How Will Remote, Hybrid or In-person Workers Work Well Together?

Managing corporate culture is going to be the most challenging part of the new work order, a PWC US Pulse Survey last August revealed. If executives are thrilled by the idea of a return to an in-person environment, but the employees have different views on it — what gives? 

Companies will need to figure out how to bring out the best aspects of face-to-face teaming for all employees in a mixed work model — some employees in person full time, some hybrid, some fully remote will not be easy. 

About 36% of respondents see this as a challenge already, on top of other issues disclosed in the survey: full remote work can mean loss of mentoring (30%), loss of innovation opportunities (26%), and potential equity issues between on-site and fully remote workers (25%).

Surprisingly divided 

The survey breaks down this challenge in numbers. When employees were asked how often they would want to work remotely after COVID-19 is no longer a concern, the results were surprisingly divided. About 22% said they would work almost entirely in the office with one remote day, with 19% saying they prefer working remotely full time. 

The confusion stems from a host of things — the delta variant, the rising inflation, the tension over mask wearing or vaccine testing. With no clear path toward a return to normalcy and talents constantly looking for better opportunities or work arrangements, companies have no choice but to improve on their work policies — redesign work for the new normal, so they can best retain talent. Or feel it affect their bottom line.

In many companies, marketing leaders feel the negative impact of staff shortages on customer experience, with 40% citing it as a major issue. Human resources say retaining employees will be number one priority in the next 3 to 6 months. Financial leaders are divided, with half saying the high turnover can hinder revenue growth, while the rest are somewhat concerned about turnover and its impact on growth, although they expect things to return to pre-pandemic levels quickly.

The tables have really turned, with employees asking for schedule flexibility, expanded benefits and better pay — closing pay gaps among minorities and genders. 

There is some good news for leaders and global mobility professionals. Efforts to build trust and step up on social issues are showing results. In the survey, executives and employees agreed there is now a high level of trust between them — 77% and 72% agree. But many think there’s still more work to be done, as companies navigate hybrid work.

Vaccine mandates

Employers know that beyond just keeping talent, their role has become bigger. They have to protect the health and safety of employees from the current crisis, even if only 30% strongly agree that their companies should implement vaccine mandates — to consider anti-vaccination sentiments of some of their workforce.

So what can companies do? PWC recommends the following:

Emphasize inclusive leadership to make hybrid models work. As hybrid models evolve, the focus should shift to creating a culture of inclusion and belonging for everyone that helps mitigate the risk of remote work inequity. Recognize that employees have different preferences about everything from where to work to how they feel about masks and vaccinations.

Establish clear business roles around new ways of working. Be deliberate about how teams collaborate and how to replicate in-office culture for remote workers through new technology tools like virtual reality headsets, new meeting etiquette or some home automation (for those working remotely) or workplace automation. 

Establish clear business rules in areas like safety protocols, and give people clear guidance on very tactical things like teaching meeting leaders to encourage participation from employees who aren’t physically present in the office. At the same time, don’t expect your employees to go back to more hierarchical ways of working. People will increasingly expect more choices and autonomy over their own schedules.

Offer pay raises, flexibility, benefits and more. Are there any dramatic policy shifts in these areas? Companies need to address this matter within the next 12 to 18 months.

Prepare with rigorous scenario planning. Many employers have a crisis communications plan. They might as well add rigorous scenario planning in periods of uncertainty. There should be better ways of recalibrating a company’s business plans amid uncertain threats.

Think beyond comp to entice employees. If employees are clear that they value non-monetary benefits like expanded flexibility, career growth, well-being and upskilling, companies must reevaluate what they are currently offering and add what’s important to employees now.

Embed a workforce strategy into the business strategy. Automating processes that employ minority workers may go against diversity and inclusion goals, so it’s crucial to have robust governance and controls.