Remote work has been one of the great success stories of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has made employees happier and more productive, and has provided major cost savings for some employers. Working remotely is now considered by many to be the future of work.
Despite all the positives that workers have enjoyed while working from home, some people are still anxious to get back to the office. Some employers want their teams back where they can see them as soon as possible.
Some employees miss the routine and structure of going into the office to work from a designated space away from home. Since not all work-from-home environments are created equal, it makes sense that some workers would prefer the true office setting to their makeshift home office.
As COVID-19 restrictions begin to subside in some areas and communities slowly reopen, hybrid work has become a buzzy middleground for those who want to get back to the office, while still trying to sustain the magic that remote work has proven to be.
Some believe that hybrid work can give them the best of both worlds. While the hybrid work model has some major upsides when compared to strictly on-premises, it has some serious drawbacks as well, especially when compared to fully remote.
The risk of abandoning remote
Perhaps the biggest risk of choosing hybrid work is how much people seem to love remote work.
A recent survey report from Owl Labs found that employees who work from home reported being happy 22 percent more than those who work in an onsite office setting.
In a recent study from Buffer, 94 percent of employees who started working remotely as a result of the pandemic selected that they would like to work remotely for the rest of their career.
By abandoning remote work in favor of a hybrid model, employers risk upsetting some, the majority, or even all of the employees that are ordered to make the switch. This is especially true if the decision to move to a hybrid work model is made without consulting those who are required to return to the office.
Businesses should (at the very least) survey their workforce to see how they feel about the post-COVID-19 working options that are being discussed. If the majority of employees would prefer to work remotely, it would be wise to take that into serious consideration. If fully remote simply won’t be an option going forward, it’s best to communicate this to employees delicately.
From there, leadership should ask employees to continue providing feedback about their work environment, but also commit to actually listening to that feedback.
Those who prefer fully remote, but are made to return to the office in a hybrid model, may just be so upset by this that they begin considering other options.
Since the pandemic altered the landscape of flexible work arrangements, options for fully remote work are far more abundant than they were before. For those that have taken to remote work and decide to look around, they will find plenty of opportunities.
The risks of losing top talent is even greater for those that plan to move back to a strictly on-premises work model. Owl Labs found that 59 percent of their survey respondents would be more likely to choose an employer that offered remote work over one that didn’t.
Health and safety risks
In reality, the health and safety risks of coronavirus and variant virus infection will remain for some time. For those in a hybrid work environment, that means leaving home to spend hours indoors with others who may potentially be infected.
Employers that choose a hybrid work model will need to have clear and precise policies and guidelines for reopening, safety in the workplace, and a plan if there’s an outbreak in the office or community.
Even with guidelines in place, there may be workers who simply cannot risk entering an office space. Those who are considered high-risk individuals or those that live with someone who is immunocompromised may not be willing to come to the office at any cost. This could present a serious ethical dilemma for business owners.
There are many ways that hybrid work models can exacerbate inequality and create a class system amongst businesses, especially if there are some employees that are always in the office and some that are always remote.
Not all remote work environments are created equal, and neither are the unique homelife situations of each employee. Businesses may face a wide range of potential personnel issues if they ask all employees to return to work.
There may be employees that no longer have a vehicle or access to public transportation they previously relied on to commute. Some may have lost access to childcare and won’t be able to leave their children at home without supervision.
All of this can cause intense stress and pressure for those being asked to return to the office.
Disconnect and isolation
Hybrid work models can also lead to a disconnect between certain groups of employees.
The remote employees may miss out on impromptu feedback or coaching sessions that aren’t translated to those working from home. Scheduled meetings are generally optimized for in-person attendees, so remote attendees may feel left out or disadvantaged. Certain conversations may take place amongst colleagues in the office, leaving remote workers in the dark.
The net effect is that there becomes a clear division between those who are in the office and those who aren’t. Something as simple as a leader buying donuts or pizza for those in the office can create a rift between them and those working remotely.
Remote teams may feel neglected by management, causing a true morale problem.
All of this can lead to a culture of toxic office politics. If an unconscious bias toward on-premises workers (or even a conscious one) sets in, the divisions between teams can become detrimental and unsustainable.
Any favoritism shown for those onsite is likely to generate animosity and make working conditions untenable. If remote workers start to get passed up for accolades and promotions in favor of those who are on-premises, there may be no way to recover.
With part of the workforce operating remotely, some employees will be accessing sensitive company data on unsecured networks. This creates a heightened risk of external cyber threats.
Since cybersecurity experts won’t be able to keep a watchful eye on remote workers, businesses that split teams between at home and on-premises will have to be extra vigilant when building and implementing security procedures and protocols.
There are also risks associated with those who split time between home and office in a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) environment. When employees are allowed to use their own devices to access and use company data and applications, they open the door for unmonitored, unsecured, and unprotected access to valuable information.
This requires clearly defined BYOD guidelines, minimum required security controls, company rights agreements, and even device authentication components provided by the company.
The hybrid work model comes with inherent financial risks. While committing to remote work effectively eliminates the overhead costs of an office space, reverting to a hybrid model ensures that employers will be locked into paying for a workspace.
What’s more, those that continue with their pre-COVID-19 offices risk paying for a space that’s only partially utilized. In any form, hybrid work is a missed opportunity to reduce financial commitment to a physical location.
Is hybrid worth it?
Whether or not a hybrid work model is “worth it” is highly dependent on the business that’s considering it. For companies who are currently thriving with remote work, hybrid may actually represent a step backwards.
It will be important for those companies to monitor the impact on productivity when employees are in the office vs remote. Still, hybrid work is a better, more flexible solution than a full return to on-premises work and it may just be the best option for some companies.
If a business is trapped in a long-term lease, has a strong plan for handling health and safety concerns, feels prepared to address any cultural disruptions, and is confident in employee loyalty, hybrid may be an acceptable middle ground.
Ryan Plank is a content marketer with a degree in Journalism and a background in technology. He lives in Orlando, Florida, and is an avid golfer.