What is the future of work - Remote, In-Office, or Hybrid?
For all previous generations, something unimaginable is happening: people are not leaving their houses to work. Multitudes are joining this movement to gain time to live, share, and even be more productive at work. For some, face-to-face interaction is the only way; others argue that remote should be the one. Hybrid has appeared to navigate both oceans and tranquillize all spirits.
All the proposals have pros and cons. Take in-person work, for example, and the benefits of having a dedicated workspace away from family and noise can help to focus on daily tasks. Is that the case?
In-person has been the norm of work since its invention. As a business owner, the decision on a place, size, and distribution is the budget as a place-determining factor. The amenities for employees include some chairs, a stand-up cafeteria to chat and eat fast, and high-walled cubicles where all of them, as turtles, try to communicate among themselves.
At some point, someone thought that interaction was meaningful. Someone also considered that places to sit together could help webbing ideas together. And then came this crazy idea from Google (Grimes, n.d.) to lower all cubicle walls, and people exchange words and see each other: they talk and work.
Google puts colours on the walls and sofas; people can move in big open spaces, and the whiteboards are as big as windows so that everyone can see all ideas. At that point, the entire workforce wanted to join Google, and business owners were worried about redecoration, redesign, and remodelling costs.
This shiny, colourful movement was Pandora's box to the fear of all managers.
Technology is responsible for the change in the work paradigm. The Internet has led to email, e-commerce, websites, and online communication. Tools like Skype appears with VoIP (History Computer Staff, 2022), so people can now talk from all continents at a reduced cost.
Meanwhile, all those workers in the newly redesigned open spaces (Grimes, n.d.) realize they can talk comfortably from a sofa while some peers are in the garden or the cafeteria across the street. The change looks dangerous, some thought. Some people thought it was convenient.
That means remote working existed long before Covid-19. Again that word. Regardless of the apathy that surrounds it, it can be considered a breaking point in work history. As Callahan mentions (2021), multiple professionals found a way to reach more customers without leaving their houses; some even found they could move around the world and keep working. They are now called digital nomads (Hayes, 2021).
Managers found that employment and office costs are significantly reduced by remote work. George (2021) signals that time, productivity, mental health, schedule flexibility, and even the organization's design can improve under remote working.
How to trust employees, though, if they are not in sight to look at them from time to time? That means trust is now a current live issue in organizations (George, 2021), also collaboration and interaction. How to keep the organization alive? How to interact with customers from remote environments?
With the pandemic restrictions gone, a mixed option is in place.
Several companies discovered that their employees want to keep working remotely (Nadella, 2021). The personal benefits mentioned before are too great for some to consider returning to long commuting and endless in-person meetings while thinking about milk and children. Other companies forced all employees back to their locations (Chug, 2021) after two years of virtual work environments and house comfort. However, those managers are now facing the backlash of the labour market.
The option is a hybrid system, combining in-person attendance and remote work. Nadella (2021) describes it as the most significant shift of our generation, and he is swift to clear that no rules or standard has been designed for it yet.
How many days are needed? Should all employees attend the same amount of days? Should it be used as a performance reward, or must it be offered to all employees? While risking facing a local Great Resignation, all options shall be studied carefully.
Two worlds with pros and cons for those who want to explore it: saying hello to coworkers, office drama, watercooler meetings and zoom gatherings, avoiding lengthy travel time, and staying with the kids at home.
The hybrid work mode is a road for all companies to explore their social capital, relying less on physical locations and keeping them ready for collaboration and interaction (Nandella, 2021). At the same time, the author points to a variety of tools that simplifies remote interaction.
Future of Work
Second Life (Strickland, 2021), the reference to virtual worlds, was created in 2003, implying a revolution to its time. This platform was a simulated group of locations where people would create an avatar and interact with each other.
The tools of remote and hybrid work are in the process of creation or discovery. Ernest Cline's book "Ready Player One" (Sunderland, 2021) describes a highly immersive and massive virtual world so realistic that people prefer to spend their time as synthetic beings. Without visiting a dystopian future, such a practical tool can efficiently resolve deficiencies of remote working (isolation, lack of collaboration, communication) (Callahan, 2021).
Far from being perfect, the current tools (Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Facetime, Email, Slack, and others) open communication channels to all personalities, all moments, and places. Cook et al. (2021) present a vision of a future where the virtual interaction of human beings radically changes work forever.
The authors develop a scale that illustrates how people communicate and collaborate at different times in history. The present stage is Video Conferencing, while the following is Virtual Worlds. The step after that is an impressive option taken from Sci-fi: Immersive Holography. In the future, coworkers would be transported to a living room, hold meetings, and then share lunch to integrate.
Throughout its history, humanity has shared work face to face, leading to collaboration, big projects, problems, and collaboration. Every human being can share their experience. With technological developments, that relation started to shift, offering mobility, and with the pandemic, remote was the only option for the majority.
The change is fast-paced, and many issues arise, as well as a no-less significant quantity of benefits. New tools are under development to deal with all the negative and bring people closer.
No matter what fantastic tools the future holds, the reality is simple, and it is here now: work has changed, remote and hybrid work will stay, and all parties will need to adapt and concede.
Frank Berrocal is a wanna-be programmer with the super-power of learning, taking all opportunities to keep growing.