Two years after the Covid-19 pandemic made work-from-home a reality for millions of office workers, businesses have now accepted that remote work and hybrid models aren’t going away any time soon. By September of 2021, a Gallup poll found 45 percent of full-time US employees worked from home either all (25 percent) or some (20 percent) of the time. This included two-thirds of white collar workers. Gallup also found that 91 percent of people doing remote work wanted to continue to work from home at least part of the time.
Many business leaders now understand that remote work will persist, but also worry about the effect on company culture. This may also be why about 54 percent of workers told Gallup they’d like a hybrid model in the future, where they do some work from home and some in-office. Many executives have developed strategies to maintain company culture and connections among employees working online, such as:
Move to an online or hybrid format for culture-building activities like group events. Chen Zhao, Head of Alibaba’s NHCI US Lab, encouraged workers to build an online quilt for Aliday, which is typically a day-long, in-person celebration, to keep employees engaged with each other and the company.
Show employees how to support each other remotely. This may include online group sessions for non-work related purposes, like checking in with each other and seeing if others need help with anything.
Keep a tight focus on work-life balance. Just because employees work from home doesn’t mean they want to be working all the time. Respect off-hours the same as you would if your employees clocked out and left the office at 5 PM. Don’t call or text workers for anything less than an emergency (such as needing someone to fill in for an employee who unexpectedly can’t work tomorrow). Try to avoid sending emails in off-hours, and if you do, don’t expect anyone to answer until their typical work hours. Make it clear that employees do not have to respond to group emails during their off-hours and can follow up the next day.
However, flexibility for employees who prefer a non-traditional work schedule is also important. Many workers who moved to a remote model found that they preferred to do some projects after-hours or outside of the typical 9-to-5 schedule. If the job doesn’t specifically require a worker to be at their desk at a specific time – such as jobs where workers answer calls from customers – then there is no particular reason to demand they do so. Instead, some supervisors are shifting their focus to ensuring employees meet their goals, like getting a certain project done by Friday, as opposed to monitoring whether employees are online and working every second of the day.
Some executives have also expressed concern that a remote workforce may not receive the mentorship needed to foster future leaders. This is a particularly strong issue in fields where mentorship often leads to career advancement, like investment banking, consulting, and sales. As a result, some businesses in these areas are still determined to move back to in-office schedules or at least a hybrid model.
“We are not changing our long-term plans of working in the office (while also experimenting with rotational work schedules),” JPMorgan said in a memo for US employees sent at the end of December.
Meanwhile tech giants like Google and Facebook have pushed back return-to-office dates but still insist they want to return at some point, or pivot to a hybrid model. For the time being, as the Omicron wave of Covid-19 continues to rage, many companies will make do with online mentoring or working remotely only part of the time.
JPMorgan said in a memo for US employees sent at the end of December.
As many companies struggle to hire workers due to the Great Resignation, some feel the pull to offer hybrid, flexible, or remote work to entice employees to join their organizations. If your organization is struggling to hire enough workers, you may consider adding more of these options, such as letting workers choose if they want to work in-office or from home if the job allows it. The Great Resignation has shown employers that workers are ready to demand more of their workplaces, and companies that offer few incentives may find that “no one wants to work.”