As a leader, you must decide what workplace model you want to use, considering the needs of your business and your employees. Generally, organizations will have three options: entirely remote, predominantly in-person, or a hybrid of the two.
Before you decide, it's important to know the merits and drawbacks of each model. Here's a quick rundown:
Before the pandemic, many organizations had nearly all employees in an office most days, and some feel an inclination to return to this workplace model. Some organizations have struggled to create a fully collaborative environment while working remotely, and Netflix CEO Reid Hastings spoke for many detractors when he called remote work "a pure negative."
Companies that have encountered remote-work challenges may want to go back to simpler, pre-pandemic times. If you've led a highly successful in-person organization, it's natural to want to regain that degree of organizational success, collaboration, and camaraderie.
But companies must know that while many employees cannot wait to return to the office, others have decided they prefer remote work and have even moved far away from their former office. Freelancing and hiring company Upwork found that 23 million Americans plan to relocate in response to increased remote-work opportunities. These employees may decide to pursue a new job if coming back to the office is mandatory.
Before returning to a purely in-person model, get a sense of what people want by either having managers collect intel or distributing an anonymous survey. If your employees predominantly want to continue working remotely, it may be worthwhile to listen.
While some companies have struggled remotely, many prior skeptics have embraced remote work in the pandemic. Companies as large as Twitter have even told employees they can work from home forever.
The benefits of a fully remote model are apparent -- being completely virtual allows companies to save on office space and in-office technology, such as remote-friendly conference rooms and office servers. In addition, remote work can give employees the flexibility they didn't know they craved, allowing them to set a better schedule for themselves, be more productive without the distractions of an office, and be more present outside work.
However, companies shouldn't be replicating all their in-person workflows, meeting routines, and management approaches in a newly virtual organization. Instead, the best remote companies help their employees engage and collaborate while working from home, share strategies to help their people manage a remote workday, and invest in employee necessities by offering laptops, office-supply reimbursements, or high-speed wireless subsidization.
That said, be aware of and think of ways to accommodate the people who were looking forward to coming back to the office and won't be excited to find out there isn't one.
It's crucial to know that creating a hybrid work environment requires a careful strategy in and of itself; it's not a way to avoid setting a clear course. Leaders of hybrid organizations must create an environment where employees are consistently available and every team member is engaged professionally, even if they rarely come to the office.
Hybrid organizations have one clear advantage: They give every employee an opportunity to work however they want, whether that means coming to an office consistently, working from home every day, or something in the middle. Hybrid organizations also have the benefit of a readymade office space for in-person meetings, training, teambuilding, and more.
However, hybrid organizations need to ensure everyone is integrated in their work environment, regardless of where or how they work. There must be clear expectations and norms about when employees can work remotely and when they should be in the office. Leaders must plan in-person meetings and collaboration carefully, rather than abruptly calling employees into the office for conferencing. Most crucially, they must ensure that employees who work from home frequently are not passed over for advancement and recognition, and don't fall into social isolation.
Companies should weigh these three workplace models carefully, and not thoughtlessly gravitate to the style that is closest to what they've always done. You should also be ready for a healthy percentage of your workforce to opt out of the model that you choose, as many folks are discovering new preferences for how they'd like to work.
Don't try to be everything to everyone. Choose your strategy, support it, and be honest with the people in your organization about where you are heading -- knowing many of them might choose to head in a different direction after their own experience over the past year.