Work-from-home was considered one of the better consequences of the Pandemic. It provided relief from the daily commute, gave flexibility and productivity in some places was noticeably higher. There were small irritants such as family intrusions, a fudging of lines between work and family time, but still the advantages trumped over these disruptions. One year down the line, the scenario has changed.
One over-reaching result of being stuck at home is that the working day has become longer. “People were ‘on’ four more hours a week, on average,” says a Harvard Business Review published research, done by Microsoft on its remote workforce.
Zoom or computer fatigue, mental health issues, loneliness, disengagement etc., are real issues that people stuck at home trying to lead a normal work life are feeling.
Another discovery was that 52% of the company’s IMs were being sent between 6 pm and midnight. People were not working the normal working hours. In fact, the daylight hours were mostly utilised for family time or some other work. Most work was being undertaken early morning or late night. This means a long working day, including chores for most.
Some other findings from Microsoft’s analysis that were thrown up— Hybrid work will be the new, new thing. Workers are currently exhausted, and Gen Z is especially trailing in the wake of the changes.
Another surprising nugget thrown up was: Bosses were thriving in this atmosphere—61% said they were doing well in this new norm. Which was in stark contrast to their team members.
Jared Spataro, CVP of Microsoft 365, put it like this: “Those impromptu encounters at the office help keep leaders honest. With remote work, there are fewer chances to ask employees, ‘Hey, how are you?’ and then pick up on important cues as they respond. But the data is clear: Our people are struggling. And we need to find new ways to help them.”
Currently, Microsoft’s research says, 37% of employees say companies are making them work too hard. And 41% admitted they wanted to find a new employer.
Microsoft’s solution is a hybrid workplace, more efforts to make the people happier at work. “Physical office space must be compelling enough to entice workers to commute in, and include a mix of collaboration and focus areas,” says Microsoft. “Meeting rooms and team culture will need to evolve to ensure all voices are heard.”
A growing number of major employers have announced return-to-work plans in recent weeks, outlining a mix of in-person and virtual work that is being described as permanent, or a “new normal.” The new hybrid culture is a learning curve that all offices planning to adopt the mode will have to undertake.
Citigroup chief executive Jane Fraser announced that that the majority of its workers would be designated as hybrid, with an expectation that they would work at least three days in the office. Ford announced that 30,000 of its North American office workers would be allowed to work under a flexible hybrid model in which they are on-site for certain meetings or projects and stay home for independent work. Target announced that it is adopting the hybrid model, TIAA, an investment firm, will also be following the model.
“The number one question I’m getting from companies is how do we do hybrid workforce planning,” said Tsedal Neeley, a professor at Harvard Business School and author of the forthcoming book “Remote Work Revolution.” “They have to do their planning on what that post-pandemic future will look like,” she said. “It’s the hope, it’s the optimism, based on the fact that many people have been vaccinated.”
Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook all had initially announced that work-from-home will be allowed permanently for who so ever wanted, after the Pandemic hit. But one year down the line and new realities and experiences have forced companies into going the hybrid way.
In January, 44 percent of U.S. workers working remotely surveyed by Gallup said they prefer to work from home once restrictions are lifted, while 39 percent said they want to return to the office.
Considering the hybrid model is the preferred option for some workers and most employers, the managers, HR and all involved need to undergo training on how to handle the workforce. The logistics, the team dynamics, all has to be reconsidered.
“This is a new world, and you have to accept it as such,” said Greg Karol, Lockheed Martin’s chief human resources officer. “We were a company with only 3 percent full-time telecommuters a year ago. You move to this new phase, I don’t expect them to be experts.”
TIAA already had a work-from-home model in place before the Pandemic, something unique in the financial world, but found that it was not a very productive model. By 2018, roughly 30 to 40 percent of TIAA’s employees were working from home full time.
But now, TIAA said, roughly 85 percent of its workforce is expected to work between two and four days in the office. TIAA’s Chief People Officer Sean Woodroffe, said that the earlier model wasn’t working, and was hurting collaboration. Before the Pandemic, remote work was reduced to just 15 percent by 2019, with the firm calling off-site workers back in.
Woodroffe elaborated on the issues faced by the company, “You run into issues that people that are in the office have face time, they have opportunities, they’re interacting with employees a little bit differently than the employees that are working remotely.
“When most employees have some time-on-site and some working from home, it should help with those concerns,” he said.