What was once considered a momentary change in the workplace dynamic, it’s looking more and more like hybrid work is here to stay. So, if this is our new normal, what are some ways employers can optimize flexible work, and why exactly have they decided that this may be best for business going forward?

Workplace return imminent

Following the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine, many employers were looking forward to having workers return to the office. With their collective wish to reunite workers as a way of building team morale and camaraderie, it seemed that returning to the office was inevitable.

Even when there seemed to be pushback from some employees who had found working from home more conducive to productivity, employers still favored a return.

According to a survey by The Future Forum, involving data culled from 10,000 workers globally, “Three-quarters of all executives reported they want to work from the office three to five days a week, compared with about one-third of employees. Among executives who have primarily worked completely remotely through the pandemic, 44% said they wanted to come back to the office every day. Just 17% of employees said the same.”

According to Alex Sherman, in an article for CNBC, this has lead to a disconnect between executives and employees as the two sides may have had different experiences during quarantine. While working from home offers workers a greater sense of privacy and the ability to save time and money on commuting, executives find the accompanying lack of their own personal spaces and the lack of in-person teamwork troubling.

Apparently, that was then, and this is now.

Recently, many managers have started to warm to the concept of hybrid learning. According to Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, in an article for Forbes, “managers are currently more positive than they have been since the outset of COVID-19 about employees working from home, with: 51.8% agreeing that working from home improves employee concentration; 59.5% agreeing that it increases productivity: and 62.8% agreeing that it increases motivation. An even larger proportion of managers (76.5%) believe flexible working generally increases productivity.”

So it is no surprise that, according to a research report published by The Conference Board, C-Suite Outlook 2023: On the Edge: Driving Growth and Mitigating Risk Amid Extreme Volatility, “there appears to be an emerging equilibrium around remote work in economies that more rapidly moved to hybrid models during the pandemic, with just 5 percent of CEOs in the US and Europe looking to expand it and about 4 percent looking to reduce it.”

“Despite evidence showing many CEOs in the US and Europe desire a return to the office mandate, just 5 percent of CEOs in the US and 2 percent in Europe cite returning workers to the physical workplace as an HCM priority in 2023. For many, the challenge now is how to optimize a hybrid work model,” the report found.

How to 'Get the Most'

“Given that about three quarters of all US companies are in the process of adopting a hybrid work model, optimizing this mix of employee activities is critical both for the success of individual companies, and the US economy as a whole,” said Tsipursky.

So, what are some best practices in optimizing hybrid work?

For one, if you’re going to request employees return to the office, make sure their commute is worth it. “One key filter to determine what to do where: to maximize productivity, hybrid work models have to minimize the commuting time for employees. Coming to the office needs to be for a specific purpose that outweighs the significant costs - in time, money, and stress - involved in the commute,” Tsipursky advises.

A second tip is to discern which jobs and tasks are better suited for solitude. Tsipursky adds “the large majority of the work that most employees do is more effectively done from home anyway, even if the commute wasn’t an issue. For instance, much of the work done by individual employees involves focused tasks that they do by themselves.”

According to Greg Hanover for Business.com, hybrid work policy can also be used as a way of acquiring a much more inclusive and higher-quality workforce.

During the hiring process, offering a position as work-from-home can open your horizon to breed of employee previously unreachable.

Call center positions, for example, are usually entry level with high turnover. If these positions are shifted to remote work, it opens up talent searches to “include parents, people who work multiple jobs and out-of-state workers – whoever the best fit for the job may be,” Hanover advised.

Work flexibility can also be used as a way to foster employee independence and self-determination.

“Given the nature of their jobs, virtual teams are not entirely confined to conventional working schedules. Someone in a creative field may be compensated based on the projects they complete rather than the hours they put into those projects. … These kinds of arrangements not only help companies lower their overhead costs, but incentivize workers to take their careers into their own hands,” Hanover noted.

Ultimately, Hanover reminded, remote work isn’t for everyone. “Not every worker possesses the drive and discipline to transition out of an office job. More often than not, however, that’s because the individual wasn’t the right fit in the first place – it’s hard to make yourself care about something you’d rather not do, even with a supervisor standing over you.”

So if remote and hybrid work are going to be a permanent part of our new normal, you should get the most out of it, from the beginning.