Hybrid work is the future, but what should that look like?
You’re likely already familiar with the idea that hybridity is the future of work. Here at Voltage Control, we’re excited to not only watch hybrid work come to life, but to help shape what it looks like. Here are our takes on what elements of remote and in-person work environments should be kept going forward and what should be left in the past.
What We Should Be Keeping
According to a study performed by IBM, 54% of people would prefer that remote work continue to be their primary way of working, while a whopping 75% would like to continue working remotely at least occasionally. Clearly there is something to remote work that employees are responding to.
Remote work allows workers a lot more flexibility and freedom in when and where they work. Employees with children are able to fulfill parental responsibilities during the work day as necessary, employees who work better without others around can hide away in their home offices, employees who focus better with background noise can leave the radio or television on, etc. etc. etc. The list goes on. Employees have been given the autonomy to shape their work environments around their needs, resulting in increased productivity and decreased work-related stress.
Perhaps more significantly, remote work has allowed employees more autonomy in how they work. Physical distance has forced employers, managers, and other workplace leadership to trust their employees. Micromanagement is much more difficult – if not nearly impossible – in a remote work setting. Remote workers have the freedom to experiment, explore, and innovate without needing to explain every little step in their process to a project manager hovering over their desks. Teams who are trusted to be successful without constant surveillance are happier, more productive, and do better work.
What Needs To Go
While remote work has its advantages, it’s not for everyone. Whether due to resource access or work style, remote work is not advantageous for everyone.
When the success and proven viability of remote work is discussed, it is nearly always founded upon the assumption that every team member has a home office or other peaceful place in their home to work, access to all of the resources that they need, and personal technology up to office standards. This is not always the case. Many people do not have extra space in their home for a remote work setup. Home networks tend to be slower and less reliable than office networks. Not all team members’ personal computers will be powerful enough to run professional apps or software efficiently. If remote work is to continue permanently at any capacity, there needs to be space and resources available to employees who do not have the luxuries of professional-grade technology and home offices.
Additionally, not everyone works well from home. On any team that is even mildly sizable, there is likely to be team members who are neurodiverse – and many of their managers are unaware, as it is their right to choose not to disclose any disorder, disability, or other health condition. Employees with ADHD, anxiety, depression, autism, PTSD, OCD, dyslexia etc. may struggle to work remotely and be brushed aside if they fall behind. Remote work is completely different from office work, so many neurodiverse employees who are successful or even thrive in an office environment may struggle immensely when remote work is their only option.
Lastly, it is no secret that remote work has made connection difficult, resulting in feelings of loneliness, isolation, and disconnection. While some love the quiet and privacy of working alone, others struggle with such a drastic decrease in daily human interaction.
What We Should Be Keeping
As much as we love Zoom for allowing us to meet from anywhere in the world, Zoom meetings do come with certain inefficiencies. In-person meetings do not have to come to a complete halt over technical difficulties, they are less plagued by distractions such as unread emails and pets, and they do not inflict the dreaded Zoom Fatigue. Directions are easier to follow, information is more easily digested, discussions flow more naturally, nonverbal signals are communicated better, and no one ever says anything extremely important without realizing that they’re on mute. Many types of meetings are just smoother and more efficient in person.
Unsurprisingly, a huge advantage to an in-person work environment is the ease at which team members connect. Connection is effortless when we work day after day in close proximity to each other. Teams who work side by side in the office get to know each other better and grow closer, enhancing their collaboration and communication. Moreover, teams who feel connected are happier, more fulfilled, and more productive.
For many, office settings are focused, distraction-minimal environments that provide structure, routine, and keep them on task. There are no pets to let outside, no children to feed, no dishes to be done, no messes to clean up, no laundry to be washed. Being in an in-person work environment with coworkers can create a ready-to-work mindset for employees who need a space separate from their home to focus effectively.
What Needs To Go
In an in-person setting, it is common for the most extroverted to run the show. The quickest and most social can often end up setting the tone for the entire office’s culture; it is likely that they are given more opportunities than their quiet counterparts due to being more frequently noticed. When the entire team isn’t in the office every day, more introverted employees are given the opportunity to prevent ideas, offer feedback, and otherwise contribute on a more level playing field – after all, Slack messages are all read at the same volume. Removing the social imbalances of an office environment lets employees’ work speak for them rather than their comfort with socialization or public speaking.
Employees who are required to be in an office during all working hours may struggle with balancing work and personal necessities such as doctors’ appointments, banking, trips to state offices such as the DMV, and childcare. Workers who can’t attend to responsibilities that can only be completed during the work day are likely to be more distracted, suffer from burnout, and miss work when they would rather not. No one wants to use a vacation day to stand in line for three hours to renew their driver’s license.
Mandatory office presence will also limit the pool of talent that can be added to your team. There are many more extremely talented professionals who would take a project to the next level who are willing to commute an hour to the office once a week than who are willing to commute an hour to the office every day. Greater flexibility will attract a greater number of potential team members that would be an amazing asset to their workplace.
Why We’re Excited to Hybridize
Asynchronous communication has opened a whole new world of collaboration. While we may have used forms of asynchronous communication such as email and Slack before COVID-19 required us to rethink the way we work, the pandemic rapidly accelerated our proficiency with this type of communication as well as our software options for it. Why are we so excited about the rise of asynchronous communication? In short: inspiration.
Gone are the days in which everyone’s best ideas need to happen at the same time, in the same room, during the time designated. Our mastery of asynchronous communication allows us to generate, share, flesh out, and workshop ideas as inspirations arise rather than on command. This improves the quality of our ideas and our work, reduces the risk of creative burnout and artist’s block, and strengthens our collaboration by ensuring that all ideas are heard, not just the fastest ones.
Work style Flexibility
Neither schedules nor work styles are one size fits all. Some people need the routine of a 9-5 work schedule with a one-hour lunch break; others are more successful when they can mold their work schedule around the demands of their personal lives, households, or childcare responsibilities. Some team members are relieved to work from home in their pajamas, while others need the office environment to prevent distraction and get them in the right headspace for work. Hybridity gives the reins over to employees to decide when and where they do their work; it gives them the power to work in a way that will allow them to do the best work that they are capable of.
In a hybrid work environment where team members can work in a way that sets them up for success, meetings are also more successful. Before they have entered the meeting room, team members have been trusted to do what they need to do to be in the right headspace for collaboration. They are less likely to be distracted with outside obligations because they have been enabled to take care of those beforehand; they are less likely to be hungry or drained because they have been trusted to eat or rest as needed instead of during strict, pre-designated break times. Meetings will be more successful when team members have the flexibility to prepare for collaboration in a way that suits their work styles and their life circumstances.