Work-from-home culture and the post-pandemic overhaul of hybrid workforces have both won out-of-this-world popularity in recent years. By and large, employees are offered plentiful task flexibility and work-life balance, plus not-inconsequential cuts to their commuting costs and time spent on the road (leading to measurable reductions in traffic congestion and pollution). Yesterday even, The Washington Post reported that at least 15% of workers who participated in a four-day workweek pilot said that “no amount of money” could put them back in the five-day norm. Outlets like Business Insider and AP News have also written about workweek experimentations; be it four in-person days or more work-home hybridity, participants have cited huge increases in their productivity and job satisfaction. After at least a century of groans on Mondays to cheers on Fridays, we could be in the midst of a real shift.
Then again, the flipside of this coin: Social isolation, hampered collaborations, and decreases in person-to-person innovation have been voiced en masse. Folks aren’t convinced that direct messages, voice/video calls, and customized avatars will pay workplace dividends. Many say Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Slack aren’t nearly enough to replace in-office interactions and physical brainstorming meetings. (And are the lines between work and personal time blurred? Are people working as hard? What about burnout?)
Needless to say, this isn’t our first collective rodeo here. More befitting discussions are still on the table.
At this year’s Future of Work Expo 2023 (part of ITEXPO, held at the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale, FL), a session titled “Managing the Hybrid Workforce: The Factors that Really Matter” was hosted by Glenn Goldberg, CEO of Parallel Communications. The session’s speakers were Jon Arnold, Tech Analyst and Principal of J Arnold & Associates, Tom Phelan, CTO and Vice President of Technology at Unified Office, and remote meeting software company Vizetto’s CEO, Av Utukuri.
Following Goldberg’s introductions, Arnold took the mic to discuss statistics on staffs’ weekly average attendances, citing the AWA Hybrid Index Report from December of 2022.
“This is a taste of our future of work,” Arnold said. The stats and graphs shown pointed to bell curves for the visualization of hybrid work strategies; in-office work was lowest on Mondays and Fridays, and highest on Wednesdays. This makes sense, especially since the pandemic. “We’re finding offices to be emptier and emptier,” he continued. “So, how many locations do businesses need? What should next steps be? Which days of the week? What really is best for people in terms of being in person and working virtually?”
Utukuri claimed that Tuesdays through Thursdays may be days with productivity highs for employees, but there seems to be an inverse for employers. Many higher-ups, he said, are insistent on operations just going back to fully-in-person standards Monday through Friday.
Phelan, on the other hand, disagreed. He believed that, while establishing culture via virtual business is newer and, thus, long-term scarier for execs with ingrained habits, that such change can be motivation-strengthening for teams as a whole.
“If you ask me, I’ve been pushing for this for a long time,” Phelan told the group. “Poll ten businesses on how they feel, and I’m confident at least four will express no dire need for on-prem.”
The data speaks to this, as well. In terms of hybrid versus on-premises policies, around 41.4% don’t have specific rules mandated. Their work-from-home options are becoming normalized.
That said, Utukuri made a solid counterpoint regarding the type of osmosis-sharing of information that doesn’t happen quite as often over our screens.
What the speakers did concur on, however, was engagement. Engaging connections can be tough to forge, but long-lasting thereafter. It’s the “having-each-others’-backs” of the matter; if this is established physically and then workers go remote (or simply while virtual altogether), engagement results are usually more positive. But if that starts shaky, the divide widens.
“62% of sales leaders don’t think their remote sales are effective unless in person, and 80% of execs aren’t rock-steady on the work-being-done of it because the only outputs they’re as receptive to are face-to-face conversations and looking at presentation decks around a table. They can’t wander by a cubicle or knock on an office door if their workforce is scattered,” Utukuri pointed out.
But “scattered” physically doesn’t automatically flag total idleness. Many are resistant, but it all goes back to trust and engagement.
At the end of the day, this Future of Work Expo session didn’t open-and-shut this case. This is a thread that’ll be persistently woven and unwoven.
Even studies on our actual brains are split. A publication from BBC Science Focus covered how culture can boil down to the brain’s oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. These chemicals, often triggered by face-to-face moments, can go into “low-power mode” without them; there may be legitimate concern there. And yet, workers the world over have duly expressed that their trust-filled, interactivity levels have been firing on all cylinders while working at home or straddling professional hybridity.
So while this is still a “Wait and see…” and even “Test and see…” for the time being, the fact that discourse around how workers work best isn’t stagnant is a solidly positive sign.
Edited by Alex Passett