Is hybrid work the new normal? Can we move to 100%-virtual business?

Initially something of an outlier, hybrid work has managed to convince employees of its benefits, to the point where companies that want to go back to – well, before – need to think twice if they don’t want to face a wave of resignations, as Apple did. But can this change go further? Could we all be working tomorrow for companies that are 100%-virtual?

When all this is over… Microsoft conducted a worldwide survey of its employees and found that 73% of them want to continue some form of WFH (Work From Home). A comparable UK survey put this number at 79%, with only 5% wanting to go back to the office full-time.

These trends are so strong that pollsters Ipsos found that a whopping 40% of workers in the UK (with 27% in the US and an amazing 49% in India) would simply look for another job if they were forced to return to 100% office time.

What do the Internet giants think of all this? Can this change be reversed as quickly as it has sprung up, in favor of 100%-virtual companies – such as the American company, Larvol?

Just what is ‘hybrid work’?

Hybrid work covers two points:

  • Flexibility in space
    The company and the employee come to an agreement where employees can perform their duties outside the office. In general, employees work from home, but they can also, as defined by employers, favor coworking spaces, or even change countries.
  • Flexibility in time
    Employees can organize their work time as they see fit, although, to facilitate teamwork, they must respect certain hours of activity in common.

What is the difference between ‘flexible’ and ‘hybrid’?

There is a fine line between the two terms.

‘Hybrid’ work defines a specific set of days of workplace presence and other days of teleworking (at home or elsewhere).

‘Flexible’ work covers a somewhat broader spectrum because it also defines how working time is organized. As required, employees and the company agree on non-standard working hours, covering such possibilities as:

  • Part-time: where working time is less than the legal working time or the duration set in corporate agreements.
  • Time-sharing: two employees work the same position but divide up the working hours.
  • Compressed working time: working full-time but over a reduced number of days.
  • Annualized hours: employees complete their working hours over the year as they desire, although the company can ask them to respect schedules common to other employees.
  • Staggered hours: the start and end of the day as well as the employee’s midday pause differ from other employees.

Hybrid work: from the employee’s point of view

The first benefit of hybrid work is increased productivity. The absence – or at least, the reduction – of interruptions and ambient noise allows employees to better focus on their tasks rather than juggling different demands.

The second advantage comes from reduced travel time. More rest and less stress around transport disruptions boost employee well-being.

A third (but not the last) advantage of hybrid work: better work-life balance. Without the constraints of fixed working hours, it is easier for employees to reconcile private with professional life.

A survey conducted by Zoom after the first year of Covid found that 65% of (American) employees see hybrid work as their “ideal work model”. A similar YouGov survey conducted the next year found that an amazing 75% of British employees want a hybrid working model.

However, hybrid work – and particularly at 100% – is not for everyone.

The biggest reason is the isolation. The absence of social interactions and exchanges that do not take place on screen can seriously affect the morale and health of employees.

While some employees manage to respect the line between private and professional life when they are at home, others go to the opposite extreme, and over-connecting can lead to burnout.

A HowNow survey from March of the current year found some unnerving statistics on the current psychological state of employees in WFH (Work From Home). 42% feel ‘lonely’ at work. 32% say WFH is having a negative impact on their mental health. And 80% of employees have only spoken to their manager once in the last 10 days.

This boundary is all the more difficult to respect for employees do not have a suitable workspace. The lack of correct equipment (office chair, screen booster) or the reduction in physical activity contributes to a severe increase in musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and lower back pain.

An Italian government study found that 41.2% of home workers experienced increased lower back pain, and 23.5% of them had to live with significant neck pain as well.

Advantages and disadvantages of hybrid work for the company

Rent represents the biggest single expense item for companies, just after human resources. With hybrid work, companies now have the possibility of reducing their rental bills, either by giving up some of their premises or by renting those premises out.

However, the reorganization of the workspace in a company should lead to deeper reflection: what are the reasons that motivate employees to partially return to the office, and how can their new expectations be met? What teamwork habits have become established during WFH, and how can they be physically adapted?

The second advantage of hybrid work for the company is greater employee involvement. By taking their well-being into account and setting up the appropriate organization, employees are more invested in their tasks. As we saw at the beginning of this article, they are the first to notice an increase in productivity when they are telecommuting.

In a sector where the shortage of tech talent is exponential, companies need to stand out to attract talent. They are certainly more attractive if they can offer a hybrid way of working to prospective employees.

Last but not least, the fact of no longer being geographically limited gives companies access to a larger number of candidates. While tech talent is as rare as it is expensive in France, the United States or the United Kingdom, other countries produce many engineers. Eastern European countries, such as Romania, have become a preferred destination for companies that access tech talent through outsourcing or freelancing.

According to an OpinionWay survey for Slack conducted in July 2021, 38% of 1,032 employees surveyed are ready to leave their jobs if the 100% face-to-face return is imposed.

But before reaching this level of hybrid maturity, companies must ensure that they have the necessary technical means to ensure continuity in work and without friction.

This requires secure remote access, as well as communication and collaborative work tools that all employees feel comfortable using.

Management also needs to align with this corporate adaptation.

Distance can cause a feeling of loss of control, which results in increased surveillance or requests made regardless of working hours.

Finally, the explosion of hybrid work and its normalization in our lifestyles must lead to a rethinking of corporate culture. How can corporate culture thrive when the corporation is divided into micro-entities, with fewer and fewer meetings?

Hybrid work: a sensitive topic for Tech Giants

Internet Giants

Google, Amazon and Apple forced to back down

If we consider Google: employees can opt for 100% teleworking, but this option can change their salary. Indeed, the American company chose to index salary to the place of residence. Its matrix takes several criteria into account, such as services and real estate and the cost of living onsite.

However, as Reuters reported, this calculation matrix quickly sparked controversy.

A Google employee who lives in Stamford, an hour by train from the Google offices in New York, would be paid 15% less than a colleague whose place of residence is closer to the offices.

While the revaluation of wages according to place of residence after a transfer is nothing new, this does pose a problem for employees who have not moved but who have up to now agreed to travel several hours to get to the office.

Consider Amazon, who wanted those employees for whom teleworking was compatible with their duties to return to the office in the fall of 2021 for 100% of their time. Amazon finally opted for a hybrid working mode, allowing 2 days of teleworking for 3 days face-to-face.

However, due to changes in the health situation, the online sales giant preferred to postpone the return to the office until January 2022.

A similar story at Apple, which forecast a full-time return of its employees in September. However, the firm had to check its plans after a broad-based protest movement, which was followed by a wave of resignations. Like Amazon, Apple has finally agreed to grant two days of teleworking for three days of face-to-face. Here too, however, the schedule will not be applied until January 2022 due to the spread of the Delta variant.

Hybrid work: Mark Zuckerberg leads the way

Permanent teleworking was initially the privilege of the most senior employees, but Facebook finally decided to extend it to all its employees. In a general corporate memo last June, Mark Zuckerberg wrote that by 2022, he planned to telecommute at least half of the year. His motivations: better concentration and the possibility of spending more time with his family had beneficial effects on its productivity.

Facebook is going further and has chosen to support employees in the USA who would like to move to Canada, and European employees who want to move to the United Kingdom (although this change of place of residence will have repercussions for salary).

A glance at hybrid work in Europe

The German government is working on a bill aimed at strengthening the protection of teleworking employees, in particular by more explicitly separating work and personal life.

In Finland, a law promulgated in 1996 allows flexible working. This must be reviewed in the light of the health crisis and allow Finnish employees to organize up to 50% of their working time.

In the UK, hybrid work is rapidly becoming a right. Employees who have worked 26 consecutive weeks for the same employer can submit a request to telework (a “statutory application”), and employers must handle these requests “in a reasonable manner” – meaning that they need a pretty good reason to turn them down.

Do companies have any choice other than hybrid work?

Hybrid work: reflecting on a profound change in the world of work

If the transition is going to be frictionless, it seems essential to examine the subject carefully, adapting working methods, rethinking remote teamwork, and giving new meaning to the company and what it represents.

Hybrid work is not simply transferring to the home what used to be done in the office. In addition to the technical constraints, it must more than ever take into account the aspirations of each individual, paying careful attention to the various signals that it can send.

This adaptation must be the result of continuous, collective and cross-department work.

Workplace Intelligence found through a Savanta survey that 67% of business leaders plan to keep a hybrid work organization after the pandemic.

Moving to a 100%-virtual company tomorrow? The example of Larvol

Creating a 100%-virtual company was not a decision that its CEO Bruno Larvol carefully considered. Instead, it was an opportunity he grabbed with both hands.

The ’aha’ moment? After posting a job offer, he received an application from someone with a PhD and an MBA but living in India. A highly qualified profile for a salary well below what Silicon Valley pays: that was enough to convince Larvol of the advantages of remote work.

Founded in 2004, his company today has more than 100 employees across the United States, Latin America, and India.

For Bruno Larvol, 100%-virtual business brings a number of benefits, such as:

  • Unlimited access to a highly qualified talent pool (onsite workers or freelance digital nomads)
  • Flexibility

For a closer look at this corporate success story: Learning from Larvol – A 100%-Virtual Success Story

Can 100%-virtual business be compatible with corporate culture?

While he admits that it is more complicated, for Bruno Larvol it is quite possible to create a corporate culture even in a 100%-virtual corporation. To achieve this, he has made transparency and communication the cornerstones of his company.

First, the role of the manager is essential because managers must be able to detect what’s not being said that could indicate problems in the team.

Next, the employee’s commitment and intentions. According to Bruno Larvol, since loneliness can be difficult to live with, working remotely 100% of the time requires real determination.

Thus, in an almost innate way, the employees who join his company show greater involvement.

Why Bruno Larvol quickly dismissed the idea of a hybrid work organization

Larvol adds that it is entirely possible to go from a 100%-virtual enterprise to a physical enterprise, or at least a hybrid way of working – but not the other way around.

As soon as certain employees meet “in person” and others, whether by choice or by obligation favor remote work, an imbalance in relationships is created, along with a sense of corporate belonging.

While most employees are in favor of hybrid work in the long term, examples from the Big Four show that companies are not as enthusiastic. Decisions taken unilaterally have shown their limits and it now seems impossible to decide the future of a business without listening to the people who make the business happen.

The 100%-virtual business model must open up the field of thought for aspiring entrepreneurs: could it take hold faster than we think? And in that case, how should we design and shape exchanges and interactions between employees, beyond the screen?

In this age of hyper-digitization, we can speculate about the social evolution of humanity and the threats hanging over us – or, on the contrary, we can think about the improvements that are still to come.

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