Despite COVID-19 vaccines shipping around the country, 2021 will start with many employees working remotely as pandemic cases and hospitalizations continue to rise.
As the calendar turns in 2021, however, there is hope that American businesses can enter a post pandemic phase and employers are envisioning what “new normal” working conditions will look like.
Greg Nichols writes in ZDNet that the pandemic is a watershed moment in American history and some changes, especially in how we work, may be long term.
Some employees cannot wait to get back to the office, while others want to continue working remotely.
There may be reason for both camps to cheer as a hybrid model of in-person and remote work could become the new normal in 2021.
Remote Work Takes Off During Pandemic
Even prior to the pandemic many Americans were transitioning to some remote work.
In a 2017 Gallup poll, 43 percent of Americans clocked some of their hours each week away from the office and 31 percent of those surveyed worked remotely at least four to five days a week.
PWC research found that during COVID-19 pandemic executives estimated that anywhere from a third to almost all their office employees would work remotely with:
- 77 percent saying most employees (60-100 percent) would work remotely
- 21 percent saying many employees (30-59 percent) would work remotely
According to PWC: “Companies shifted almost their entire office workforce to remote work as the virus spread in the US, and 73% percent of executives say it was a success. This forced experiment is opening opportunities for businesses to address how work gets done across their corporate headquarters, sales offices, contact centers, processing centers and innovation centers.”
In a post pandemic world, executives expect 55 percent of their office employees to work remotely at least one day a week.
Office workers are buying into the change with 72 percent saying they would like to work away from the office at least two days a week after COVID-19, and almost a third, 32 percent, saying they would like to continue working remotely forever.
Hybrid Work Model is About Flexibility
When the pandemic started, Google was one of the first U.S. companies to have its employees start working remotely.
Originally targeting a return to office in January 2021, that date has been pushed back to September 2021.
It will not be a 100 percent return to office for Google employees as the company said in a recent email it would try a hybrid model, calling it a “flexible workweek”.
Google’s new work plan is for employees to work at least three days a week in-person, called “collaboration days”, and the other days can be remote workdays.
According to the New York Times, Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, said “We are testing a hypothesis that a flexible work model will lead to greater productivity, collaboration, and well-being.”
Google will not be alone in testing hybrid work with CBSViacom telling employees in November it expected them to split time between remote work and the office in the future.
Hybrid Work Model Challenges
Audrey Khusid, founder and CEO of Miro has seen her company’s digital whiteboarding platform take off with its user base more than doubling since the pandemic started.
Khusid told ZDNet some of the unique aspects of hybrid work would include:
- Hybrid work will present new challenges to unequipped teams: Asynchronous sharing will need to replace routine meetings and real-time meetings will need to be interactive so remote employees can fully participate.
- Engagement will be the new productivity: Engagement, the passion employees have for their job and connection to their teams, is tougher in a hybrid model and companies that can develop it will have a competitive advantage.
- Employees must amplify their engagement to find advancement opportunities: Without face-to-face interaction all the time it will be tougher for some employees to advance. They will have to maximize opportunities in Zoom calls, group messaging, emails, texts and virtual events.
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