One of the largest changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic to the workplace was the popularization of remote work. Industries that previously operated solely from offices realized almost overnight that they could operate without everyone under a single roof.
With the pandemic on the wane and restrictions being eased, many workers have expressed interest in adopting a hybrid model of work, spending time at home or in the office, as needed. However, there are some businesses that disagree, leading to friction between employees and employers.
“Many employees prefer the flexibility that hybrid and remote work offer – in fact, 60% of employees say hybrid is their preferred arrangement,” said Michael Schultz (pictured above), founder of digital risk management firm Aclaimant. “Businesses are quickly realizing that having a distributed workforce rather than having everyone work under one roof is becoming the norm.”
According to Schultz, conflict usually erupts when a business pursues more aggressive return to office (RTO) plans, such as Elon Musk requiring Tesla and SpaceX employees to RTO for a minimum of 40 hours a week. There are also logistical challenges that come with navigating hybrid work, such as determining when and understanding why individuals need to come into the office.
“On the other hand, the pushback from businesses is due to their concern around employee productivity, as 22.5% of managers believe employee productivity has decreased since the start of the pandemic,” Schultz said. “However, 32.2% of hiring managers said employee productivity has increased and their performance was boosted by 22% when employees were able to work from home. Since employees and management perceive productivity in the office versus at home differently, businesses should ensure everyone is on the same page, otherwise they risk losing engagement and motivation of employees going in.”
Schultz believes that organizations should make efforts to meet their employees’ needs, and that includes adopting hybrid work where possible.
“If an employee works better from home or in a hybrid setting, employers should offer a flexible working model that allows employees to choose when and how often they wish to come into the office,” he said, “The hybrid workplace is here to stay and companies need to start thinking about how to best support their employees' work-life balance.”
According to Schultz, some employers may not realize it, but hybrid work also brings them several advantages.
“One of the benefits employers and employees can gain from hybrid and remote work is increased employee productivity and efficiency due to this flexibility,” he said. “When employees have more flexibility to choose when and where they work, they’re more likely to balance their workloads and be happier, compared to those who work fully remote or in-person. Hybrid workers are also an employer's biggest advocate, with most workers saying they would recommend their company as an ideal work destination. Additionally, hybrid and remote work can also help companies access a broader talent pool, cut down on operating costs such as office space and undergo digital transformation, boosting employee collaboration and communication while maintaining employee health and safety.”
With that said, there are many risks businesses must navigate in permanently implementing a hybrid work model. The transition to remote work in 2020 was haphazard and brought about by the need to keep businesses running during widespread lockdowns. Vulnerabilities were discovered and had to be patched up on the fly.
According to Schultz, organizations must contend with cybersecurity risks such as data breaches, ransomware and phishing, culture risks such as disengaged workers and employee retention, and safety risks such as lack of training, workplace practices and hazards in the workplace. Risk management technology can help businesses keep track of all these risks while identifying and mitigating future risks in the workplace.
“When transitioning into and maintaining a hybrid or remote model, one of the biggest risks employers need to be mindful of is employee burnout,” Schultz said. “In the US, 28% of employees report having burnout symptoms and 32% of employees felt distressed. To address employee burnout, businesses can use technology like risk management tech to give employees the tools needed to help them make informed, risk-minded decisions and establish psychological safety in the workplace.”
Hybrid work is very tech-intensive, with all communication and data sharing done electronically, opening businesses to a wide array of cyber risks.
“To identify and mitigate cybersecurity and workplace risks, businesses can invest in safety and risk management technologies, which will allow them to guide all employees, even the most inexperienced, through common workplace exposures and equipment hazards such as falls and falling objects,” Schultz said. “These technologies can also ensure employees at all levels can properly use risk management and safety tools to better identify workplace risks, properly document them, and create a risk-minded culture that’s able to prevent risks before they happen.”