The new abnormal: Hybrid work how-tos

A majority of workers want a hybrid schedule post-pandemic. Here’s how to approach your manager about it.
Feature Hybrid Work Here To Stay Panel

As more and more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19, the groundswell to start returning workers to the office and a “normal” way of doing things will grow.

However, workers have made it clear that what was once normal no longer is, and a return to the office, at least full time, doesn’t fit into their definition of new normal.

Prior to this pandemic, just 20% of all employed people whose jobs could be done from home actually did work from home all or most of the time, according to the Pew Research Center. Now, that number has risen to 71%, with 54% saying they would want to continue working from home after the pandemic ends.

According to Microsoft, 66% of employers globally are redesigning their workplaces to accommodate a hybrid work model, and other studies confirm this trend as well. FlexJobs’ survey of 2,100 remote workers found that only 2% said post-pandemic they wanted to return to the office full-time, with one-third (33%) preferring hybrid and 65% wanting to stay fully remote.

Additional research from staffing firm Robert Half indicates one-third of professionals currently working from home would look for a new job if required to return to the office full time. Further, nearly half of all employees surveyed said they prefer a hybrid work structure. Of employees surveyed by Robert Half, 26% said they prefer to work fully remote, 49% would prefer to work a hybrid schedule of remote and in the office, and just 25% said they desire to return to full-time office work.

The workers’ return-to-office wish list includes:

  1. Ability to set preferred work hours;
  2. Personal office space;
  3. Commuting expenses;
  4. Relaxed dress code; and
  5. Employer-provided child care.

Some of those things may not be feasible for employers to provide in order to get employees back to the office full time, so a hybrid schedule would seem to make the most sense for employers to make a permanent switch to whenever possible. Faced with the prospect of one-third of their workforce seeking other opportunities if a hybrid schedule wasn’t provided, employers should also recognize the difficulties in replacing the employees who have stuck with them so far during the pandemic if they don’t become more flexible.

Senior managers have apparently already seen the writing on the wall. In a separate Robert Half survey, 46% of senior managers polled expect a hybrid workforce to be the new normal following the pandemic. Thirty-four percent predict retaining key employees will be the biggest benefit of using hybrid teams, while 25% predict sustaining team engagement and productivity will be the biggest challenge of using hybrid teams.

With 59% of senior managers reporting that they have postponed promoting top performers due to the pandemic and 78% having retention concerns, the shift to a permanent hybrid work schedule just makes more and more sense.

While Wisconsin’s rural areas are still playing catch-up with regard to the availability of broadband internet service, the at-home setups of workers in the Greater Madison area are largely well connected already. According to new research from WalletHub, Wisconsin actually leads the Midwest in work-from-home ease.

In order to find out the states that provide the best conditions for working from home, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia, looking at factors like the share of workers working from home before COVID-19 to internet cost and cybersecurity, as well as variables like how large and how crowded homes are in the state. While Wisconsin ranked a modest No. 21 nationally in the WalletHub study, it was the top Midwest state on the list, indicating the barriers to hybrid work are fewer here than in neighboring states.

“It makes sense that the majority of people who can work from home would like to continue doing so after the pandemic for many reasons, such as the fact that it eliminates a daily commute and can offer a quieter workspace,” says Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub analyst. “Companies should allow their employees to work from home even after the pandemic, if possible. Having at least some employees work from home creates a more hygienic and less chaotic work environment and would help minimize the economic damage of future crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. Letting employees work from home could lead to a general boost in worker morale, too, considering the majority of people who currently work from home want to continue doing so.”

Hybrid work models can take a couple forms. In one, some employees work full-time from the office while others work full-time remotely. As such, the office is only ever partially full, and nearly always with the same people. The other model, and one which allows for the greatest flexibility, is one where workers commute to the office part of the time and work remotely the rest.

While more flexible, this latter model may take more planning and communication, especially because workers and managers still may not see eye to eye on what the “right” number of days is for being on-site. More than half (55%) of workers surveyed in a recent PwC report said they prefer working remotely three days a week. Meanwhile, 68% of U.S. executives surveyed said workers should be in the office at least three days a week.

Having a more formal hybrid or remote-work policy in place can help alleviate a lot of problems before they start, and as companies move into the more long-term post-pandemic phase of reopening and recovery, creating a written policy makes a lot of sense.

For those employers that would like to continue working remotely at least partially, FlexJobs’ Greg Kratz offers the following guidance for how to request a hybrid work arrangement:

Time it right

“Depending on your situation, you might be able to wait for an upcoming performance review or a regular one-on-one with your boss to broach the subject,” says Kratz. “But if you can’t wait, schedule a specific time with your boss to discuss it.”

Request a specific time and date for a short meeting and say that you want to discuss your schedule.

Be specific

Make your request as specific as possible, recommends Kratz. For example, if you say, “I want to work at home a few days a week,” your manager might think that one day a week is enough. Instead, give a specific schedule. “I want to work at home on Mondays and Wednesdays.”

Then explain why you chose those days and discuss how it will help the company and your productivity. “Mondays and Wednesdays work best because those are the days I don’t have any team meetings and when I usually do deep work. I’ll be able to get more done at home since I won’t have to worry about the commute or any office distractions.”

“Specificity is important,” says Kratz. “It will help your manager understand that you’ve got a well-thought-out plan.”

Prepare your talking points

Jot down a few notes to help you remember what you want to say, advises Kratz. Be clear about how your hybrid schedule will help your boss, the team, and the company.

Practice in advance

“Ask a trusted colleague or family member to listen to your plan and presentation,” says Kratz. “Seek honest feedback about your ideas. Are you specific enough? Backing up your request with data? Speaking with confidence?”

Explain the benefits

While there are many ways that a hybrid schedule will benefit you, it’s far more effective to explain how your hybrid schedule can benefit your employer. It can be even more persuasive if you use remote work statistics to back up your explanations.

“Assuming you’ve been working remotely during most of the pandemic, you have access to plenty of data about your productivity and performance benchmarks while working remotely,” notes Kratz. “You can use this to your advantage.”

Emphasize communication and accountability

Your ability to communicate and work effectively with your teammates will be vital to your success.

Explain how and when you’ll communicate your progress and how you’ll collaborate on work-from-home days. “I’ll respond promptly to Slack messages, document all my progress in the project management tool, and send an email round-up at the end of every week.”

Offer a trial run

Your manager may be a bit reluctant to try out a hybrid work arrangement for various reasons. “If you’re sensing any resistance, offer a trial run to test things out,” says Kratz. “Work with your manager to set up concrete and objective goals that can measure your productivity and performance. At the end of the trial period, meet up with your manager and discuss the results.”

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