Office, home or hybrid: The remote work battle lines have been drawn. Which model will win?
Aside from COVID vaccination mandates and politics, is there any topic more divisive than the future of remote work? And like those other flashpoint issues, the loudest opinions tend to dominate the conversation from the extremes. This is typical of the discourse I see on social media:
Managers: “I need everyone back in the office ASAP. No exceptions.
Employees: “I’m never going to work in an office again. Ever.”
Neither one of those positions seems defensible or realistic to me. I think the future of work for many of us lies somewhere in the middle. However, it’s clear that many employees value working from home and have no desire to go back to the office even when COVID has reached a place where it’s safe for everyone to do so. I recently surveyed more than 100 people on LinkedIn. Here's how it broke down:
Only 11% of people want to be back in the office full-time. A slight majority favors working from home while a “hybrid” model is almost as popular. That means that 87% of workers that I polled prefer to work from home all or some of the time.
I don’t think going back to the office 100% of the time will prove to be desirable for anyone who experienced remote work in the last two years. There is just too much sentiment against it and workers have proven that they can be productive from home. For a taste of the fire this subject can generate, click on this Twitter thread:
The real question that remains is whether the hybrid model will prove workable long-term given the cost of office space to facilitate it and the additional complexity it raises for managers. I think the hybrid model makes sense, and personally, I like to work a few days each week from home. However, I don’t know if the finances will make sense for companies to rent or buy office space that at most might be half-full on any given day. Furthermore, if employees can be just as productive at home why pay for office space at all?
On the other hand, I do think something is missed when everyone is working from home in their own silos. Sometimes it is just better to drop in on a colleague and have an in-person conversation about something. It takes more effort to connect with your team, your peers and your colleagues when everyone is separated. For more junior-level employees, I also wonder whether fully remote work will have a negative effect on growth and development.
This article from The Atlantic sums up some of the advantages of working from the office,
Once you’re actually at work, seeing others there can be valuable, even if you have a robust outside social life. In-person communication provides texture and detail that Zoom can’t re-create, and can make working with your colleagues feel less transactional and more humane—listening to your boss say something absolutely wild in a meeting isn’t quite as bad if you can make eye contact with a friend across the conference table and then run out for a coffee afterward to vent. That effect is particularly strong for early-career workers, who need opportunities to learn from older colleagues, network with people in their industry, and figure out the internal politics of their workplace—a set of office advantages that would be tricky for even the most well-meaning employers to offer for a fully dispersed workforce, and not all employers are well meaning.
Yet, you probably don’t need that experience five days a week. Two to three days at most are likely fine. That’s a great place to end up.
Obviously, people who had been working at home pre-COVID probably will continue to do that. What's up in the air is the millions of workers who used to be in the office full-time and are still working from home all or most of the time. Where will they end up at the end of 2022?
One thing is for sure, this issue is far from settled – no matter how strongly people insist that they have made a decision on remote work and will never go the opposite way. Don't be surprised if you find yourself going back to work at the office at least occasionally.