There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for the new workplace

Brian Lambier

Author headshotOrganizations are asking employees to return to the office and a “new normal” workplace. However, while some employees are eager to separate work from home, not all are keen to return to the office full time. As businesses implement new working models from fully remote to strictly office-based, and everything in between, career professionals need to be prepared to support clients to consider what meets their needs.

In a 2022 survey conducted for Global News, 32% of Canadians said that they’d look for another job if their employer forced them to work exclusively at the office, a sentiment more widely shared among those aged 18 to 34 (42%) than those 35 to 54 (29% ) and 55 and over (22%).

Microsoft’s Annual Trend and Index Report 2022 also reported that the collective experience of the past two years has left a lasting imprint, fundamentally changing how we define the role of work in our lives. For Gen Z and millennials, there is no going back. And with other generations not far behind, companies must meet employees where they are.

In response, employers are now considering hybrid-working models, where employees will work both in the office and at home. However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

What does hybrid work look like?

According to Webex by Cisco, there are four primary models of hybrid work that employers are implementing:

  1. Flexible hybrid: Employees choose their location and working hours based on their priorities for the day.
  2. Fixed hybrid: Employees may be required to work in the office on fixed days and times, to ensure that everyone is on-site at those times.
  3. Office-first hybrid: Employees are expected to be on-site most of the time but have the flexibility to choose a couple of days a week to work remotely.
  4. Remote-first hybrid: Employees work remotely most of the time with occasional visits to co-working spaces or the office for team building, collaboration and training.

Career professionals need to support clients to look at each of these hybrid models to determine which one offers the best “fit” for their lifestyle and expectations of work.

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Benefits and limitations of hybrid work

Hybrid work provides the freedom and flexibility for employees to manage their life and workdays from home, and still stay connected with co-workers and managers in their workplace. These connections can prevent remote workers from experiencing isolation that affects their mental health, productivity level and job satisfaction. There is also a cost-savings benefit as they will commute less to the office, saving time and money spent on transportation, clothing and other expenses.

A Gallup study found the optimal engagement boost for millennials occurs when employees spend 60-80% of their time – three to four days a week – working remotely. This generation often defines flexibility by when and where they work.

It is important for employers to be attuned to employee needs and desires to help improve recruitment and retention. The degree of workplace flexibility will influence some employees’ decisions about whether to accept a job offer elsewhere. Understanding employees’ need for flexibility can lead to engaged workers who are also often more productive and happier, which can be a win-win for both the employer and employee.

“It is important for employers to be attuned to employee needs and desires to help improve recruitment and retention.”

While there can be benefits to hybrid work, these models are not the best fit for employees who prefer to go to their workplace every day to enjoy the culture of the organization, teamwork and face-to-face interactions with managers, co-workers and clients. These employees may face challenges when working from home. They may not have the self-discipline to stay on task nor have an appropriate workspace or resources required to manage everyday interruptions. This may decrease their productivity and overall job satisfaction.

Setting clients up for success

So, what does this mean for career professionals? How can you support your clientele to make an informed decision regarding their career direction and how it fits with different models of working?

Career professionals can continue to support their clients to increase their self-awareness by helping them to identify their skills, values, interests and work preferences, as well as their perceptions regarding the benefits and challenges of the “new normal” workplace. Helping clients explore who they are, as well as the wide variety of models of work including the hybrid options outlined above, will equip them with greater self-understanding. This increased knowledge will place them in a better position to answer the following four questions and begin a process to determine which type of work environment is best for them.

  1. Are you concerned with feeling disconnected or isolated from the workplace and the other members of your team?

In a study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour in 2021, researchers examined rich data including the emails, calendars, instant messages, video/audio calls and workweek hours from before and after Microsoft imposed a company-wide work-from-home mandate in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They found that working from home caused workers to become more siloed in how they communicated with others. Employees engaged in fewer direct conversations and spent less time in meetings.

  1. How do you prefer to communicate and collaborate with co-workers, managers and other stakeholders?

Do you prefer in-person, direct communication with others or are you comfortable communicating via email, texting or via an online digital platform? Everyone shares and receives information differently, so the quality of information exchange will be influenced by the method of sharing, as well as each individual’s level of comfort with it.

  1. When working from home, will you be able to create a balance between your personal and work life?

All employees, including hybrid workers, need to have a positive work experience that increases their overall health and wellness. Work-life balance has numerous positive effects such as decreased stress, a lower risk of burnout and a greater sense of well-being. Some benefit from working remotely because it allows them to juggle their work and non-work responsibilities from one base of operation. Others prefer to find balance by working away from home because they can create a separation between these two areas of their life.

  1. What circumstances need to exist in a hybrid model for you to be productive?

This includes the physical work environment (e.g. home office setup), the type of interruptions the individual can expect and how they can manage them, and the daily structure they create to support their productivity and overall well-being.

The answers to these questions can provide both the career professional and their clients with additional information and insight to engage in a more in-depth conversation about the new world of work. The client will be in a better position to make a more informed decision as to which model of work is the “best fit” for them, and the career professional can help identify the necessary actions to effectively prepare their clients to work in this “new normal.”

Brian Lambier, BA, CRC is the President/Owner of Career Vitality Services Inc., a career coach, a certified retirement coach as well as an adult education workshop facilitator who has worked in a diversity of positions in the human services and career development fields for the past 30-plus years. He also teaches in the Career and Academic Advising Certificate Program at the University of Calgary.