Observations From the Fall 2023 Remote Work Index
In the Spring of 2023, Cresa published the first Remote Work Index – a mosaic of data that illustrates the condition of remote work. Curious about what has evolved over the summer and early fall, we’ve checked back in to see how the data has evolved. We see a mix of results, perhaps tied to the seasonal nature of summer work schedules for knowledge workers.
The Middle Road is Growing
While less tele-workable jobs are available, we also see full-time in-office jobs are becoming less common. Hybrid workers have maintained status as the dominant job designation and the recent transit and utilization patterns parallel the data.
If we rewind to a notorious study from 2020, McKinsey evaluated how many jobs could be done at home. They found that 37 percent of US jobs could be remote. Yet, the recently released American Community Survey data found that only 15.2 percent of the workforce is working from home. While many jobs can certainly be performed remotely, the human relationships (mentorship, leadership, and collaboration opportunities) that have sparked innovation and creativity become more difficult to achieve. Further, these human connections build culture and trust. A lack of connection also makes navigating career advancement more difficult.
- Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that remote work at M.I.T. led to a 38 percent decline in “weak ties,” meaning the loose connections that help advance people’s careers
Flexible Policies Remain - With Greater Reinforcement
Hybrid work is still the dominant work policy. Per 4,700+ companies reporting 90 percent of them require two or three days/week in the office.
Recent headlines suggest that while flexibility is prevalent, it isn’t without reinforcement or structure. Perhaps this is the most notable shift since the onset of the Pandemic: In-office workers are being tracked more formally than before as if to balance the demand for flexibility with fact-checking employee productivity. A growing initiative among organizations to reinforce policies by including in-office participation in performance reviews: In June 2023, Citi stated that they would hold employees 'accountable' for office attendance.
- And We know that hybrid work is not binary, and there is much variety in the policies to drive in-office presence.
- But there are some trending observations that smaller organizations are more flexible, while larger organizations have more of a “structured hybrid.”
All Hybrid Work is Not Created Equal
There are two main types of hybrid structures - hybrid and structured-hybrid.
- Traditional hybrid-work scenarios allow employees that have location flexibility to report into the office a certain number of days or hours a week or month.
- In extremely structured-hybrid scenarios, employees are told which days of the week and/or hours they need to come into the office. An example of structured-hybrid may include teams, such as an advertising team that works on a specific account to come into the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10:00 am – 2:00 pm (often called synchronicity). Structured hybrid may also require certain divisions or departments to work at the office during designated times, such as the finance/HR teams working in the office on Mondays and Thursdays.
The advantage of the structured-hybrid approach is the ability of a company to understand specific space needs, it also fosters teamwork and collaboration but there needs to be intentionality on why colleagues are getting together in person.
The disadvantage is the perceived loss of control and flexibility for employees. To mitigate the natural loss aversion employees may feel, clarity in messaging from leadership to employees on the reasons and benefits of in-person connections will relieve some of the ambiguity of hybrid work for employees.
Yet in either scenario of hybrid work, leadership must remain nimble and recognize that remote work is not solved with a one-time, permanent policy in an employment handbook. Rather, an ongoing evolution that will likely need to be adapted as the context inevitably changes.
So, What's Next?
The nostalgia of in-person work scenarios will cause short-term disruption. Still, companies will need to be more intentional about spaces and gathering protocols that offer a truly compelling reason to make the commute to the office.
The exponential implications in how, when and where individuals work are unfolding in real time, and we must remain deliberate about our work policy decisions so they not only embolden people’s ability to exchange knowledge but build trust and deliver innovation that will carry us to the next generation.