Return-to-office is Here to Stay: Adapting Your Work Culture to In-Office and Hybrid Work

Hybrid or fully in-office positions are the new normal, according to the latest labor market data and various studies. This is opposed to the desires of some employees, who got used to remote work and the flexibility associated with it. The twin nails in the coffin for remote work are the end of the labor shortage and the demonstrable declining productivity of remote workers. Hybrid and in-office work is here to stay, and there are ways to adapt your workplace culture to it.

Productivity Dips for Remote Work–None for Hybrid

Productivity for fully remote workers has begun to decline by about 10% over in-office work, according to a recent paper from Stanford. Companies have noticed, and are starting to call their staff back into the office. This is a stumbling block for workers, as most enjoy working from home and consider it an important benefit. 

There is some good news that allows both companies and workers to meet in the middle - hybrid work shows the same amount of productivity as in-office work. The paper from Stanford found that most employees work in-office Tuesday-Thursday, and from home on Mondays and Fridays. Fully 30% of full-time employees are now working in hybrid mode, and most are happy with the arrangement. Only 10% of employees are fully working remotely, and those jobs are disappearing along with overall postings in the job market.

Why Has Productivity Declined for Remote Workers?

Before answering this question, we have to define what productivity means for workers and what productivity means for managers. According to the Stanford paper, workers consider themselves more productive while working at home because they do not have extra commute time built into their workday. However, managers do not view commute time as a part of an employee’s paid workday; productivity for them encompasses what an employee does in the time they are “on the clock.” The distinction between these two views is important, because it means that an employee’s definition of their own productivity is very different from how their employer views it. 

Anecdotally, most managers will tell you that they have seen a productivity decline in remote workers since the end of the pandemic. There is hard data to back up this assertion. The paper cites four 2023 studies of the productivity of working from home, and all of them show dips in remote worker productivity of varying degrees. 

Managers have taken note of this, and have insisted that fully remote employees return to the office. The Stanford paper notes that fully remote workers tend to be more affluent and have higher salaries, so these positions can be attractive for attrition for a business looking to buffer its bottom line against potential economic headwinds.

Hybrid Working Is The Answer for Everyone

With hybrid work, employees and managers get the best of both worlds. Employees get to cut significant commuting time out of their week, as well as 2-3 days of increased focus time to work at home. Managers get treasured “face time” with their staff, which does have positive effects in terms of reinforcing the manager/employee relationship. Furthermore, with the advent of new hybrid and remote employee productivity tools managers can ensure that employees are utilizing resources efficiently.

There are also reasons to require a full in-office presence. Any business that is consumer or client-facing will always get better results meeting clients in person with a populated office in the background. If the office really requires a full in-office population and hybrid work is not possible, managers should explore other ways to be flexible. These can include flexible start and end times, additional paid time off, and even a four-day work week if it is practical.

The 4-Day Work Week Is No Longer a Unicorn with Generative AI

The idea of working four days a week instead of five used to be a pleasant myth, but new technologies are making it more viable. Generative AI tools, which are now accessible to all workers, can save so much time that staff no longer need 40 hours a week to accomplish their tasks. A separate experiment at Stanford proved that workplace productivity can increase by 14% with the use of generative AI. 

Managers now have two choices; heap more tasks on their staff or give them a break. Obviously, the first choice will lead to more attrition if it is adopted as a long-term strategy. The second choice, a 4-day work week, can both give employees the break they are looking for and save on payroll costs. 

The main argument against a 4-day work week is that nobody else is doing it, and clients expect your company to be present five days a week. This has shifted significantly in the past year, with more companies globally making the switch after seeing significant productivity gains. Plus, your business can still be open five days a week with different staff on your teams taking their one day off. 

There are many choices to give employees the flexibility they want in a hybrid or in-office environment. The key as a manager is not to treat a return-to-office as “business as usual,” but an opportunity to build a new, more cohesive workplace culture.

Do you want to see how engaged your employees are, whether they are working remotely or in-office? Prodoscore can help you monitor what your staff are doing in a non-invasive way that celebrates their successes instead of invading their privacy. Contact us for a demonstration today!

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