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The changing nature of the workplace has been a perpetual topic since the pandemic disrupted work as we knew it forever. Organizations not on the front lines were forced to quickly transition employees and business operations to remote settings. Work from Home (WFH) took a front and center seat in workplace conversations.

The first wave of discussion focused around how to work from home effectively. Later, the conversation shifted to staying connected and engaged while working remotely and creating safe return to work plans. Discussions around when organizations would return to the office have remained a continual and ever-changing question as companies announced — and later changed — their dates throughout 2020 and into the first quarter of 2021.

Worldwide vaccine rollouts beginning this spring will allow organizations to set and commit to full-scale office openings if they choose. This has created, once again, a shift in the conversation about the workplace. Beehive has been closely following these workplace issues, challenges and opportunities and sees three trends emerging: Work from anywhere, hybrid office model and the rise of automation, digitization and reskilling.

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Trend: Work from anywhere

Work from Anywhere (WFA) is likely to become the new Work from Home (WFH) in a post-COVID-19 vaccine world. Many experts predict a majority remote future work force where employees are enabled to work from anywhere geographically. This shift is supported by technology and a change in cultural expectations post-pandemic. The ability to do remote work from anywhere, however, is concentrated among highly skilled, highly educated workers in specific industries, occupations and geographies. Further, while some will be able to WFA, not all employees will have that option — or want to even if they can.

Some of the benefits of work from anywhere include: reduced real estate costs for organizations, the ability to hire the best available talent with no geographic restrictions, and increased worker productivity. Employees are able to have full geographic flexibility for the first time, allowing them to seek out better cost of living options that afford a higher quality of life. Work from anywhere does not come without its challenges. Workers report that cross-time zone/synchronous communication is an issue to overcome. Younger workers whose professional development and advancement opportunities rely on in-person training and mentoring are likely to have a harder time with work from anywhere.

Other aspects that made remote work during the pandemic a challenge will persist, like trying to maintain culture in a virtual environment, employees experiencing social isolation and the risk of data security issues, to name a few. New challenges will also arise with regard to equity and opportunities for employees who don’t work from the office and, consequently, have less face time with leaders.

Here are a few organizations that have implemented a work from anywhere policy:

  • Reddit will allow most of its employees to work wherever they want. The company said if employees decide to move, their pay won’t be reduced.
  • REI said it will “lean into remote working” and consequently sold its newly constructed 400,000-square-foot campus in Bellevue, Washington. The company plans to have multiple satellite locations across the region to give workers more flexibility when it comes to where they can live and work.
  • Zillow has decided to allow most employees to work remote, even after the pandemic.

Trend: Hybrid office model

Most experts agree the hybrid office model for remote work is here to stay post-pandemic. Different from a traditional office, the hybrid office will be a place where employees come a couple of times a week to meet, collaborate and connect with co-workers, and then work remote the rest of the time. Employees will not have dedicated offices, instead working from shared spaces and desks or “hot desking.” Individual work that doesn’t require collaboration will be done remote. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, considering only remote work that can be done without a loss of productivity, about 20 to 25% of the workforces in advanced economies could work remote between three and five days a week.

It’s important to note that a hybrid office model will require different management and communication approaches than the model of everyone working from home at the same time. Organizations should have clear, written expectations on where employees can work – and when. Setting clear expectations around schedules and availability for employees working remotely is key, as is being consistent across levels, seniority and types of positions in order to be equitable and avoid discrimination.

A few organizations that have implemented a hybrid office policy:

  • Dropbox’s 3,000 employees will work remotely most of the time and will go to the office for more collaborative and team building work. The company is revamping its offices to facilitate this shift, including removing individual desks.
  • Google, starting in September, is testing a flexible workweek pilot that would have employees come into the office at least three days a week for “collaboration days.” The company is also making changes in its office spaces to include reservable collaboration spaces and outdoor spaces for team meetings.
  • Germany-based Trivago will test a hybrid model where workers come into the office some of the time and work remote the rest. They will test bringing experienced employees in for one or two weeks every month for meetings and other team events. New employees will train in person for at least a week.

Trend: automation, digitization and reskilling

Many jobs in the manufacturing, industrial, energy and technology industries can’t be done remotely due to specialized machinery, frontline work or other job requirements that can’t be completed off-site. The pandemic has accelerated the pace of automation and digitization for many such jobs, which will have a major impact on employment in the coming years. According to a Forbes article on the future of work post COVID-19 by McKinsey’s Kweilin Ellingrud, 39% of business leaders surveyed in the manufacturing sector said that in response to the crisis, they had leveraged digital solutions such as nerve centers or control towers to increase end-to-end supply-chain transparency.

The desire to control costs, the need for social distance and continually evolving technology have also accelerated the pace of automation and digitization. Many employees will need to develop new skills to remain employed, and companies should consider prioritizing reskilling these employees. Interpersonal, leadership and technology skills will be key focus areas.

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Clear communication

Whatever an organization decides, creating clear, written expectations on where employees can work — and when — is critical. Leaders can set clear expectations around schedules and availability when working remotely. Being consistent across levels, seniority and types of positions will support equity and avoid discrimination.

Harvard Business Review:

Entrepreneur:

Bloomberg:

Vox:

Forbes:

McKinsey Global Institute:

CBS News:

Microsoft Work Lab:

New York Times:


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