The COVID pandemic acted as a catalyst and allowed us to effectively “cross the chasm” and adopt en masse technologies that we already had to transition to a remote or hybrid working model. This happened in a short space of time and almost in unison in nearly every country across the world. Any new technology or significant change in behavior needs to effectively cross this chasm that exists between the inevitable early adopters of a new technology and the majority who will make it stick. The question now is: Where do we go from here? Will we continue along the current path, or will “pandemic fatigue” set in along with a call back to the office for the majority of workers?
Hybrid working has brought with it a number of benefits, principally flexibility and cost savings for workers, which we know from surveys are both highly valued. From a talent point of view, the model allows for greater inclusivity and will help organizations better balance their gender and minority representation and pay issues going forward. Detractors are concerned principally about the diminished impact on leadership ability and influence, reduced collaboration, and the potential for lower levels of productivity in the new model. So far, the productivity numbers do look promising, however.
Factors that will affect the decision on future ways of working will likely fall into the following three categories: industry, company, and personal.
Industry-specific factors will likely have a large impact on the decision. How work is done and best arranged will have a direct impact on how it will be organized. In some industries, large-scale remote working is not possible, but it is in others. Industry culture will also play a part. Industries with a more “progressive” culture will likely favor more remote working, while industries that are more conservative, like banking, will likely see more workers back in the office in 2023.
Company-specific factors will also play a role. Organizations that own their properties or are locked into long-term lease arrangements are less likely to favor increased remote or hybrid working. However, those with more flexible arrangements will more easily be able to realize the company portion of any related cost savings and are more likely to see and support the business case for continuing remote work. Companies that see their competitors and peers moving back to an in-office arrangement are also more likely to follow suit and vice versa.
Style and the individual personal preferences of an organization’s leaders will be the third factor that will impact the decision. Will leaders be willing and able to effectively transition to new ways of managing? Leadership styles driven more by power and affiliation motives are far more likely to miss the in-office time and team dynamic and beat the “back to work” drum more vigorously. Leadership styles that focus more on people and achievement will likely be more open to hybrid working if the results are strong.
By understanding these factors, individuals and teams will be in a better position to understand what the future of work might hold for them in 2023. For now, many companies will likely stick with the current, slightly hedged position of some time in and some time out of the office, 2 days a week in the office and 3 remote, or 1 day in the office per week and 4 days remote that we currently see in the market. Developing a model to allow organizations to better understand what will work best for them would be a good step forward in the debate.
Paul Hunter is Principal at People. Performance. Reward. Hunter has over 20 years’ experience in a professional advisory capacity and has previously held leadership positions with “Big 4” advisory firms, boutique advisory practices, and large multinational advisors in the human capital and pension fund industries. He has been a keynote speaker at conference, industry, and client events across a wide variety of industries, and his advisory experience spans the United Kingdom; Europe, the Middle East, and Africa; and Asia-Pacific regions.