COVID-19 appears to be winding down. Even with variants like Omicron popping from time to time, the worst seems to be over. Now, companies that had adopted remote work to cope with lockdowns have to work out just how to shift back to the office.
One thing however remains certain, even with pandemic coming to a close and no more lockdowns looming, work is never going to be the same again. Workers have had a taste of the freedom and flexibility that comes with operating remotely and are not going to simply go back to the traditional office. Moreover, managers and executives (who usually take some time) are also slowly coming to this realization.
That is why many companies are opting for a hybrid model; it is the only way for executives to maintain some sort of ‘physical supervision’ while also granting their employees the much-demanded flexibility and freedom that comes with working from home.
From Microsoft, Slack, and Twitter; most of the bigwigs in tech have already switched or have indicated plans to permanently switch to a hybrid model. This comes as no surprise as most employees according to a study are keen to maintain some measure of the remote work model.
The question however is whether these companies are simply granting their employees concessions to cox them back to the office or are they sincere about a hybrid model?
The first option may mean that the hybrid model embraced by these companies is a temporary measure in a much grander plan to lure their employees back to the office. It is no secret that most managers would very much like their employees around their office for closer supervision.
As such we should expect these companies to slowly reduce the time spent by their employees away from the office up to a time when the employees are comfortable enough to work in the office where managers ‘can keep a closer eye on them.’
The second option would mean that executives are sincere about the switch to a hybrid model. They see the positive effects that freedom and flexibility bring to the company. There is simply no denying the advantages that come with remote working now. The experiment has been tested and the results are in; it works! Pretty well in fact. And so, it is up to managers and executives to accept this revolution and adopt the new way.
Intending to do so and actually putting the wheels to work are however two different things. As most managers know; the what is pretty easy, the how though, is another matter. A few companies are however leading the charge in this new revolution and have effected new methodologies to successfully implement hybrid work for their various companies and departments.
It is a really long list that continues to grow. A few are worthy of a mention.
Before that, however, it is important to define exactly what I mean by ‘hybrid work.’ Apparently, this means different things to different companies.
The Office Centric Hybrid Approach
As the name suggests this is very much an office first approach with hybrid just facilitating this outlook. People are expected in the office for a predetermined number of days of the week. Managers here (grudgingly) concede some remote work time, though just a little, maybe two days max. Most of the time employees are expected at the office with the reasoning for this being flimsy at best (“We like seeing people around)
The Flexible Hybrid Approach
This approach bears some initiative as new tools and technologies are introduced into the workforce to make distributed collaboration and contribution possible. While there is real estate for those who still want to work at the office there are no set amount of ‘forced’ days in the office.
Remote Friendly Hybrid
With this approach, there is a wider acceptance of the global distribution of people. There are also tools in place to make remote work possible. And, while the office exists, it serves as complementary to remote work as opposed to the other way round.
Gitlab for instance adopts this model in its remote allowed/remote first approach.
Virtual First Approach
As the name suggests this is an org-wide approach to remote work so that every element of the institution is designed to first serve the distributed workforce and not the office.
In the remote-first workplace, everyone from top to bottom (including leadership) should ideally be out of the office.
Various companies especially in tech have adopted at least some form of the hybrid approaches described above. Here is a description of how they are trying to accomplish this.
During the height of the pandemic in early 2020, Microsoft like many other of its tech peers instituted a mandatory work-from-home policy for its global worksites. A year later executive vice president Kurt DelBene announced that the company was welcoming back more workers to their worksites all over the world.
In a blog post, he detailed the rationale for the switch to what would be Microsoft’s hybrid work plan for its employees.
“At each of our global work sites, the hybrid workplace model strikes a balance, providing limited additional services on campus for those who choose to return, while supporting those who need to work remotely or feel more comfortable doing so. Our goal is to give employees further flexibility, allowing people to work where they feel most productive and comfortable, while also encouraging employees to work from home as the virus and related variants remain concerning.”
Fast forward another year later and Microsoft, who at first sounded to have fully embraced an almost full-on hybrid model, seems to be scaling back on this policy. With COVID becoming less of a threat, Microsoft is slowly coxing back employees back to the workplace.
Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela states this in a blog post saying “We’re excited to welcome our employees back to a modern workplace that fosters inclusion, collaboration and community. In the months ahead, we’ll continue to adopt a growth mindset and create a new world of work that is better for everyone as we learn together as One Microsoft.”
Considering that Zoom has undoubtedly become the face of post-pandemic remote work, I thought it would be interesting to delve into how Zoom handles its own employees.
In a similar blog detailing the company’s approach, chief financial officer Kelly Steckelberg acknowledges the rapid change in the attitude of workers towards a remote model.
“When we polled Zoomies, only 1% expressed wanting to work full-time in the office. Over half preferred to be hybrid, a quarter wanted to work full-time from home, and the rest were mostly full-time remote already.”
She however does state the desire for the company to have its workers back at the office saying “We at Zoom have made it a point to constantly engage our employees on return-to-office planning and create a safe space for them to express any concerns regarding potential plans.”
Zoom is not, however, ‘rushing our office reopenings.’ The leadership is preparing a hybrid approach that involves “strategically mixing remote and in-office work — but we’re still experimenting with how that even looks. Admittedly, it’s not easy.”
Above all, trust as explained by Kelly is the most important aspect of the whole system.
“Trust has been and will continue to be the linchpin for our strategy at Zoom. Without it, we can’t operationalize any approach we ultimately decide to take.”
As one of the more ‘progressive’ tech companies in Silicon Valley, one would expect Google to be the champion of remote work in the tech space. The truth however is that even Google has its limits.
In a blog, new CEO Sundar Pichai expresses the company’s ‘not so secret desire for its employees to come back to the office. He supports this with stats like “…in places where we’ve been able to reopen Google offices in a voluntary capacity, we’ve seen nearly 60% of Googlers choosing to come back to the office.”
He goes on to praise Google’s offices calling their campuses to be “….at the heart of our Google community and the majority of our employees still want to be on campus some of the time.”
Credit to Sundar and Google, however, as they still recognize that many of its employees “…enjoy the flexibility of working from home a couple days of week, spending time in another city for part of the year, or even moving there permanently. Google’s future workplace will have room for all of these possibilities.”
Sundar outlines key principles that have been guiding the company in its approach to building a hybrid workplace.
Sound and praiseworthy principles to be had. Whether they will stick by them however is another matter. My opinion is that much of this is just a PR stunt to show how progressive they are. The sad truth is that many companies would very much like their employees back at the office where they can have a sense of control over their activities.