows remote positions open for people in many of these fields, some with the ability to work remotely listed as a requirement.
Productivity and Culture
The first thing managers and executives worry about is productivity. Some managers say remote employees are less productive. But age matters, according to Statista, noting that 65% of boomers say they are just as productive when remote as in the office, compared to 59% of Gen Xers, and 50% of millennials.
In contrast, 25% of Gen-Z remote workers think they are equally productive in remote and in-office locales. However, the Gen-Z gang may lack experience and/or good supervision, and according to Microsoft, needs to be “re-energized.” Boomers, who were often raised in a “get-er-done” environment, may not expect as much guidance.
Research from Psychology Today indicates that remote workers are up to 9% more productive than their counterparts in a physical office. The same study says remote work improves work/life balance, which may prevent burnout and increase productivity and retention. Still, businesses should provide the technology, training, and support employees need to derive all the benefits of remote employees. This may be evidenced by the Gen-Xers who are new to the world of work and are said to require better supervision.
There’s also the ephemeral issue of company culture. A 2021 study by Statista indicated that having employees physically present three days a week is sufficient to maintain a company’s culture. Note, however, that this data was collected during the pandemic when remote working was terra incognita for most companies, managers, and employees. As a result, the culture issue may matter less as more people work remotely, like the millions of remote workers projected for 2025.
Mobile Goes Global
Stanford’s Bloom cites a study of 16,000 randomly chosen employees of CTrip, a NASDAQ-listed Chinese travel company who worked from home (WFH) for nine months. The group had a 13% performance increase resulting from fewer breaks and sick days. At the end of nine months, about half of the WFH employees in the experiment opted to continue working from home, and CTrip shifted the entire company to the WFH option.
Meanwhile, a few hundred miles across the Sea of Japan, Japanese salarymen are fleeing their historically office-centric work environments. Harvard Business Review talked with the head of HR at Fujitsu and learned that most employees working from home don’t want to return to the office. Fujitsu execs see the opportunity. The company believes that if it can do it right, it will allow it to make its employees’ work lives more purposeful, productive, agile, and flexible.
Women and the Hybrid Workplace
Another benefit of the hybrid work trend is that it has enabled more women (and men with caretaking responsibilities) to continue working because of the ability to juggle childcare and work. Indeed, this is a viable alternative to keep more women in the workplace. A recent article in The New York Times, “Is Remote Work the Answer to More Women’s Prayers, or a New ‘Mommy Track’”? examined this issue.
According to the article, “Mothers, not exclusively, but in particular, may have already gained a great deal from this shift. Some economists have suggested remote work factored into the all-time high in labor force participation rate among women of prime working age. The jump for mothers of young children has been particularly high, and among those who have a bachelor’s degree, it’s even higher.”
There is a downside for women and hybrid, and we’ll address more downsides to hybrid work in general momentarily, but as Joan C. Williams, a professor at the University of California Law San Francisco told the Times, “Hybrid workplaces will make it easier for women to remain in the labor force but harder for women to advance.”
Claudia Goldin, a Nobel prize winner in economics, added, this could lead to a female enclave who work at home more than most men. But the question, she said, is whether that is worse than having the same women be part-time.
Then There’s the Downside
I’ve worked at home for over 25 years, even as an employee, so it is normal for me. But others may have a rougher time.
Common concerns expressed by those who have not embraced remote or hybrid work include distractions at home, isolation, poor work-life balance, a desire for more meetings, cybersecurity issues, difficulty maintaining confidentiality, unreliable internet access, and inconvenience for new hires.
As a veteran of remote work, what’s interesting to me is that the majority of studies about the downside of remote work took place from late 2019 to 2021, years when people and businesses were in full panic mode, and almost no one knew how to address the challenges of working from their kitchen or dining room table.
What’s an Office Technology Dealer to Do?
In the here and now, for office technology dealers, it’s important to recognize that hybrid work is here to stay and that your dealership must acknowledge that it impacts your customers. As a dealer, your function is to build solutions that will serve customers well regardless of where their employees are. And yes, some of those locations may be outside your market area. There is money on the table when you do this. Some of it is yours.