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From Remote Work (RW) to Hybrid Employment Models (HEM): A Demanding Working Environment

Dr Christos Lemonakis

March 1 2021 - How employees feel about returning to the workplace varies depending on gender and career stage. However, many believe that the coronavirus period marks the end of full-time employment in the office. More and more employees are now looking for a 'hybrid' model that combines work and home. According to surveys of America's fastest-growing private companies, two-thirds intend to significantly increase their employees' ability to work from home or in hybrid employment models. It is estimated that 2% of these companies will proceed permanently on remote work. Some companies also argue that their employees' productivity increased when they worked from their homes due to the lockdown.

On the other hand, there are also views that remote work is sufficient for ordinary activities (e.g., bringing the office online, enabling interactions and connections with other colleagues, bonding over shared interests and culture, etc.) but restricts creativity. For many, innovation requires trust among people. Therefore, they need to feel safe to share their ideas, which is difficult to achieve with teleconferences. Many people, by their nature, need physical presence to open up and unfold their creativity. Companies will have to adopt periodic meetings for their teams in physical spaces with everyday activities, not necessarily for work, but more social activities.

Innovation and hybrid creativity

Innovation thrives from inclusive experiences and collaboration through technology. The more views are shared, the more innovation and creativity develops. With the extension of teleconferences between executives and employees, communication has also acquired a dimension of ' equality'. Compared to the meeting table where the head sits at the top, everyone has their screen and feels they can participate equally by expressing their views through the conference call and distant meetings.

Table 1: Pros and cons of a typical Remote Work (RW) framework

Pros (+)
RW often cite studies conducted long before the coronavirus period to argue that those who work from home are usually more productive than those from office[1].

Cons (-)
What one gains in RW in terms of productivity may lose it in creativity and innovative thinking.
When people work together in the same place, they tend to solve problems more quickly. Productivity tends to become limited when team members co-work from different locations[2].

What is essential for remote work to proceed effectively is preparing and training towards the culture of teleconferences and technical details. Even though it may seem comparatively easy to participate in a teleconference, with a user-friendly environment for most of the services provided, one must be trained in technical subjects, and skills to achieve personal empowerment. These are specific tools used during online meetings and capacities to express one's views directly and thoroughly. Also, there is a need for more detailed planning before the meeting commences than a regular meeting, thus leading time for this step.

The end of the typical office?

Many have rushed to declare the end of the 'typical office' as we know it, and the trend figures support this belief. Today, it is estimated that 40% of Europeans are in telework.

Naturally, some sectors have more teleworking experience than others, especially telecommunications and IT. In 2019, the so-called 'remote work' was standard in Scandinavian countries such as Denmark, Finland and Sweden - hence this year's growth, according to the European Commission's Joint Research Centre. For this centre, this is also due to cultural reasons.

Changes brought about by coronavirus are already treated more as precursors to a different labour market than as a parenthesis that will disappear with the vaccination. Global institutions seem to be following the trend of private companies that have seen the pandemic as an opportunity to reduce their operating costs by limiting office space to what is strictly necessary. In a study by Adecco[3] (2020) carried out in May on a sample of 8,000 participants from eight countries, 74% of the employees surveyed favoured a combination of office work and teleworking. They asked what an employee would prefer if they had to choose one of the two work options. The responses appeared to be divided, with 51% preferring the office work and 49% in the remote. This research also concluded that: "Leaders foresee an increasing trend towards remote work, while employees expect more flexible working programs and a hybrid model combining remote with office work."

Fig. 1: Basic Hybrid Employment Model (HEM)

Hybrid Employment Model

Those against RW's widespread use argue that the health emergency currently required does not necessarily work as needed, especially after the extraordinary conditions created by COVID-19. Useful tools and processes alone will not help if the employees do not fit the remote environment. Someone could be doing well in the office, but they might lack the critical traits to work remotely. In the tech hub of Silicon Valley, many companies during the pre-pandemic period insisted that their employees should still go to the office to work, but why?

The hybrid employment model where working time is divided between the remote and the physical workplace will seemingly prevail in the next period (Fig.1). Typically, companies create managers' positions to coordinate their employees' remote work to develop remote work methods. However, the pandemic is changing the business concept.

About the Author

Dr Christos Lemonakis is Lecturer at Berlin School of Business and Innovation (BSBI)

References

Dave Altig, Scott R. Baker, Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas A. Bloom, Philip Bunn, Scarlet Chen, Steven J. Davis, Julia Leather, Brent H. Meyer, Emil Mihaylov, Paul Mizen, Nicholas B. Parker, Thomas Renault, Pawel Smietanka, Greg Thwaites (2020), Economic Uncertainty Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Journal of Public Economics. November 2020, Vol. 191.

Bloom Nicholas, Liang James, Roberts John, Ying Zhichun Jenny, (2015), Does Working from Home Work? Evidence from a Chinese Experiment, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Volume 130, Issue 1, February 2015, Pages 165–218, https://doi.org/10.1093/qje/qju032

Jordà ̉scar, Singh Sanjay R., Taylor, Alan M. (2020), Longer-Run Economic Consequences of Pandemics, Working Paper Series 2020-09, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

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