No matter what you do, how you do it, or where you do it, the pandemic affected few things more than it affected how we work.
Due to the various safety regulations handed down by state and federal governments over the past 18 months, work took on a number of different forms. Essential workers were forced to work longer hours under more trying conditions, many industries were forced to turn to virtual meetings and working-from-home in order to meet their ever-changing deadlines, and the whole world felt in a state of upheaval for most, if not all, of 2020.
This far into the pandemic (as well as the associated vaccine rollout), while nothing still feels quite “normal” yet, it’s safe to say we’ve all settled into our associated routines. The initial awkwardness of Zoom calls in our pajamas and clients we’ll never see in person has been replaced by something of a comfortable day-to-day, with a shared understanding that, even if it’s harder to get ahold of people during the workday, we know things are still getting done.
But even with as “used to things” as we’ve all gotten over the past year, there’s still a question that lingers in everyone’s mind – how long is it going to last? No matter how you feel about working from home (and would you believe there’s people that don’t like it?), the lingering questions about when – or even if – it may come to an end are foremost on everyone’s mind.
And, just like everything else that’s happened since early 2020, there’s no real clear answer just yet.
So how long will I be working from home?
Frustratingly, the answers range from “we don’t know” to “it depends”.
By and large, it seems to come down to the personal needs of each workplace, as well as the individual needs of the workers at each job. A recent study by CNBC found that up to 45% of companies in America plan on maintaining a hybrid work model through the rest of 2021, citing the importance of employee health and wellness versus their overall productivity.
And that’s where the big debate comes in. As each workplace has their own priorities on the matter – balancing the need for collaborative teamwork vs. the safety (and convenience) of distributed teams – the answers on “when will I be back in the office” are going to vary wildly.
By and large, opinions on the matter tend to fall into two categories: temporary and permanent.
Right now, the phrase “hybrid work”, for most people, means “work from home unless you really feel like coming into the office, or need to for whatever reason”. And while most offices have adopted this mode of work, they talk as though it won’t last forever.
Respondents to a recent Gartner survey reveals that most workplaces plan to let their teams continue to work remotely “some of the time”. “Some of the time”, in this case, refers to greater flex time and flex hours – for example, a worker could leave work early to get the kids from school, or take a longer lunch break to make some kind of appointment, and make up the time later in the day instead of using up any of their available PTO.
This concept of flex time, however, carries with it the concept that workers at these corporations will be, more or less, back in the office at some point. While the discussion about how productive people are when they work from home is still up in the air, the survey shows that many offices will be operating under the assumption that their teams will come back to work sooner than later, and will instead simply offer more flexible working conditions instead of a true hybrid model.
However, a great deal of experts and companies assume the hybrid model may last forever, or at least into the foreseeable future.
Perhaps inspired by some of the big names who adopted a permanent work-from-home model like Twitter, many companies are seeing big benefits in continuing to offer a hybrid model for their teams – or even a permanent work from home solution.
A recent Washington Post article about Twitter’s work-from-home strategy mentioned that WordPress, a leading website builder and publishing company, has seen a 20% drop in attrition after becoming a “distributed” firm, leading to greater employee retention. Benefits such as this have led employers to believe that working from home can keep their teams motivated and willing to stick around, both of which seem ideal in the modern workforce.
In this true hybrid work model, companies are finding different ways to collaborate and offer working solutions that meet the needs of their teams. An article by Weforum explains that certain companies have offered hybrid work based on individual employee roles (as some roles are better served by being present in the office for at least part of the week, such as infrastructure/IT support), whereas some companies may be strictly offsite forever now as a way to save on costs (no longer maintaining rent on an office, for example).
And in situations where team members are needed in the office for at least some of the working week, companies have taken steps to make their offices more appealing and productive, in order to maximize the time spent there. Space design specialists PolyVision points out that some of the biggest changes will come to collaborative spaces, which at this point are some of the biggest motivating factors for workers that need to use office space. These spaces will need to become easier to access, and better equipped, in order to serve the needs of the team members that are actually present in the office – otherwise, it could become a fabled “this meeting could’ve been an email” situation.
A prime example of this is tech giant Adobe. During the pandemic, a team inside Adobe released an app called Adobe Life to make the balance between the work and the office easier to navigate through conference room rentals, meal orders, and more. A great deal of Adobe employees are going to be working from home for the foreseeable future, and for the ones that do return to the office, it’s going to be a smoother transition than ever.
So what does the future hold for your job, and your desire to keep working from home? Only time will tell – but either way, your office is going to look a lot different when (or if) you go back to it.