After two years of disruption, the return to the office feels as if we’re returning to some form of normality. Across the world — especially in the West — restrictions have been lifted, shops are bustling with customers, and music venues are full of fans again.
Yet, as most of our daily routine returns to how it was pre-pandemic, there is one area that seems to have changed for good. Back in March 2020, almost 560 million workers across the globe swapped their offices for kitchen tables. It was a new and impromptu experiment that led to an equally novel outcome — hybrid work.
Some businesses are still working to bring all staff back to the office full-time, and others are choosing to work remotely permanently. Yet, as the data shows us, hybrid work has become the preferred way of working for both employees and employers.
Return to the office: some facts and figures
In February 2022, 84% of UK workers who had worked remotely during the pandemic said they planned to adopt a hybrid work schedule. Despite this, only 13% were actually doing so. Fast forward to May 2022, and that number had risen to 24%, showing that hybrid work models are becoming more commonplace. A similar picture can be seen in Australia, where around 44% of workers work on a hybrid schedule.
This trend towards hybrid working doesn’t seem to be reflected in the US. While the popularity of remote work has increased, approximately 42% of American workers (some 66 million people) have not been offered any form of remote working option — and just 23% have been offered a hybrid work schedule. Giants like Tesla and Apple have tried mandating a complete return to work for all employees, highlighting America’s tendency towards returning to the office. However, it has not been a smooth transition for either company.
Return to the office: things we know now
One of the main points raised by remote work detractors is that working from home leads to distractions — which leads to lower productivity and profits. However, the numbers show the opposite was true. Productivity increased, and 55% of workers in the UK reported that they could concentrate better at home than in an office setting.
We now know more about several of these assumptions about working from home and hybrid work. Let’s take a closer look at some of them.
Hybrid is causing friction between employees and their employers
Both Tesla and Apple faced a brutal backlash to their decision to return to the office full-time. Tesla is predicted to lose at least 10% of its current staff, and 30% will likely look for new jobs. Despite this, its founder Elon Musk has repeatedly doubled down on banning remote work throughout the company.
Apple’s Director of Machine Learning, Ian Goodfellow, quit his position at Apple and picked up a comfortable position as part of Google’s DeepMind division just weeks later. Apple has since changed its position on in-office work and is offering a hybrid work schedule starting in September 2022.
Employee backlash is one of the significant drivers of hybrid adoption. There has been plenty of friction between management and its workers as we try to figure out how the working landscape will look post-pandemic. Employees are clear about their need for flexibility and haven’t been afraid to stick to their guns.
Dubbed “The Great Resignation,” more and more employees are choosing to walk away from jobs that don’t meet their needs. In March 2022, 4.5 million workers quit their jobs as they sought better work-life balance, better pay, better benefits, and more flexibility.
Despite this, there seems to be a concerning disconnect growing between flexibility for executives compared to lower-level staffers. In some cases, employees report that top brass is taking advantage of the situation, insisting their employees come in while they continue to work remotely.
Inflation and economic concerns are putting stress on employees
Across the world, workers are feeling the pinch as we head toward another recession. The “Cost of Living Crisis” has hit workers hard, especially those asked to work in the office full-time.
In the UK, inflation is hovering around 9%. The situation is similar in the US, where prices have risen at their fastest rate in 40 years. Among these rising costs are crucial needs for those who commute and work in the office. Gas and food prices have increased dramatically, but wages haven’t kept up with inflation.
Considering all these financial issues come after two years of not needing to commute or pay for childcare, it is becoming extremely tough for workers to justify working for a business that doesn’t offer at least some form of remote work.
Offices have needed to adapt
Real estate is one of the highest costs for any business. Many businesses are reluctant to adopt hybrid or remote work because they don’t want to see the money they spend on office space go “to waste”.
This has meant businesses have been forced to abandon the traditional office. Instead, they have adapted their offices to become a workplace that facilitates collaboration and makes the most of the new work environment.
It’s easier said than done, however, as many businesses are learning. We share our best-practice insights for hybrid office space design and operations in this guide: ‘How to plan your office space for hybrid working’.
As the world economy continues to spiral, employers may regain some of the power they lost over the pandemic. This will give them more of a say when deciding if employees should return to the office or not. As businesses plan effective return-to-work strategies, we are seeing more and more technology coming to the market to help manage hybrid work models.
At Smartway2, we’re proud to offer a fully-featured workplace scheduling solution that helps companies effortlessly plan returning to the office, hybrid work models, and the future of work.