Posted: 12 Apr. 2022 12 min. read

What hybrid workplace model will win in the future of work?

How COVID-19 has changed the future of the workplace

Authored by Deloitte and Visier leaders

It’s no longer up for debate—COVID-19 has changed the future of work forever. The mass shift towards remote work has shown us that often, knowledge-based workers simply don’t need to come into an office to get stuff done.

Mostly everyone agrees that the workplaces of tomorrow will look different. But there is plenty of debate about what exactly that means. Different kinds of workers, from individual contributors to managers to CEOs, are approaching the conversation with different values, priorities, and agendas.

Does the right kind of flexible work culture mean back to the office, fully remote, or somewhere in between—a hybrid workplace model? The answer will be different for different organizations. But all signs point to greater worker autonomy and self-determination, despite what some leaders and middle managers might be used to.

The hybrid workplace debate

The conversation around returning to office has the potential to be a contentious one. Now that employees have proven they can work from home—and experienced its benefits—they’re not eager to let go of their newfound freedom and flexibility. However, those leading newly remote companies don’t always share their workers’ sentiment.

According to research from Visier and Deloitte, the C-suite and senior leaders tend to support work models that give employees more autonomy. The reality of today’s labor market is clear—employees want flexibility, and they’re willing to change jobs to get it.

By and large, leadership is becoming comfortable with that fact. There are still some tensions to be sorted out—for example, mid-level managers, especially those who directly supervise people, seem more reluctant to embrace fully remote or worker-led hybrid model.1 But it doesn’t seem like the rising remote-work tide will be turned back by these uncertainties. Instead, the landscape will focus on truly making the most of remote and worker-choice hybrid, and evolving not only how we work, but how we lead and manage.

The benefits of remote work

Employees’ overwhelming preference for remote options has nothing to do with laziness or a lack of care for their jobs. Remote work offers people real, tangible benefits without negatively impacting productivity; on the contrary, productivity has actually risen since the onset of COVID-19 and the rise of distributed models.

For many workers, the time saved by not needing to commute is reason enough to push for remote-first work models, not to mention the ability to make healthier choices by sleeping later or having workday access to their kitchen or gym. Others have been able to move closer to family or relocate to lower-cost areas that allow them to reach goals like getting married or purchasing property much sooner.

Of course, workers are not a monolith, and this preference is not universal. In one study, employees with a higher degree of family-work conflict and those dealing with social isolation reported that they found remote work more challenging.

But overall, workers are feeling happier, healthier, and more satisfied with their jobs. Flexibility gives employees something incredibly valuable—more time, and more freedom to choose how they spend it.

The benefits of hybrid work

As much as workers and their bosses have felt the positive impacts of remote work, most don’t want to give up face-to-face time entirely.

Over 60% of surveyed executives reported feeling that some time in-office is needed to maintain work culture. Plenty of their people agree—in one survey, 44% of workers shared that hybrid was their preferred return-to-work model.

When executed well, a hybrid model can give people the solitude they need to get into a highly productive ‘flow state,’ while in-office days can be used for team-building, meetings, and collaboration.

Most of the uncertainty and potential disagreement around hybrid work isn’t about whether it’s valuable—it’s about how it should best be implemented.

Hybrid models—mandated or worker-choice?

Hybrid models can take two forms: mandated by the employer or left to employees’ discretion. In either model, the exact ratio of remote to on-premise work can vary. The defining factor is who decides when work happens, and where. Is it the employee, or their boss?

Mandated hybrid work
In these hybrid work models, the employer determines when their workforce is present in-office. These decisions might be ruled by company-wide policies, or each manager might be instructed to decide on the best schedule for their team.

Certain days might be designated for on-premise work time, or the employer might set a quota for how many days or hours must be worked in-person each month.

Worker-choice hybrid
Worker-led hybrid is really about flexibility. According to some experts, flexibility is what employees really want from this new working landscape, and hybridity is just a means to that end.

Full flexibility, with no restrictions or oversight at all, can sometimes present organizational challenges. For example, it might be difficult to determine when the in-person offices will be full, and scheduling meetings might be tricky if no one on your team has set hours. Companies who want things to be a little more predictable can try offering workers options for different hybrid schedules, but asking them to commit to their choice long-term—a strategy that was recently adopted by HubSpot.

Building a hybrid model

Designing what your hybrid model will look like must be thoughtful and approached carefully. Employers who mandate overly rigid restrictions could potentially risk harming their workers’ satisfaction, engagement, and willingness to stay with the company long term.

Once the ratio of remote to in-office work has been settled on, organizations need infrastructure and education to thrive in this new way of working. It’s not as simple as coming up with an in-office schedule, and then figuring it out as you go.

That means adopting the right digital tools, and giving your team the hands-on training they need to get value from them. It also means educating managers on how to lead teams, build culture, and create a sense of belonging in a whole new way, and potentially assuaging their fears about losing relevance in a remote-first climate. Another much discussed concern is mitigating unconscious bias towards workers who spend more time on site.

Choice is the future

However, the future of work shakes out for your individual organization, it’s clear that today’s workforce is moving away from rigidity and employer control.

For the most part, leaders and their people agree. Roughly a third of leaders describe worker-choice hybrid as the ideal model2, while workers prefer hybrid as much as 83% of the time. These models have serious potential to boost performance and productivity; one study found that 63% of high-growth companies have already implemented hybrid models.

It’s obvious that companies must offer flexibility if they want to attract and retain talented people. But collaboration, hands-on managers, and in-person offices aren’t going anywhere—they’re just going to look different in the future. From interns to CEOs, people at every organization have to decide on that vision together.

To learn more about hybrid workplaces and the future of work, join us for Visier’s Outsmart virtual conference on May 4-5 and Deloitte’s next webinar on May 19, Beyond HR | People Data is Business Data


1. Visier & Deloitte Study, 2022

2. Visier & Deloitte Study, 2022

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