COVID-19 didn't invent remote work. Companies offered remote work policies (at least to some extent) long before there was any virus to put us all in lockdown. Even more, the rising stardom of the digital workforce, freelancers, had been working remotely since... forever. Home offices have been out there for decades, and with the increasing spread of high-speed internet connections, they only multiplied.
The pandemic solely accelerated remote work adoption. And many companies were quick to wave white handkerchiefs to physical offices (pretty much like that scene at the beginning of Titanic). Some (like Cotopaxi and Drift) were more than reluctant to remote work before the pandemic -- but once everyone was forced to work from home, they not only warmed up to the idea, but embraced it.
Does that mean you should switch to full remote work too?
Let's look into this for a bit.
Remote Work Versus Onsite Work
After having experience both on site and remote work for more extended periods of time, it's fair to assume most of us think both options show advantages and...disadvantages. Let's dive into this a little before we discuss the topic more in-depth.
What Is the Difference Between Remote and On-Site Work?
The main difference between remote and on-site work is, of course, location. Remote allows employees to work wherever they want, while on-site requires them to be in office.
Cost-wise, remote work makes more sense because it eliminates the need for a physical office and all the costs associated with it.
Human-wise, video conferences and instant messaging will never fully replace in person interactions.
Productivity wise, the opinions are split -- because, surprise-surprise, not everyone is the same, and as such, some people will prefer working remotely, others will prefer working in the office, and others will prefer a hybrid work combination between the two options.
Which One Is Better? Studies Show Employees Split on Benefits of Remote vs On-Site
Nobody can tell you exactly what is best -- and that's mostly because nobody has a crystal ball to tell you what will go well with your team. The ones who know best what is best are none other than your team members -- so asking them would be a first step to get to the bottom of this conundrum.
Statistically, opinions are split, and sometimes data shows surprising answers. For example, in a recent survey, most employees think they collaborate better when they are remote, as opposed to on site. At the same time, in the same study only 57% of on-site workers and only 64% of remote workers think they receive constructive feedback (as opposed to 71% of people who work on hybrid models - drum roll and trumpets, please!)
The Best of Both Worlds: Hybrid Workplace
If people cannot unanimously decide between remote work and in office work, then the best of both worlds is only logical as a solution. Enter hybrid workplaces, the work approach that gives everyone flexibility to achieve their maximum productivity and life/work balance.
Depends on employees, teams, and the tools you put at their disposal
Appears more clean and straight-forward, but may not always be so
Enables you and your team leaders to find the best solutions for the specificities of your teams
Depends on the person
Depends on the person
Allows said person to make the best choice for themselves
Definitely a win
Definitely a loss (unless you like long lines and crowded subways)
Makes everything more flexible for everyone
Open to the world
Clear geographical restrictions
Both open to the world and local
Real Estate Costs
Zero (unless you provide workers with home office stipends)
Remarkably high, especially in large cities
Moderate and flexible
Safer for everyone
Not so safe, especially in COVID-19 surge seasons
Flexible enough to allow everyone to easily switch to full-remote in case the sickness rate rises (we all hope it won’t).
The “Human Element”
It works, but could be better
Coffee maker banter is both fun – but too much can be unproductive and clique-generating
Offers everyone flexibility to be as social as they need to be when it comes to work
Hybrid Work Strategies
There are many hybrid work strategies, but some of the most popular ones include:
A remote-first approach is a hybrid strategy where everyone that can work remotely is expected to work remotely.
In an office occasional model, people are expected to drop by the office every now and again (but remote work is still prevalent).
Office-First (Or Remote-Friendly)
An office-first or remote-friendly strategy means that most of your employees work on site most of the time, but you do allow them to take remote days (according to your company's policy, of course).
In all of these cases, though, remote work still plays a huge role -- and the switch from remote to on site must be flawless if you want productivity, engagement, and loyalty to stay the same (or even grow).
Why You Should Offer Remote Work
Working from home is no longer just for the very rich (or the very...freelance). It's for everyone who does office jobs -- and it shows a long list of advantages. Some of the most important ones include the following:
A Better Work-Life Balance
When employees are enabled to work from home part of the time, they can focus on having a life outside of work and come back to their desks with new energy and motivation.
Let's be honest: nobody likes spending time in traffic (unless they really like feeling like they have to wake up too early to move too slowly towards their desired destinatin). Remote work allows people to work from wherever -- be it a beach or their kitchen.
Another reason people love remote work so much is the flexible schedule. For example, if a child has a doctor's appointment or an exam at school or university, the remote worker can reschedule their work hours around those events.
A lot of employees also tout the fact that they feel less distracted when working from home. While this might not be a universal truth, it sure can be a very valid point for many people.
Smaller Real Estate Costs
People love remote work so much because it allows them to have a more flexible life. It also, in most cases, benefits employers by lowering real estate costs.
Bigger Talent Pool
When you stop limiting yourself to one geographical location, you open your business to the world in terms of talent. And that's truly magical. Being able to build a genuinely inclusive and diverse work culture is tightly connected to opening your recruitment to the world -- and remote work enables you to do just that.
Alternative View: Why You Should Keep the Office Door Open
OK, but if remote work is so great, why should you not switch to it entirely -- and still keep a door open?
Simply put, because remote work isn't everything. And keeping the office doors open (at least partially) is a good idea from multiple standpoints. Here are some of the most important ones:
The Culture of Teamwork
No matter how collaborative remote workspaces may be, nothing beats face to face discussions and team work. If you want to encourage people to work together as teams (and grow your business based on that), the culture of teamwork is exactly the kind of reason to keep in mind when it comes to adopting a hybrid work model.
Motivation to Stay Organized and Track Productive Time
Hybrid work will also provide you and your teams with motivation to be more organized and track their productive time more carefully. When people know they will also come to the office from time to time, there is a stronger sense of accountability about their working hours.
Yes, yes, this is a benefit that works in remote workspaces too, but as mentioned before, how distracted you feel in the office vs remotely depends on you (respectively, your employees). We're built differently, we have different distraction triggers, and as such, we should be able to adapt our work location according to where we feel most productive and creative. For some, that's the office. For others, it's the top of their bed.
Balancing Technology Usage
Most people would be tempted to believe that an all-on-site work model requires more technology than a remote one. But when you want to make things work, you want to investi in tools that smooth out the edges and make everything more engaging and employee-friendly (like room booking software, video conference gear, and so on).
The Bottom Line
...is that nobody can tell you which option is better for you. Every organization goes through a complex internal process to define whether hybrid or remote is their way to go.
Fully remote workplaces sound very tempting for a lot of reasons. But despite what we used to believe before the pandemic (so, before we all experienced remote work en masse), there are strong arguments to be had for the on-site model too. Human connection will always beat unexpected messages on Teams. And nothing will ever beat actual watercooler banter, no matter how many funny GIFs your employee branding specialist pulls out of the depths of the internet.
In the end, the decision of whether you should go remotely, go back to the office, or embrace the something-in-between we call "hybrid" pertains to you and your employees.
So go ahead and ask them: do they want to work from their kitchen/ the beach/ luxury mountain resorts for the rest of their lives, or would they much rather drop by the office every now and again at least? The answers might actually surprise you...