Remote and Hybrid Work Is Here To Stay

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

August 20, 2021

Not much was known about COVID-19 when it initially started. Many at that time thought it was a common flu and will pass. But by the end of the first quarter, the World Health Organization sounded the alarm bells and most countries frantically closed their borders to international travel and even limited movement of people and businesses within their respective borders.

Large industrialized nations went into an immediate damage control mode, investing in finding the cure for the pandemic. Businesses were ordered to shutter down. Many expected changes to be short-lived and lives returning to normalcy. But as it has panned out, it’s been more than 18 months and the world is seeing new variants and waves. The good news is that global economic recovery—although a far cry—is well underway. Businesses were quick in finding a workaround amid the pandemic, both in terms of their business model and employment policies.

Large companies quickly pivoted to remote work. But with the COVID situation continuing to evolve, many large companies have had to rethink their workplace strategy. Companies such as Spotify, an OTT provider; Novartis, a pharma giant; Coinbase, a crypto company, to name a few, have chosen to shift to remote work indefinitely.

Remote Work and its Feasibility

The obvious question that comes next is the feasibility of remote work in different sectors. It is easily understood that remote work has more takers or is possible in sectors such as tech, media and finance. Spotify announced its work-from-anywhere policy in February, offering its employees a choice of working fully from home, from the office or a combination of both. The company has also gone a step ahead by allowing the freedom to employees in choosing the country and city they want to work from.

Starting from investing in remote infrastructures to redeveloping the employee remote working structures, companies are actively moving to a remote working framework in view of future crises and increasing demand from employees to shift to a more home-based working structure.

What about other sectors? It is a hard reality that sectors such as travel and hospitality, transport and utility services, where physical presence of the employee is mandatory, will continue to operate as before. A rare exception to this is the world’s first hotel in Japan that is completely staffed and run by robots. But these are utopian instances which are impossible to become a reality as robots still lack comprehensive and full range of motions and emotions that humans possess.

Remote Does Have Constraints

There are downsides to remote work. The main constraint is the social benefits that is lost from not being around office colleagues. Office relationships and the face-to-face conversations are reduced to emails, video chats or messaging. These meaningful collaborations are lost in a remote working environment.

Remote working has also been linked to poor physical and mental wellbeing. Employees have been observed to spend more time on their systems without any physical activity or social contact, leading them to be more withdrawn and tired. Additionally, remote working is challenging for people staying alone or have young children to take care of. Amid the pandemic, working parents have to juggle between attending to their kids while working from home.

But there seems to be a solution to this riddle, and that is hybrid work. A hybrid working model allows employee to split their working time between work-from-home and work-from-office. Many research has shown this split to be effective in the ratio of 60:40, meaning an employee works remotely 3 days in a 5-day work week.

Ford, the world’s largest automobile company recently announced a permanent shift to remote and in-office working model for its non-place dependent employees globally. Similarly, Siemens in its July 2020 announcement has allowed mobile working for two to three days in a week globally. This model is on effect for more than 140,000 of the company’s employees at over 125 locations in 43 countries. And these are but just a few examples among many.

Benefits of Hybrid Work

The 9 to 5 Monday through Friday work model is history now. There are upsides to hybrid working. It has been seen to increase productivity among employees significantly. This increase in productivity has largely been seen due to the elimination of commute time between home and office. Another reason is that employees are more accepting to the idea of working flexible hours than the rigid 9 to 5 office timings.

Companies have also benefitted from the remote working shift. Office rents and office operational expenses form a large part of the expenses for multinational companies with offices in different locations. The permanent shift to remote working has enabled them to save on these costs. Additionally, sourcing talent has become easier as companies don’t have to worry about the location criteria when selecting a remote worker.

Hybrid work is here to stay and companies that acknowledge and pivot to this new normal, stand to reap the benefits of it in the future.

Photo Caption: An employee working remotely from a cafe in Havana, Cuba.