Beyond the Office: Embracing Alternative Work Models for Work-Life Harmony
Modern work is facing a moment of disruption. According to McKinsey, companies everywhere have experienced waves of change over the last few years with the rise in remote and hybrid work environments, an influx of AI and automation, and an overall shift in attitude towards work.
Understandably, workplaces everywhere are contemplating what the future holds. Alternative models have emerged that aim to offer flexibility and work-life balance, more streamlined processes, and greater reliance on technology. But rather than seeking a one-size-fits-all solution, every business will have to commit to identifying the unique needs of their organization and forging an appropriate path forward.
What is clear across the board is that the traditional 9-5 work model, which has been the norm for decades, is no longer the only viable option for the modern workplace.
Common Work Models in Today's Workplace
Put simply, remote work allows employees to work from anywhere in the world with a stable internet connection. This model offers benefits like reduced or nonexistent commute times, increased productivity, and better work-life balance. However, it also comes with some challenges, like difficulty maintaining a sense of community and collaboration among workers.
While it may seem surprising, some remote workforces have actually reported feeling closer to their colleagues and more productive as a result - this is largely thanks to having functioning social capital, bringing teams together in a way that builds mutual respect and shared values and outlines common goals. Social capital is critical for sustained remote and/or work-from-home arrangements, requiring little effort to actually maintain but having a tremendous impact on how your team members interact and work with each other. Failure to uphold social capital will inevitably lead to alienation, distrust, and dissatisfaction, as well as all the negative effects that come with those traits.
To experience long-term remote work success, employers and leadership teams need to be willing to build social capital in a creative way, with open communication, consistent action, and constant learning that brings teams together, builds trust, and maintains a sense of community. You need to look beyond simply holding more conference calls and be willing to experiment with new ideas. Not all those efforts will bear fruit, but chances need to be taken in order to avoid the alienation that can come with remote work. When isolation ensues, employees can feel disconnected, unsupported, and unmotivated.
Outside of the more commonly discussed benefits of remote work, like flexibility, potential health benefits, and a larger talent pool to draw from, other advantages include low overhead and employee independence. For any organization, skipping out on monthly rental space, utility bills, office snacks, and office equipment for conference rooms can amount to massive savings. Employees often experience personal savings as well by eliminating commuting costs and limiting spend on office attire and eating out.
Overall, the benefits of remote work are many but the potential downsides cannot be ignored.
One of the more promising options is the hybrid environment, which allows either certain employees to work from home on a full-time basis while others are at the office or where staff have the flexibility to work from home some days and in the office others.
The hybrid work environment may be the right option for businesses wary about a full return to the office, encouraging some flexibility but also reaping the benefits of in-office life. Employees craving face-to-face contact with their colleagues can finally get back to some sort of “normalcy” and those who enjoy the freedoms of remote work can continue to enjoy them without being forced back into the office on a full-time basis. This combination often creates an environment where employees have the opportunity to work where and how they work best. It also often means fewer sick days, improved morale and mental health, and more diverse talent.
Like remote work, hybrid can result in lower operating costs and a positive effect on the environment. Many hybrid businesses see an increase in productivity because people have the ability to work to their own strengths and often feel better accommodated overall.
In many cases, hybrid work looks like the best of both worlds, but logistical challenges are prevalent. And, the nature of having some employees in the office and some at home will inevitably cause feelings of isolation among your employees. Workplaces will need to find a way to be inclusive in order to maintain morale and give each and every employee a voice and sense of community. This can be done by implementing the right cloud-based technologies and ensuring your office is set up to cater to both remote and in-person employees. Meetings now have to seamlessly include not only employees at the office but those working from home too.
Those working from home on a day-to-day basis will miss out on the coffee talk, water cooler conversations, and impromptu social events that come from working together in an office setting, and they may feel demotivated as a result. It also becomes more difficult to bounce ideas off colleagues because workers aren’t immediately present, making it challenging to work through new ideas or solve difficult problems together.
In a hybrid world, social capital remains a top priority - leaders need to foster collaboration and cohesiveness. The more staff mingle and chat, the more cohesive and creative your company. But without the opportunity to saunter over to the next desk or bump into the boss in the cafeteria, teams need to be more proactive. Encouraging cross-team relationships benefits everyone and doesn't have to involve a 50-person Zoom call. Instead, delegates from each module can schedule weekly chats or monthly check-ins. These don't necessarily have to stick to an agenda but should operate more as a casual round-up or informal get-together. You could also make these open to anyone who wants to join - running a Friday afternoon happy hour or a Monday morning coffee group, for example.
In the Office Work
While flexibility seems like a requirement in today’s workplace, for industries that require close collaboration or specific equipment, in-office work may be the only viable option. The in-office model requires that employees work in a physical office space, often with set working hours and routines. In-office workers benefit from greater social interaction and opportunities for mentorship and career growth, the ability to build a stronger sense of team camaraderie and corporate culture, but they also face several limitations. Challenges like long commutes, less flexibility, and increased distractions are difficult to overcome in a rigid environment.
What's the Best Work Environment for My Business?
Overall, good workers are good workers no matter the environment - it’s about the people, not the place. That said, the last few years have taught us that, when executed thoughtfully, flexibility (i.e., remote or hybrid approaches) can result in higher levels of productivity and engagement, and improve morale. That doesn’t mean an end to in-person work. The advantages of in-person collaboration for things like brainstorming, culture building, and learning opportunities can’t be ignored.
Advancements in technology and the inclination to measure success based more on organizational and employee health than hours worked, for instance, make flexibility easier to accommodate. But leaders need to be both purposeful and intentional about what that means for their people - flexibility is more than location; it’s also how and when we work, so it can look different based on the unique goals, needs, and responsibilities of your organization.
The Role of EPM in Various Work Models
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Ultimately, trust is at the core of a healthy work environment. Remote and hybrid work can keep managers guessing as to how much or how little their team members are contributing. Prodoscore is an Employee Productivity Monitoring solution that can help managers and employees understand whether the strategy they’ve selected is working. It provides visibility into when/if an employee’s or department’s productivity increases or decreases depending on where they’re working from and presents a clear picture of contributions over time. With those insights, leaders can make decisions about remote, hybrid, or in-office work rooted in data and identify the right balance that works for both your people and the company.
With monitoring software, organizations can gauge how employees are engaged, when there may be a risk of overworking, who may be slacking off, and where there are gaps in training. Productivity data can help with setting clear expectations and highlight what is and isn’t working.