After two and half years of labor disruption and other bad news, employers are still searching for the upside from the turmoil they’ve endured. The shift to hybrid work may be just the silver lining they’ve been looking for.
What companies have gleaned from this shakeup is greater clarity around what employees need to be happy, productive, and loyal – and employers are taking note.
When the dust settles, organizations may be better positioned than ever to attract and retain outstanding talent.
Recent polling by Gallup has shown hybrid work to be preferred by 59% of employees. Contrary to popular belief, less than a third want to work exclusively remote. But the biggest insight may be that few employees want to work at either extreme – be it 100% in-office or 100% remote.
In the US alone, there are nearly twice as many job openings as there are prospective employees. CareerFinder found that 25% of candidates would actively turn down an offer that didn’t include some remote option.
The best candidates for non-frontline roles want some form of flexibility – convincing them to take an in-office-only position has never been more difficult.
Offering a bit of both worlds, hybrid work has emerged as a powerful strategy for both recruiting and retention efforts.
What’s more, hybrid models create a spectrum of potential work arrangements, rather than the binary choice of yesteryear. That gives employers more opportunities to accommodate the needs of today’s diverse workforce.
Recent studies suggest remote work preferences may be split along generational or stage-of-life lines. LinkedIn found 20-24 year-olds to be the least likely to respond to remote-only job postings.
Another nationwide study found only 24% of 20-somethings that could work remotely wanted to do so full time, a number that increased steadily each decade, until topping out at 41% for people in their 50s and early 60s.
While younger employees often lack the residential resources to support productive work from home (hello, roommates and tiny apartments), they also miss the camaraderie, mentorship, and learning opportunities that are so valuable early in a career.
Older employees, on the other hand, recognize fewer of these perks and more of the inconveniences: they often live farther from work, have kids or other responsibilities that require timely pick-ups and drop-offs, are less reliant on the workplace for social engagement, and are more self-sufficient in their professional roles.
Much can often be left to managers’ discretion with hybrid work models, which can be a great way to drive accountability and customization down to those who know best how to balance what the team and its members need to be successful.
There isn’t one simple answer to this question, but we can say that becoming a talent magnet is not about sprawling campuses with foosball and free kombucha. It’s not about following a single recipe for success, for example, that all employees should spend three days in the office.
It’s about creating environments where people can thrive as professionals and individuals. That means empowering people with the right tools and resources to be their best selves and giving them the flexibility to “design their own work experience” to meet their personal needs.
What enables productivity will look different depending on the team and the type of work, tasks, and activities being done.
We also see how much happier and less stressed people are when they’re able to prioritize what’s important to them both in- and outside of work.
In a hybrid world, employees don’t have to give up the freedom and control they had while working at home, but they also have a few more anchors to lend structure and accountability to their days. Both are needed.
If you need incentive to drive your organization’s leadership towards a confident embrace of hybrid work, look no further than its ability to spark employee productivity, drive greater employee engagement, and open doors to a wider talent pool from which to recruit new hires.
Hybrid schedules force employees to plan their time more carefully. Many find it helps – or forces – them to compartmentalize the types of work they need to do and organize their itineraries to fit the physical space they’ll be in (or vice versa).
The new space design plans many companies have begun adopting can help optimize this planning. As offices have evolved into transient hubs focused more on collaborative work, social engagement, and places to concentrate away from kids, pets, and laundry, they’ve been reimagined.
Instead of reflecting a standardized design that fits lots of different types of engagement, many now feature workspaces that are much more specialized to the types of work people come into offices to do. And employees are given the autonomy to match what they need to get done to the best environment in which to do so – whether it be in the office or a remote location of their choice.
Employee engagement is a measure of the mental and emotional commitment one feels to their work, their team, and their employer. When engagement is high, employees feel a vested interest in making their workplace successful.
Even better, employee engagement creates a virtuous cycle because happy employees tend to be healthier, more productive, more creative, and their enthusiasm is contagious.
Organizations with highly engaged workforces tend to be more profitable, experience less absenteeism, and enjoy higher employee job satisfaction and customer satisfaction.
Forbes even went so far as to say “Healthy and engaged employees, in concert with a strong workplace culture, are the secret sauce for business success.”
But what drives employee engagement? Things like shared values, trust, autonomy, communication, and the feeling that they are part of something bigger than themselves.
Hybrid workplaces are well positioned to deliver on many of these drivers. As we discussed in our post on how to do hybrid right, a successful hybrid strategy starts by defining the company’s identity and core values.
The flexibility afforded to hybrid employees to determine where, when, and how they work can also be a powerful symbol of the trust organizations place in their employees.
Underlying this trust is a real sense of autonomy for hybrid workers. Vacation times and outside interests don’t have to be slotted in around a rigid work schedule. On the flip side, autonomy also involves taking responsibility for setting personal boundaries and maintaining appropriate work-life balance.
Hybrid work also requires more intentional, proactive communication between managers and employees if it’s to be successful. Accountability and feedback take on elevated importance when supervisors can’t see with their own eyes that their team is being productive, and employees often need more verbal guidance that their performance is where it should be.
Satya Nadella had it right when he said hybrid work would be “the biggest shift in how we work in a generation.”
No one knows how this great experiment will end yet, but we are all playing a role in finding out. Engaged employees not only feel like part of their own organization’s greater purpose, but those that are hybrid often identify with their role in this societal shift as well.
Hybrid work environments help us pay more attention to the spectrum of human experiences – which in turn opens up a wider talent pool to organizations offering them.
Corporate offices have long been accused of ignoring segments of the labor pool that can’t accommodate their structural requirements. We also can’t avoid the data reminding us that the commute is the number one reason people don’t want to go into the office every day.
The flexibility of a hybrid model offers hope that more people may be willing and able to participate in the traditional workforce if hybrid arrangements are offered – and the impacts of more inclusive hiring on innovation, culture, and productivity are well documented.
Consider who you reach when you engage in recruiting for hybrid roles. People who want to work both remote and on-site understand the value of meeting in person, while maintaining their productivity when working from afar.
Those candidates tend to pride themselves on being flexible, adaptable, and connected to a dispersed team – the soft skills every employee needs to thrive in a constantly changing, digital-first world.
Nothing attracts talent and builds a strong, loyal, engaged workforce like winning. When the company succeeds, employees succeed – loyalty and retention soar. When employees succeed, others want to join them, and our ability to attract more talent improves.
By enhancing individual and collective productivity, stimulating employee happiness and engagement, and attracting a wider pool of talented candidates, hybrid work offers great promise. But only when done well.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. But it does have to keep learning and evolving.
The right workplace culture should always be adaptive – just like the top talent you want to attract to grow your business.