The Latest Trends When It Comes to Hybrid and Remote Work

By Joanna Fragopoulos

Paul Flaharty, executive director of the marketing and creative practice area at Robert Half, spoke to ANA recently about the latest hiring and retention trends. The company released findings from a recent survey it conducted.

Unsurprisingly, remote work productivity is on people's minds, as the company stated in an article, "1 in 5 professionals (21 percent) said they're equally productive wherever they work, 35 percent reported accomplishing more at home. Those commuting to the office perform best in a private space (43 percent) versus a collaborative one (16 percent)."

Other highlights from Robert Half's article include productivity "peaking" early in the week, employees believing that they have too many meetings (at 35 percent), and productivity hours skewing earlier. Check out the breakdown here

Below, Flaharty discussed flexible schedules, hiring practices, employee satisfaction, and productivity. Some of the key takeaways included:

  • Individual work flexibility is a must when hiring talent and attracting prospective hires.
  • Explore benefits, perks, or incentives (such as half-day Fridays) to build a positive work morale.
  • Set clear expectations for remote work and employees, so there are no surprises for employers or employees. 
  • Embrace video more to cut out excess meetings and email threads. 
  • Employers may "pay a premium" for onsite employees in certain industries, as Flaharty stated, "We see continued data and evidence that suggests that clients now have to pay a premium for onsite workers in particular functional areas due to the abundance of options for the candidate of fully remote work in the same space."

I was curious about the concerns regarding flexible work and remote work. Do you feel more companies are willing to work with people individually, or are they pushing back against that? Because I'm sure it's hard to navigate company-wide policies with individualized flexibility.

What we are seeing is that companies are testing the waters as it relates to work structures. And there are preferences — and then there are requirements. There is essential onsite work versus what someone believes to be essential onsite work. And then there's just the industry as a whole — mainly what is the market doing from a work structures perspective.

For example, an organization may feel that it is essential that they have employees work onsite. But if they're hiring someone with a functional skill set that is predominantly performed remotely from a national perspective, the challenge is this: Our clients can't turn off a candidate's phone after hiring them.

And if you hire someone and you don't provide a ton of flexibility from a work structures perspective, they will receive calls about other opportunities that provide flexible work structures. It's not a matter of filling the job with someone that ultimately would be willing to work remote.

It's more like, should you and is the onsite work as essential as you feel it truly is? Because we've seen a lot of instances where candidates have accepted jobs with an onsite component and then ended up leaving for something that was higher paying and remote.

Did you feel like there were some industries that were more flexible versus being less flexible?

For sure. I think marketing, creative, and digital, which is the space that I oversee for the organization, had always been a market that had embraced remote work. Pre-pandemic, it embraced remote work. I'd say if there were skill sets under the marketing/creative/digital umbrella where there was more motivation to get people to work on site, it was within marketing because at times there was a premium placed on face-to-face stakeholder communication. When you're meeting with the business or meeting with stakeholders for a particular campaign you're building, there was a premium put on conducting meetings in person.

I think that there are some industries that place more of a premium on interaction with users or with the business. And it's in some instances, like in our technology business, there is server and network support that actually requires people to be kind of hands-on in a data center. They sort of have to come in. If there was any sort of just interaction with other users or corporate employees that also needed to be on site, I think that influenced it.

But when we think about digital projects, by and large, our experience has been almost exclusively remote, and so I even think about it. To some degree, it's industry-oriented, but I think it's also very functional skill set-oriented as well.

Can the job be performed effectively in a fully remote capacity? And had it been performed in that way in large part pre-COVID? Because post-COVID, it just accelerated all of that, whereas there was a period where maybe some of that digital work was performed onsite; now it's almost exclusively remote. I think both industry and functional role play into it.

I was intrigued, and not entirely surprised, by the idea that most people get work done earlier in the week, Mondays and Tuesdays, according to the study. Are more companies considering pivoting to four-day work weeks, rather than five?

Certainly. I think that staff retention in this period of incredibly low unemployment and incredibly high demand as it relates to just the number of currently open jobs has motivated companies to find every possible way to be creative, to retain their staff. Everyone has read articles about the Great Reshuffle or the Great Resignation.

And so, the reality is exploring things like half-day Fridays or a four-day workweek; this has become so much more common because companies need to find new, creative, and innovative ways to retain their people and to keep people fresh.

I think a lot of it just depends on the industry that you're in and how busy a Friday is in the grand scheme, and it's interesting. Our feedback found that people just typically feel refreshed from the weekend. They dig into a greater degree. They're really sharp and acute, and have full gas tanks on Mondays and Tuesdays. I think part of it is just the changing nature.

It is an evolving market, right? There's a lot of change in the air. With that comes new projects that get dumped on people midweek. I always think about what my week is supposed to look like, and then inevitably there's a meeting or something on a Monday and Tuesday about a new deck that I have to build for a new presentation.

Of course, it doesn't give me permission to not do the other work that was already on my calendar. It just gets added, and so I think that's part of the dynamic, in addition to people coming in with their batteries recharged.  There's a lot of changing priorities and new project-based initiatives that come up that are dropped on people typically early in the week that then require an additional investment in time that make people pretty spent by Friday.

It's also what used to be considered to be fairly progressive as it relates to employee incentives and perks, how Fridays are perceived. Almost as things progress, it feels like it becomes more normalized, because I think more and more companies are offering some sort of a flexible arrangement on Fridays. And so then you get to a place where it's like, wait, if we're not doing something, are we not positioning ourselves to be equitable or competitive?

Did you feel like there are any sort of overarching themes or tips on how companies or organizations can boost employee engagement, regardless of industry?

No, I think part of it is about evaluating your overall meeting structure: the dreaded meeting to discuss the meeting. People really have to think long and hard before they drop a Teams meeting on their team's calendar about whether or not they could communicate the same message in an email in advance. How can we set expectations or have people prepared for our meeting in a way other than a meeting?

Some organizations are using video for that. If I need to just set certain expectations with my team about what we're going to discuss in another meeting or what they need to work on, emailing them and setting expectations can get a little bit exhausting as well because of how many emails everyone receives.

But I can jump on video and I can actually just talk to them and I can set expectations via video. And then I can send them over a video message, which is basically me telling them everything that I would've told them on the call. They could even stop if they didn't hear something. They can rewind it and they can go back and they can check it out. But I think that's a little bit more personal. And so I think the way organizations are embracing video is really interesting, because we also tend to see that video boosts engagement.

People are so much more likely to process information via video than they are if they just are given a big, long string of text that they have to read. I think that's a major piece of it. And this has been an ongoing discovery process for companies — just reevaluating the perspective of where your team is the most productive. People have long, sometimes stressful, commutes that impact a big chunk of their productivity. That's certainly a piece of it.

I think so much of an employer's experience with an employee working remotely can be tied back to how expectations were set in the very beginning about when someone should be online, available, or have their camera on. What is the productivity expectation at the end of any given day? What should the output look like?

Sometimes an employer gets frustrated with an employee and chalks it up to them being an inefficient remote worker, when in fact it just boiled down to setting improper expectations or not being crystal clear with what they wanted from someone.

And if you're not crystal clear, sometimes an employee is basically going to test the waters and try to see what works and what doesn't. You can't blame them for it if they haven't had clear guidelines and parameters set. I talked to so many hiring managers that express frustration about remote work that have a major opportunity as it relates to expectation setting.

That's an excellent point because I think many of the complaints about remote work focus on a lack of team connection or cohesion — and how that "in person magic" isn't there. And I think that is really true regarding setting expectations, and becomes the question, "Is it the chicken or the egg, at the end of the day?"

Think about it from this perspective. In this kind of remote work world, part of the beauty of it is that people can balance their personal life with their work life, and go and do meetings and errands. Theoretically, as long as you're getting your work done, it should be acceptable. But if I don't set appropriate expectations with an employee about when they need to be online and their expected desk-side availability during the day, can you fault them?

If I don't justify it, but I say, "Hey, I'm going to be offline this afternoon because I have to go deal with this personal errand." How am I not basically telling them that's the way we work? And then if they go and do the exact same thing, should I perceive it as being any different because one person's the manager and one person's report?

Is there anything that surprised you about any of the findings or were the trends fairly standard when it came to what you anticipated? 

What surprises me, and this isn't even necessarily from the study's data, but just anecdotally: What surprised me from our experiences is the continued inflexibility from organizations as it relates to remote versus onsite work. Again, the nature of the work may be such that someone needs to perform that job onsite and there's no other way to look at it. And that just is what it is.

What we always tell our clients is that they need to be mindful of the shrinking (and an already very small) candidate pool. When you think about the candidate pool, hybrid is not hugely different from onsite as it relates to the candidate population you want to target. The second you put in any component of onsite work, you're looking at local market candidates.

It's only people that can do the commute [when it's hybrid], because even if it's one day a week, but that commute is two and a half hours each way for one day, that's still going to impact whether or not someone stays in that job long term. How wide do you want to cast your net? And are you comfortable exclusively looking at local candidates for your opportunity?

We find that sometimes companies have to learn that lesson the hard way where they have to fill a job two or three or four times. Only then do they realize how important flexibility is, and that they do a true market analysis to understand whether they're competitive for the talent they're looking for.

It also is an accessibility issue, not just for location, but if someone has a disability or is a caretaker for a child or a parent. Are there more popular benefits that prospective employees want to see? And if so, is that one of them?

The component for onsite versus remote is so interesting because we see continued data and evidence that suggests that clients now have to pay a premium for onsite workers in particular functional areas due to the abundance of options for the candidate of fully remote work in the same space.

But at the same time, there really is no such thing as a local candidate anymore. Everyone is a candidate for every market, depending on their flexibility from a timing perspective. If you're willing to work in another time zone's hours, someone in New York is a candidate for every opportunity that's fully remote in San Francisco.

It's complicated. To some degree, you're hurting yourself from a negotiation perspective and competitive perspective to want an onsite resource. To some degree, when you're looking for remote resources because of the fact that candidates are now basically citizens of the world, as they can take jobs anywhere with a client that's looking for work to be performed remotely. It just creates a dynamic where you really have to be very thoughtful, because it's just not cut and dry.

Joanna Fragopoulos is a director of editorial and content development at ANA.

The views and opinions expressed in Industry Insights are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.