Virtual working post pandemic has been far more successful than many would have predicted. Contrary to expectations, productivity has stayed relatively constant since everybody started working from home, and employee satisfaction appears to have improved quite considerably. But while these benefits are significant, many leaders still hold reservations about virtual working, and so hybrid working models are now being adopted as a compromise between the old and the new.
As a hybrid working consultancy with clients based all around the world, we at AWA have been able to collect data looking at the shift in attitudes and expectations surrounding virtual, office-based, and hybrid ways of working. So let’s take a look.
What our data reveals
One of the most striking findings that has emerged from the data is the stark disconnect between the ways people were working before the pandemic and the ways they hope to be working in the future.
Prior to the pandemic, most people (56%) were working from the office four (21%) or five (35%) days a week. But when asked where they would like to work in the future, the vast majority (92%) said they would like to work from the office three days a week or less. This clearly shows that the average worker is not going to be happy with a return to the pre-covid way of doing things. This is no doubt one of the primary reasons behind what is being dubbed ‘The Great Resignation’.
We’ve also collected data looking at the average amount of time that workers tend to spend on different types of activity in a typical work week (including focused work, collaboration, social interaction, etc). What we found was that just over half of all work-related activities tend to be solitary (28% focused work and 27% alone / distraction tolerant work) while the remainder of the working week is dedicated to collaborative and social activities.
Finally, we also asked people what percentage of their meetings were virtual prior to covid (12%), what percent of their meetings are currently virtual (93%), and what percentage of their meetings they expect to be virtual in the future (66%). These statistics give an insight into the shifts that have occurred – and that are expected to occur – in the ways that collaborative work is performed, suggesting that hybrid ways of working are going to be the norm going forwards.
What we’ve learned?
In line with the data, any organisations are now formalising their hybrid working policies, typically with one or two days working from the office each week and the remainder working from home. While most people want to spend most of their time working from home, they would also like to work from the office one to two days each week. These hybrid policies will allow employees to do precisely this, providing an opportunity to collaborate and build strong bonds with colleagues while at the same time retaining the work-life balance and autonomy that came with virtual working.
What’s more, looking at the breakdown of weekly activities, we see that just under half of all activities have some kind of social component to them. Clearly, collaborative work can be performed remotely, but there is also much to be said for some percentage of collaboration being done in-person.
Our six factors research, for example, shows that teams function best when six key factors are present. Three of these factors – trust, social cohesion, and information sharing – tend to diminish when we are working remotely. This is why some people found that certain working relationships started to feel a little bit strained as the pandemic wore on. By asking team members to come into the office for one or two days each week, leaders will be creating the conditions within which trust, social cohesion, and information sharing have a chance to take root and flourish.
So this one-to-two day a week hybrid working model seems to be a happy medium between the needs of the organisation and the preferences of its people.
Compromise and consideration is key
While the shift to a more employee-centric view of the workplace is undeniably a good thing, employees also need to be considerate of the needs of their teams and their organisations. If this is to happen, both employers and employees will have to play their part.
On the one hand, employers should not simply mandate a no-nonsense, top-down return to the office – this is the quickest way to sow dissent and resentment, potentially kick starting a wave of resignations. But at the same time, employees need to understand that certain kinds of activities are performed better in-person – for example, on-boarding, training, creative group activities, serendipitous exchanges, team building, etc. If teams are to operate at peak performance, it may well be necessary for team members to come into the office once or twice each week.
Ultimately, a conversation needs to be had in which employees are heard and in which leaders’ decisions are explained. Employee satisfaction is critically important, but so too is team and organisational performance. The task for leaders now is to balance these priorities in such a way that allows the organisation, its teams, and its people to thrive.