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With hybrid work on the rise, employers gain new opportunity to support employees
The onset of the pandemic prompted a tidal wave of remote work. Two years later, business leaders are still grappling with a powerful question: What is the future of work arrangements?
Some leaders have taken an either-or approach. Remote work is over at SpaceX, the New York Times reported after obtaining a memo in which Elon Musk told employees they are required to spend a minimum of 40 hours in the office each week. Musk cited the importance of visibility, especially for senior employees: “That is why I spent so much time in the factory — so that those on the line could see me working alongside them. If I had not done that, SpaceX would long ago have gone bankrupt.”
Other business leaders have taken a different direction. Yelp, for instance, closed some of its offices to “double down on remote work,” according to The Washington Post. Yelp Co-Founder and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman said the past two years have made it clear that remote work boosts business and benefits workers.
As high-profile business personalities declare their plans for work arrangements, questions remain about how the majority of employers are moving forward. Will the trend in work arrangements revert back to pre-pandemic norms? Or will companies lean into remote work? And what do changes in work arrangements look like over time?
Hybrid work is on the rise
To answer these questions, we surveyed thousands of BetterUp members about their work arrangements. Following coaching sessions, we prompted members to indicate whether they had shifted to remote work, returned to in-person work, or began a hybrid arrangement. Rainy Gu, a People Scientist at BetterUp, analyzed the data and uncovered the trends that unfolded over the last two years.
From June to November 2020, we saw heavy shifts to remote work. Few reported returning to in-person work since June 2020, though we saw up-ticks in this response during the warmer months of 2021 and 2022.
The trend that most intrigued us surrounded hybrid work. We observed an increase in hybrid work during the summer and fall of 2021, though the numbers tapered off during the holidays. But March, April, and May of 2022 brought a spike in the arrangement, signaling a trend: Hybrid work is on the rise.
3 strategies to make hybrid work a success
This finding suggests that many workers will not make a return to the traditional, full-time office life of the pre-pandemic days. This burgeoning reality aligns with most workers’ wishes. In January 2020, a survey of 5,000 workers found that 64% said they wanted to work from home one to four days per week. A report from the Pew Research Center revealed similar findings: 60% of respondents working remotely said they wanted to continue doing so.
With a strong majority of workers rooting for remote arrangements, employers may not need to spend much time touting the benefits of hybrid work. But that doesn’t mean employers have an easy task ahead of them. This past spring, BetterUp surveyed more than 1,400 professionals and uncovered workers’ top issues about remote and hybrid work. Their concerns give employers a roadmap to creating healthy hybrid policies that support fluid work arrangements.
- Create connections
Ninety-three percent of respondents said their top concerns about working from home relate to isolation and mental health problems. Workers’ attention to well-being is well founded: BetterUp’s recent report, The Connection Crisis, highlighted the strong link between social connection and mental health. Employees who were low in social connection exhibited more anxiety and depression, burnout, and stress.
The mental health implications of hybrid work should encourage employers to build strong systems to support their employees. Organizations can pursue this goal by providing personalized attention like coaching to build connections and help employees develop relationship-building skills.
- Model good communication
68% of respondents said remote work made them worried about communication. Their concern may stem from a lack of organizational transparency. Employers have been notoriously slow to detail their plans for hybrid work, causing confusion among workers.
Employees, who are also worried about job security, crave certainty. Organizations’ willingness to be forthright in their plans for work arrangements demonstrates a thoughtfulness toward employees as well as a commitment to transparency. What’s more, an open dialogue about hybrid policies sets a good example for workers in an environment that has proven challenging for collaboration and communication.
- Support productivity — but mitigate burnout
Respondents’ next-most pressing concerns dealt with productivity and burnout. Workers weren’t the only ones to flag output-related issues as potential problem areas of remote and hybrid work. At the beginning of the pandemic, employers and business leaders cited productivity as a chief worry as they shuttered offices.
What they may not have considered, however, is that productivity is a coachable skill. Employers can help workers grow by teaching them productivity-optimizing strategies: from setting goals and gamifying tasks to tracking success and boosting communication.
As workers pointed out, employers need to meet productivity goals with an awareness of burnout. The phenomenon is characterized by a lack of motivation, a lack of job enjoyment, and a lack of belief in one’s ability to get their work done. When workplace leaders spot these symptoms in workers — or themselves — they can highlight opportunities for support, from informal coaching to an employers’ psychological resources.
Communication & support are the keys to making hybrid work arrangements work
Organizations may feel tempted to slip into a hybrid work arrangement, especially if their workforce has been operating remotely since the start of the pandemic.
However, the arrangement is not without its challenges. Many workers have legitimate concerns that have to be addressed for the transition to go smoothly. Employers need to think seriously about their transition to the arrangement, communicating the specifics of their hybrid plans and including call-outs for available support.
By anticipating these challenges in advance, developing a plan to communicate changes clearly and transparently, and offering support at each step of the way, companies can set their employees up for lasting success and reap the full benefits of the hybrid model.
Sr. Insights Manager