The hybrid office, an arrangement that combines remote and in-office work, seems poised to become the new normal for many white-collar workers. This model aims to use what we learned about workplace productivity and work-life balance during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic to create a new setup that maximizes the benefits and minimizes the downsides of both in-office and remote work. Hybrid work, of course, will have its own economic pros and cons.
As with any widespread upheaval, the shift to a hybrid model will create economic winners and losers.
Both employers and knowledge economy workers stand to save money with hybrid work.
All the businesses that help facilitate this new model—such as technology companies and office designers—have an opportunity to increase their revenue.
Workers and companies that used to provide services and space to full-time offices and their employees may have to find new sources of income, and business districts might not return to their pre-pandemic character.
Working from home during the pandemic allowed businesses and employees who do their work on computers, by phone, and through videoconferencing to conduct a real-time experiment on the necessity of going to a central office five days a week. Researchers and analysts have studied their outcomes and determined that continuing to work remotely at least two days a week could benefit the following groups.
Companies that adopt a hybrid workplace stand to save an estimated $11,000 on each employee who works remotely half of the time, according to Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics and an expert in helping employers optimize flexible and distributed workplace strategies. The savings comes primarily from increased productivity but also from real estate savings and reduced absenteeism.1
Knowledge Economy Workers
Knowledge economy workers in a hybrid workplace also stand to benefit financially. Working from home can save thousands of dollars annually on car maintenance, car insurance, public transportation, work attire, and eating out, according to FlexJobs, a job search website for remote and flexible jobs.2 Lister estimates the potential savings at $600 to $6,000 per worker. She also estimates that by working remotely half of the time, employees can save the equivalent of 11 workdays per year in the time they would have spent commuting.1
Office Architects and Designers
Many offices will need to be redesigned to become effective hybrid workplaces and reduce the potential for spreading contagious illnesses. Natural lighting, greenery, indoor air quality, and density are all important components of a workplace that supports both mental and physical health, according to Rachael Bauer, a senior associate at Weber Thompson Interior Design Studio.3
Rebecca Hinds, a self-described “organizational physician” who helps companies build their cultures and grow, writes in a column for Inc. that the open office layout that many employers choose is the wrong way to go. It’s been shown to decrease collaboration and face-to-face interaction, two key reasons many employers insist that coming into the office is good for business. Plus, employees who work in these spaces may end up taking more sick days than those who work in closed layouts.4
A hybrid office may require many companies to improve their conference room technology so that remote and on-site employees can communicate effectively. Companies may need to upgrade their videoconferencing software as well as their conference room monitors, speakers, and video cameras. In addition, workers who will be splitting time between the office and remote locations will need speedy laptops, high-speed wireless internet, and hot spot plans, if they don’t have them already.
Cloud computing solutions that allow employees to work effectively and securely from anywhere will continue to be essential. Workplace management software will also become important for making sure there’s enough space for everyone who plans to come to the office on a given day.56 And high-tech sensors can monitor everything from office occupancy and utilization to indoor air quality to help companies manage new and evolving needs in the workplace.