The future of work: Hybrid or fully remote?

Over the past few years, a wholesale shift to remote work has benefited various industries as all kinds of departments and teams gain access to new resources for virtual work. As a result, the general view of the workplace has radically changed.

How we work has changed

Remote work holds huge appeal for dispersed workers, allowing individuals to work from anywhere — while collaborating and communicating with coworkers. Employers, for their part, can hire people from all over the world, ultimately finding the best candidates for positions while still implementing strategies that optimize workflows and productivity.

How we worked has changed, as employers hire people from all over the world and organize remote or hybrid teams

While remote work has gained traction, being onsite in an office still makes sense for a lot of companies and teams. Hybrid work environments have emerged to connect the two extremes.

In general, traditional notions of the “typical workplace” changed with the pandemic and altered how individuals think about their ideal work environment. When considering the future of work setups, you should understand various work environments and preferences your people have.

In-person vs. remote vs. hybrid

As they design the future of their work setups, companies are looking at several different models, each with unique benefits that support different needs. While your people might prefer one specific model, understanding your options can help you choose the one that both meets your organization's goals and satisfies team member needs.

Fully in-person work environments

In-person and on-site work environments were once status quo. While technological advancements might have allowed some companies to support remote teams and individuals, those archetypes were seen as exceptions. Regardless of industry and company culture, most professionals went into an office or a business location to work.

Fully in-person work environments offered — and still offer — several benefits to workers and management.

  • Connection — Team members are able to connect and socialize with their coworkers, talk between tasks, get lunch together, or even hang out after work
  • Monitoring — Managers and leadership tend to love in-person work environments because they can better monitor workers and their progress, presiding over tasks in person and speaking with people in the moment to provide corrections or change direction
  • In-person work environments are often ideal when people need to work directly with customers for better services and customer satisfaction

As more and more people were exposed to remote work during the pandemic, they started to notice the downsides of being entirely on-site. When people can work from home, they save time and money on commuting. Many people also realized how distracting the office work environment is, in some cases to the extent that it reduces productivity and efficiency for individuals and teams.

Fully remote work environments

The shift to more remote work — driven at first by the pandemic but also by the velocity of technology advancement — has introduced a huge segment of the workforce to the experience of working independently from home. We collectively discovered that meetings and communication can still happen in virtual ways — from synchronous video chats and phone calls to asynchronous emails and instant messaging apps.

While remote work has been an adjustment to a lot of companies and their workers, many have discovered benefits to working in this environment, including:

  • Improved productivity
  • More flexibility to schedules
  • A stronger work-life balance
  • Time and money savings on commuting
  • Money saved on office space

Fully remote work environments offer flexibility and improvements to productivity

Remote work also enables people and teams to work fluidly with team members and partners in other time zones and countries. Companies might instate policies requiring people to be online during specific hours to ensure better connectivity and communication, while video and phone calls allow coworkers to speak from various locations.

While the option of remote work benefits many individuals and companies, some industries cannot become fully virtual by nature. For example, businesses that rely on hands-on operations like restaurants or warehouses will always have an in-person element to their work.

Similarly, although telemedicine has allowed healthcare providers to provide many of their patients with continuous treatment even when in-office visits aren't possible, there are certain things that must happen in person. Physical exams, surgery, and drawing blood or testing for disease are just a few examples.

Hybrid work environments

Hybrid work environments aim to optimize remote and in-person benefits.

Hybrid environments can take on two primary forms — hybrid schedules by individual and by team. With the individual hybrid model, workers come in at certain times a week, depending on their personal or employer's preferences. The team hybrid model assigns groups to work fully remote or in person so organizations can optimize their functionality and needs.

Many people like the hybrid model because it combines the flexibility and balance of remote work with the socialization and connectivity of in-person offices. Employers can continue to save money on office spaces by reducing how much room and how many desks they need, setting a maximum capacity and assigning individuals to specific work areas.

Employers have lots of flexibility when selecting a hybrid model for their company or department. For example, managers might assign individuals particular days to be onsite. Alternatively, employers might establish a quota for how many days people must go into the office, letting team members choose which days they spend at home. Others give individuals complete freedom to choose their hybrid schedule.

Where are we now?

As of June 2023, nearly one-third (28.2%) of full-time employees work in a hybrid environment. Around 12.7% of people only work remotely.

After the pandemic introduced people and industries to remote work, many found this method best fit their ideal needs. In a 2023 survey, 65% of full-time workers said they want to work remotely all the time. People discovered they benefited from curating their work environment to their needs and liked the assistance new technology provides.

65% of full-time workers want to work remotely all the time

However, while many people like this work option, preferences fall across the spectrum. As of February 2022, the majority of workers preferred working in a hybrid environment, with 59% choosing this option. Thirty-two percent of people like working fully remote, while only 9% like to work in person, according to Gallup.

Why do people prefer remote work?

The continuing popularity of remote and hybrid work shows how much people like to work from home. When choosing their ideal work environment, people cite several reasons for wanting remote work, including:

1. Saving time and money

It can also add hours to their days, cutting into the time they can spend with their loved ones, doing hobbies, or relaxing. When decompressing and relaxation are essential for preventing burnout, remote work can enhance their experience and leave them more refreshed for work the following day.

2. Balancing work and life

Working from home helps people move between their work and personal lives more fluidly. Around 32% of remote workers told Pew they prefer working from home because of childcare responsibilities. Parents can use the increased flexibility of remote work to spend more time with their children — bring them to doctor's appointments, pick them up from school, or take them to extracurriculars. Whether or not they're parents, workers love the freedom to talk to friends or participate in their hobbies.

3. Increasing flexibility and autonomy

Many employers give remote workers more freedom to choose their schedules and work environment. Individuals can better customize their workspaces with equipment tailored to their needs, like ergonomic furniture and natural lighting solutions. Additionally, they often have more freedom to choose their hours, impacting their start and end times or when they can take breaks for higher employee satisfaction.

4. Moving or relocating homes

Around 17% of remote workers told Pew they relocated somewhere they didn't work. Like the other freedoms awarded by remote work, remote workers often have the flexibility to choose where they live with little impact on their employment status. People can then move closer to family or friends or select a location that meets their preferences.

5. Protecting themselves from contagious diseases

Many individuals still choose to work from home to protect themselves or their loved ones. Workers may have one or more risk factors that increase their chances of hospitalization with COVID-19 or have relatives and friends with higher risks. As Pew Research found, around 42% of people cited the risk of exposure as why they chose to work remotely.

Hybrid preferences

Hybrid workers also have various preferences. When implementing a hybrid work environment, employers and managers have to consider elements like the frequency of in-person work. While these elements might depend on company culture and department needs, it’s often best practice to use employee preferences to drive decisions.

Frequency determines how many days a week a worker must go into the office. Many employers that support hybrid work require a minimum number of days people must work in person to fill up office space and optimize the benefits of this work environment. Around 38% of employees in the Gallup survey prefer to go in two to three days per week, while 29% want to work in person fewer than two days each week. Gallup also found that around 62% of people want some kind of instruction or structure from their managers or employers when entering a hybrid work environment.

Of workers Gallup surveyed, 24% want their employers to require a specific number of days they must come into the office. Twenty-two percent want their managers to coordinate their in-office schedules for overlaps and prevent overcrowding, while 16% want their employers to require days where all team members must be present. Alternatively, 38% of workers say they want complete autonomy and flexibility when working in a hybrid environment for increased optimization of in-office and work-from-home benefits.

A difference in opinion

Every individual has unique needs and preferences, and employers have various priorities to consider when making decisions about working in person, virtually, or hybrid. When determining which option is best for your organization, know that you likely can’t please everyone. Incorporating flexibility and feedback can help you make incremental changes and improvements that support your team members.

What is the future of work?

Remote and hybrid work environments are here to stay. New technology and strategies help create supportive and sustainable online and hybrid work environments that accommodate various needs and circumstances. People expect workplaces and office spaces to reflect the evolution of work environments. According to Gallup, around 53% of workers expect hybrid environments to continue, while 24% expect fully remote environments in the future.

Recent college graduates are also more likely to embrace remote and hybrid work, partly due to having the most chances to do so. Younger, highly educated workers make up the majority of people who work from home at least some of the time. Of full-time remote workers, 40% have a bachelor's degree.

Because the hybrid office model is becoming more prevalent, recent graduates expect specific industries to offer remote work options more often than others. In general, though, they seek out the work environment they prefer, and want to match with employers that share their ideal culture and values.

The role of technology

When considering work-from-home's future, you first need to understand technology's role. As companies have shifted to online and hybrid models, they have relied on various technologies to support their people in their at-home office spaces.

Managers and department heads needed ways to reach and oversee large groups of people simultaneously. Video conferencing services have advanced since the start of the pandemic to better support more applications and offer a more flexible user experience with options like blurring or replacing the background or adding filters. Chats and subtitles help everyone participate and communicate during meetings.

Cloud-based technologies enable and streamline remote work processes

Remote work allows individuals to work from anywhere, but first, businesses need to implement tools and strategies that optimize accessibility and connectivity while ensuring security.

Most companies that support remote work lean into cloud storage to provide access to content, like documents and resources, from any device. Security features, like multifactor authentication and access permissions, keep information safe and protected from outside influence while allowing remote workers to operate efficiently.

Should you go hybrid?

In your particular business, the future of working from home depends upon your specific culture and needs. Your work environment will depend on many factors, from your industry to employee preferences. Your available resources and priorities will also impact your decision to stay in the office, move online, or go hybrid. Regardless of which method ends up being right for you, the work environment and your leadership should aim to support your people and their needs, so they can produce the best results for your company.

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