Hybrid work is here to stay: Employees value flexibility, better well-being and work-life balance
By: Elle Schlicker
The sudden onset of Covid-19 completely flipped the workforce from working in person as the rule to the exception, almost overnight — igniting a new massive wave of flexible work options such as remote and hybrid work. Research from the Limeade Institute found that pre-pandemic only 6% of the workforce worked exclusively remote. And right when return to work seemed imminent in 2021, multiple rounds of Covid-19 variants halted those plans and extended the work-from-home era.
While some employees look forward to returning to the office due to the human interactions, easy collaboration and physical work environment, others have grown accustomed to working from home — avoiding their commute and thriving with less distraction. But according to Gallup, “One thing is clear: We’re not returning to the same workplace we left. And employees with the ability to work remotely are largely anticipating a hybrid office environment going forward — one that allows them to spend part of their week working remotely and part in the office.”
This post dives into the future of remote and hybrid work, the complicated relationship between women and hybrid work, and how hybrid work may help promote employee well-being.
The future of remote and hybrid work
In early 2021, we surveyed 4,553 global employees and found that the percentage of onsite employees dropped from 78% to 37%. And the 6% of the exclusively remote workforce mentioned above rose to 39% of employees working from home. Given the unprecedented shift of hybrid or fully remote work, the future of work and of the office is at a turning point. What do employees really want?
Employer and employee expectations
According to a Gallup study, employers have indicated their long-term plan is for remote-capable employees to work a hybrid work schedule. Employees’ preferences seem largely in line with their employer’s plan:
53% of employees expect a hybrid arrangement
24% of employees expect to work exclusively remote
9 in 10 remote-capable employees prefer some degree of remote-work flexibility going forward
6 in 10 employees specifically prefer hybrid work
The study also surveyed why people prefer their ideal work location. The #1 reason employees prefer hybrid work is to avoid commute time. Results indicated that the preference for hybrid work stems from “a strong desire for more personal freedom to work when, where and how it best suits them. Their demands for better well-being, work-life balance and flexibility represent a new ‘will of the workplace’ — one that won’t accept the traditional office going forward.” But the need to still feel connected to their coworkers and their organization is driving the in-person part of the hybrid set-up. In an increasingly digital world, connecting and collaborating with a team, and feeling invested in the company culture is simply easier to experience in person.
Employers and employees agree that a moderate amount of time in the office is important. Gallup’s research has consistently shown that work flexibility tends to be optimal for engaging employees and reducing burnout — before and during the pandemic. Hybrid work seems to be the preferred solution.
The impact of return to work on women
Women have experienced the majority of pandemic-related job losses, according to a 2021 report from the National Women’s Law Center. To be specific, about 88% of the lost jobs in the U.S. during the covid crises were women’s jobs. It seems return to work is having a similarly disproportionate impact on women — and ultimately doesn’t match up with what workers want.
McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey polled 25,000 workers and found a large difference in the number of men who say they were offered remote-working opportunities (61%) and women (52%). Opportunities are even slimmer for transgender and nonbinary people, with 32% of respondents who say they were offered the chance to work remotely. McKinsey also found that of those with remote-work options, women, on average, will opt to work remotely 3.1 days per week, while men opt for 2.9 days.
What is driving women’s wishes for work flexibility?
Gallup’s No. 3 reason for employees wanting hybrid work — flexibility to balance family needs and other obligations. Workplace flexibility has quickly become a deciding factor when accepting job offers. But are employers not offering women the same flexibility as their male counterparts for their own benefit? According to Deloitte’s new 2022 Women @ Work survey, almost 60% of women who work in hybrid environments feel they’ve been excluded from important meetings, and almost half say they don’t have enough exposure to leaders, which is something that’s vital for sponsorship and career progression.
Employers will need to pay special attention to their female employees as we move forward with the hybrid work model as the new normal, making sure to balance their personal needs with their professional aspirations.
Hybrid workplace models have empowered employees to reclaim physical health. Three-quarters of respondents (75%) stated that they move more frequently and have a more active workstyle when working remotely.
Work-life balance is more important than ever. Two-thirds (66%) of respondents say that emphasizing work-life balance is vital in improving company culture in a post-pandemic environment.
Providing comfortable working environments can drive employee affinity and improve company culture. Of the workers surveyed, 62% say that improved workspaces with more comfortable, ergonomic furniture are important in improving company culture.
Continuing to embrace flexibility is essential. Most employees (88%) agree that the flexibility to work from home or the office has increased their job satisfaction.
Mental health benefits of hybrid work. 56% of employees report improvements to their mental health as a result of the hybrid work environment
A new way of working together
While the number of hours or days in the office does not seem to be unanimous, the need for a mix of in-person/on-site days with remote and work-from-home days is. Hybrid work is clearly the winning workflow for the future of both employers and employees alike. This hybrid work model will require employers to show their employees care as they navigate and will require infusing well-being into work like they became accustomed to over the pandemic.
Bonus Resource: The definitive guide to work-life harmony
Employees shouldn’t have to choose between work and well-being. Check out our ultimate guide to fostering a culture of care and agency in your organization.