In 2022, employees are thinking more than ever about how they do their best work. Even companies with a standard full-time office environment are now exploring new flexible working arrangements to attract new talent and retain their best employees.
Working from home (WFH) and hybrid working arrangements are gaining popularity for positions that can be managed remotely. Some employers say that they require teams to work from the office full-time and push for a total return to the office. But as work has shifted to remote options, many employees have found that they can be just as effective working from home, if not more effective than working in an office. For employers that do require some amount of time in the office, hybrid working arrangements allow employees to split the time they spend working from home with the time they spend commuting to the office.
Employers that force a return to the office often experience higher turnover and loss of talent as employees leave to take other jobs with flexible working arrangements. For a forward-thinking employer, working with employees to design flexible work arrangements keeps your best people engaged and working most effectively and may offer a leg up in a competitive job market.
With all of the changes in the economy, it’s more important than ever to understand how to build a flexible work environment that gives your employees a sense of agency and control over how they work.
Let’s go through the benefits of each of the most popular working arrangements:
Benefits of Working From Home
Working from home offers a wide range of benefits for employees who can manage all their tasks remotely. These roles commonly involve individual contributors whose tasks can be handled via software and require only a computer and internet connection. Managers and executives are also most often able to manage their roles remotely.
In place of in-person meetings, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and other project management software allow teams to collaborate face-to-face.
Pew researchers found that of all employees with jobs that can be done remotely, 60% said they would like to continue working from home even once employees begin returning to the office.
Many employees prefer to work from home to cut down on travel. Nearly all employees benefit from negating their commute, and employees who have extensive work travel requirements find they are much more productive without the burden of travel.
Employers benefit as well, as working from home reduces employee travel expenses.
The opportunity to save money
With less travel comes less expense for employees as well. Employees working from home save on gas and car maintenance for those who drive to work, and those who take public transit save on those expenses. WFH often makes it easier to prepare meals instead of eating out, which further reduces costs.
In addition to all of these costs and time savings, many employees experience greater productivity working from home. For many, an office environment can be distracting. Ambient noise, conversations with coworkers, and a high volume of in-person meetings can take away focus from immediate tasks.
Time management is another gauge of productivity, and many employees say that they are better able to manage their time WFH than working in a traditional office setting.
After WFH for extended periods, employees report being able to accomplish the same amount of work in less time while working from home—boosting productivity individually and for the entire team.
Potential Drawbacks of Working From Home
Although most employees who can WFH say that remote work is what they prefer, some employees prefer working in an office setting, which points to a few potential drawbacks of long-term WFH arrangements.
Missing in-person connection
Some employees find they have an easier time collaborating and working alongside their coworkers in person instead of remotely. Virtual meetings, which are often used in a remote-work setting in place of in-person meetings, have been reported by some employees as not being as engaging. Virtual meetings cause a lack of focus, making it challenging to remain present, which is essential for teamwork and collaboration.
Although many people who WFH can manage their tasks effectively and report little distraction from their home environment, some people note that they are more distracted at home than they would be in an office environment. This distraction could be due to small children sharing the same environment or other daily tasks that compete for attention during the workday, which would be easier to compartmentalize with a traditional office/home split.
Others say that too much time at home is detrimental to their sense of well-being and mental health and that getting out of the house to work in an office offers a healthy change of scenery during the workday.
Benefits of Working in the Office
While many employees favor WFH, employers say there is still value in traditional office culture. Many have insisted on returning to pre-pandemic working arrangements—including pushes to bring employees back to the office.
Working from in an office gives employees the chance to collaborate face to face, boosting teamwork and cohesion. Team meetings are easier to get together, as everyone is in the same space. Projects can be coordinated more efficiently as well.
Although many have reported that coordinating meetings via team applications such as Microsoft Teams is a good substitute for in-person meetings, a cohort of workers say that they miss the energy of in-person meetings.
For some employees, sharing the energy from meeting with their coworkers in person is impossible to replicate from home. They miss out on body language and group dynamics, which only emerge in an office setting. Video meetings can be dull and alienating in comparison.
Not all employees share this view, but as a manager, it is essential to recognize those who prefer in-person work to ensure that the entire team is engaged.
Culture and Collaboration
Company culture is difficult to establish, and it takes a lot of work to get it right. Good managers think about culture in everything they do. Focusing on culture from the top sets the tone for the entire company.
Many employees can only pick up the subtle cues that make up the company’s culture through the many tiny interactions that happen during a typical day in the office. While working from home, employees are less likely to have these small ‘water-cooler’ moments, which many leaders say is where company culture is formed and shared between team members.
A Greater Sense of Mission and Purpose
Working alongside coworkers in an office setting can boost employee morale and provide a sense of purpose that may otherwise not be felt while WFH. The same small interactions that can spread the company culture between employees can also remind people of the company’s mission. For some, the sense of camaraderie is more robust when they can interact and collaborate in person instead of remotely.
Potential Drawbacks of Office Environments
Just as the potential benefits of working in a traditional office setting remain, so do the long-reported drawbacks of working in an office environment.
One common benefit that many employees report once they begin working from home is that they can focus more quickly because of the lack of ambient noise from many people working in the same space. Although some people do focus better in an environment with some level of ambient noise, many find it distracting. They discover that they can remain more efficient while working from home without the drone of the office environment.
Lack of Focus
A common complaint regarding the office setting is that employees find it very easy to be pulled out of deep focus by coworkers. The same benefits that many claims boost a sense of connection with their fellow employees can also cause a constant sense of distraction that makes it difficult for some to focus and remain efficient.
While commuting to work was once a given, the rise of working from home and hybrid work has changed many employees’ perceptions of their daily commute. Many employees are more likely to regard a long commute as a dealbreaker when interviewing for a new job. They may inquire about flexible working arrangements to mitigate the need to commute daily. Employers need to understand how employees think about things like commuting to remain competitive and attract talent.
The Rise of Hybrid Work
There is an arrangement that combines the best of WFH with the best of working from an office setting to give employees even more flexibility to adapt their working environment to meet their specific working style. Proponents of this new arrangement are calling it ‘Hybrid Work.’
In a survey by Wakefield Research, 47% of employees would look for a new job if their employer didn’t offer flexible working arrangements.
A similar percentage (48%) said they would prefer a hybrid working arrangement to choose which days they would WFH and which days would be in-office.
In another report from McKinsey and Company, 66% of companies say that they consider designing their office space accounting for Hybrid Work. In addition, 73% want flexible work options to become permanent, but notably—67% want more in-person work and collaboration.
As we can see, these stats point to Hybrid Work as the best solution for most workplaces. It allows employees who prefer to work remotely the flexibility to do so and employees who want more in-person engagement the opportunity to return to the office.
As we can see from the data, employees want the flexibility to choose their work setting and adjust that preference over time, given their personality and working role. As we are discovering, there is no single option that will work best for all of a business’s employees. So employers need to be agile in working with their teams to ensure that flexibility exists to allow each employee to work to their best ability.
The most forward-thinking employers are already adapting to data which shows that employees want flexibility in their work environments. Some do their best work from an office, others enjoy the ability to work from home, and a third group wants to structure their time to fit a hybrid work model. How each organization chooses to implement policies that recognize the changing nature of work will vary between companies. But the message is clear: A new era of work will require new systems that adapt to employees’ changing preferences.