The road to hybrid work has been anything but smooth. Companies have started, stalled, and stopped their return-to-office plans as the pandemic persisted throughout 2021 and into the beginning of 2022. Now that some restrictions have eased and the fears of outbreaks have started to subside, companies are moving ahead with their hybrid work plans and we’re starting to see some hybrid work trends emerging. In fact, 87% of companies with 10,000 or more employees say they will officially be adopting hybrid work in 2022.
For many companies, the hybrid work model seems like the best compromise: continuing to offer flexibility for work location while allowing for in-office collaboration. It’s the best of both worlds—in-office and remote—yet it creates significant challenges when trying to manage two different setups.
Based on our research and industry insights, the top 10 hybrid work trends we see for 2022 reflect the growing pains and uncertainty of hybrid work.
Trend #1: A Remote Work Option Is Non-Negotiable
One in three employees would quit their job if they could no longer work remotely once the pandemic subsides.
Many workers now see the option to work remotely as a non-negotiable requirement instead of as a perk. Working from home or wherever an employee is most productive has become so important that employees are willing to quit their jobs and seek alternative employment rather than return to the office full time. Lack of remote work options is just one of the factors in what’s being called “The Great Resignation.” But the companies that can figure out how to effectively provide remote work options will undoubtedly have greater success in retaining and recruiting talent.
Trend #2: Hybrid Work Is Uncertain
“It is important for employers to be honest about the fact that we don’t really know how this is all going to work out.”
For many companies shifting to hybrid work models, the details are murky. As workers are brought back into offices, executives are recognizing that they are venturing into uncharted waters. Even digital-first experts are struggling; Slack’s CEO is still trying to figure out hybrid work, though the company appears committed to figuring it out. On the other hand, a former Google executive declares “hybrid won’t last,” and employees at Apple are rejecting the company’s hybrid work plan. Not having consensus about hybrid working creates uncertainty throughout every level of an organization and negatively impacts psychological safety and performance. This hybrid work trend of uncertainty also impacts other organizations as they look for models to replicate where hybrid work is proving to be clear and effective.
Trend #3: Hybrid Companies Still Lack a Strategy
72% of businesses lack a clear hybrid work strategy.
Companies are calling employees back to the office without a clear plan. Whether the lack of strategy stems from the uncertainty of hybrid work effectiveness or from delays in offices reopening, if a company is intending to move forward with a hybrid work structure, the absence of a strategy will be detrimental. When companies shift to hybrid work without a clear vision and strategy, they encounter serious and compounding problems. Unclear collaboration practices lead to too many virtual meetings, which lead to an “always-on” mentality, which erodes boundaries (if they were present in the first place), which results in burnout and higher employee turnover—perpetuating the Great Resignation.
Trend #4: Autonomy Is the Future of Hybrid Work
″We’ve transformed the way we’ve worked and it will only accelerate in the coming years. Not only are employers seeing the benefit of this way of work, but employees are more empowered to take a hold of their work-life balance.”
While working from home during a pandemic did not provide ideal working conditions, employees did appreciate that they could sit, dress, and take breaks the way they wanted without being observed. For many, that may have been the most autonomy they ever experienced at work. Now hybrid work is providing more flexibility in schedules, and this may only be the beginning of a bigger shift. Eighty-eight percent employees agree that the flexibility to work from home or the office has increased their job satisfaction. Autonomy is increasingly becoming one of the most valuable benefits for employees, as well as the key to attracting new talent. Offering more choices in employees’ schedules with hybrid and a growing adoption of async practices provides a strong base for employees and employers to approach work more autonomously.
Trend #5: Teams Are Still on Zoom Calls in the Office
“It’s pointless. Even when we are in the office, we’re not collaborating any more than we would just over Slack at home.”
Video conferencing is an important tool for remote and hybrid work. However, as teams figure out the specifics of how a hybrid setup will apply to their team, workers are participating on the same video calls in the office that they were doing at home. This could be because workers aren’t in the office on the same days. Or it might be because teams are intentionally using video calls to be inclusive of remote colleagues—which is a practice we at Workplaceless applaud. However, commuting to an office to spend your day on video calls isn’t the best use of your time. If your team is in the office on video calls all day, it’s likely you haven’t figured out the right balance between async and sync communication for your team.
Trend #6: Executives Recognize Inequity But Are Part of the Problem
Forty-one percent of executives cite the potential for inequities to develop between remote and in-office employees as a top concern.
Inequity arises on hybrid teams due to distance bias—where leaders are more likely to favor individuals who are closer to them and who they see more frequently. The reality is that as leaders return to the office, they are more likely to recognize and reward the performance of employees who return to the office with them. Unfortunately, even as executives cite inequity as a top concern, they are still returning to the office at higher rates. Forty-two percent of executives report they work from the office 3-4 days a week as compared to 30% of non-executives—and awareness alone does not solve the issue of bias.
Executives are one of the groups that find async-first work adoption to be the hardest, yet where and how they work has a critical impact on where and how the rest of the team works and on whether everyone is included on a hybrid team. A hopeful hybrid work trend shift will be when leaders learn to be intentional about fostering inclusion on hybrid teams.
Trend #7: Hybrid Team Compensation Remains Unsolved
“Firms have told me if you don’t reduce wages for employees in remote locations, then employees in the workplace are going to be upset.”
One of the biggest unknowns for hybrid teams is how to pay your workers. You have employees who are now globally mobile, and employees based in locations with widely varying costs of living may be doing the same role. If you decide on location-based compensation, you’re penalizing remote workers for the choice you are trying to enable. If you decide to equalize salaries, are employees living near HQs getting an unfair deal? And what’s the potential total cost impact to the company of all these salary considerations? Stay tuned for Boundless HQ’s forthcoming whitepaper on “Fairness & Equity In Remote Compensation.”
At issue is not only the salary, but also the logistical expense implications. If a company is paying for office space and setups, but also stipends for home office setups, are there duplicative costs? What is the cost for the logistical coordination of hybrid setups? What is done to balance the cost of empty office space? Not to mention the mental toll on workers for constant location switching.
The debate over location-based, equalized, or other pay structures continues.
Trend #8: Hybrid Leaders Are Disconnected and Unprepared
“Over half of managers (54%) feel leadership at their company is out of touch with employee expectations.”
Hybrid teams can be more challenging to lead because two different work structures need to be managed. Unfortunately, 74% of managers say they “don’t have the influence or resources they need to make changes on behalf of their team.” This hybrid work trend disconnect worsens as executives and leaders prefer to return to the office at higher rates than employees. Managers feel stuck in the middle, trying to meet the flexibility demands of their employees, yet not having enough guidance, structure, or resources to do so effectively.
With so many unknowns, leaders fall back on old habits, measuring performance based on facetime and defaulting to synchronous ways of working. Leaders are constantly balancing autonomy and micromanaging with isolation and productivity. The hybrid uncertainty and lack of hybrid work strategy at a company level make it more difficult for managers to learn how to effectively lead hybrid teams.
Trend #9: Hybrid Teams Walk a Fine Line between Productivity and Exhaustion
Sixty-five percent of executives believe that returning to the office at least three days a week is important for increasing productivity.
Executives believe being in the office three days per week will enable better collaboration and meetings with clients, develop company culture, and align with corporate mission. However, new studies show that one to two days in the office is the “sweet spot” for hybrid work. Unfortunately, one of these studies also showed that bosses are not trusting their remote staff, which may motivate them to have their staff in sight more often.
Reporting to the office for three days, adapting to a hybrid structure, while balancing it with day-to-day work may give the appearance that employees are more productive. However, productivity increases are potentially due to employees putting in more working hours and actually overworking—which isn’t sustainable. Since February 2020, time spent in meetings each week has increased by 252%, and 90% of employees are experiencing some level of burnout with hybrid work.
Even if everything seems to be going well in the company on the surface, staff could be burnt out from trying to be productive everywhere and all the time.
Trend #10: Hybrid Teams Are Missing the Upskilling Opportunity for Retention
Nine out of ten employers say they are struggling to fill positions because of a skills gap.
With the Great Resignation, companies are finding it difficult to fill positions with specific skills. Rather than look for the necessary skills outside your organization, create opportunities for the team to learn them. Fifty-four percent would stay with their current company if they had more opportunities for upskilling. By building a culture of continuous learning and investing in the skills of your team, not just the tools, companies increase employee retention. The hybrid work trend applies to all company structures, yet hybrid work requires teams to understand how to be effective working remotely, to build async-first practices, and to develop digital-first leadership.
The hybrid work structure is a difficult one for leaders and employees to quickly adapt to. Ensure your team is prepared for the hybrid work trends or challenges you encounter this year and in the future.
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