The Future of the Office Has Arrived: It’s Hybrid

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Since the pandemic ended, the workforce has watched and wondered: Will we return to the office and work like we did in 2019? Or will the great global remote work experiment stick?

Media headlines have long juxtaposed these two extreme outcomes and highlighted a power struggle between employees wanting to work remotely and employers wanting them to return to the office.

Meanwhile, many employers have explored what a happy medium looks like for their organization. For instance, in August, Meta, the U.S. federal government and even Zoom announced new mandates for employees to return to the office. But in all of these cases, the mandate called for hybrid work, not a complete return. Meta requires employees to be on-site three days a week; Zoom, two days. These scenarios are now typical among the five in 10 U.S. employees who work in “remote-capable jobs” that can be done at least partly from home.

Both employers and employees may wonder if this is a step toward a full return to pre-pandemic office arrangements. Based on our analysis, we think this is unlikely to be the case.

The Future of the Office Has Arrived

Amid the start of the pandemic in 2020, Gallup increased the frequency of our U.S. employee polling to closely track a wide array of historic changes to the American workplace. Since then, we have surveyed more than 200,000 employees in total, and we continue to survey approximately 18,000 employees every three months as part of our ongoing commitment to the study of how people work and live.

Based on this robust dataset, we established the remote work trends below to monitor the work locations, future plans and preferences of “remote-capable employees.”

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‘Hybrid’ is the most common style of work for remote-capable employees.

These remote work trends illustrate how the modern workplace has transformed. Where, when and how people work all look very different today compared with a few years ago.

In 2019, 60% of remote-capable employees spent their week working fully on-site, whereas that figure has fallen to just 20% in 2023. In contrast, only 8% worked exclusively remotely in 2019, compared with the 29% of remote-capable employees who are fully remote today. At the same time, hybrid work has increased significantly, en route to becoming the most prevalent work arrangement in most offices.

This means that approximately 40% of remote-capable employees have shifted from working entirely on-site to either a hybrid or exclusively remote work arrangement.

As a result, these unprecedented shifts in remote work flexibility have reshaped the workplace for remote-capable employees, with the dominant pattern being hybrid:

  • Five in 10 are working hybrid (part of their week at home and part on-site).
  • Three in 10 are working exclusively remotely.
  • Two in 10 are working entirely on-site.

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Remote-capable employees are currently working where they expect to work long-term.

In conjunction with our trends on where people currently work, our tracking of where employees expect to work long term based on the plans of their employer has given us reliable foresight into the future. In 2021, we used this information to forecast a 37% reduction in office traffic once long-term projections for remote work flexibility were reached.

Fast forward to today, and those 2021 projections have come to fruition. Employees’ current work locations have reached their projected long-term plans and appear to be holding steady. In fact, most remote-capable employees have been largely settled into their projected long-term work locations since mid-2022.

Moreover, leaders of large companies have confirmed that hybrid work flexibility is here to stay in their organizations. Eight in 10 chief human resources officers (CHROs) from Fortune 500 companies surveyed by Gallup report that they have no plans of decreasing remote work flexibility in the next 12 months.

Most remote-capable employees will be working from their preferred work locations.

Has the modern workplace transformed for the better in the eyes of employees?

Our data indicate that employees’ expected long-term work locations largely align with where they would ideally prefer to work.

  • Nine in 10 remote-capable employees prefer some remote work flexibility, with the majority preferring hybrid work.
  • Eight in 10 are currently hybrid or fully remote.
  • Eight in 10 believe they will have some degree of long-term remote work flexibility.

And these patterns tend to be relatively consistent across job roles, such as senior leaders, managers and individual contributors.

While we can never assume that organizations will not change their policies as workplaces evolve, for now, the good news is that today’s close alignment between employees’ preferred and actual work locations tends to create a better employee experience. When employees work from their desired location, they tend to be:

  • more engaged at work
  • less burned out
  • less likely to quit

For example, three in 10 hybrid workers are extremely likely to leave an organization if not offered at least some degree of remote flexibility, and the same goes for six in 10 fully remote workers.

The Sea Change

When we take all of these factors into account — the current state, projected employer plans and employees’ stated preferences — one thing is clear: The future of the office has arrived … and it is hybrid.

In fact, the future first arrived several months ago. Based on our findings, it’s unlikely that everyone will return to the office five days a week in the foreseeable future. It’s also unlikely that fully remote work will become the new normal.

But the more important story is this: Employees and employers have found a middle ground in hybrid work that appears to be working well when managed effectively — a work arrangement nobody would have imagined prior to 2020.

The future of the office has arrived … and it is hybrid.

What Hybrid Looks Like in Practice

Given that hybrid work seems to be here to stay in most organizations, it’s time to evaluate 1) what hybrid work looks like today and 2) how to make it work best for your organization in the future.

Let’s start with our analysis of where hybrid work stands today.

How often are hybrid workers on-site?

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Office attendance patterns have remained relatively steady in the past year among hybrid workers, suggesting that organizations have largely formed new flexible work habits and routines that are sticking.

On average, hybrid workers report coming into the office 2.6 days per week. The biggest change is that more hybrid workers are now coming in three days per week, while fewer are occupying the extremes of one or four days on-site per week.

Notably, on average, employees prefer to be in the office two to three days per week — and this schedule tends to optimize employee engagement for many roles.

Yet, the number of days that hybrid workers come into the office varies widely by organization and team.

  • Three in 10 hybrid workers are on-site one day per week or less.
  • Four in 10 are on-site two to three days per week.
  • Three in 10 are on-site four or more days per week.

This varied pattern of office attendance suggests that the right amount of flexibility largely depends on the nature of the organization and the type of work being done. For instance, highly interdependent roles often require more time together on-site, while highly independent roles can allow for more autonomy. Additionally, customer needs, organizational culture and preparedness to support remote flexibility will determine the right mix.

On average, employees prefer to be in the office two to three days per week — and this schedule tends to optimize employee engagement for many roles.

Which days are hybrid workers on-site?

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Hybrid workers are most commonly in the office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The office tends to be a ghost town on Fridays, with only one-third of hybrid workers in attendance. Mondays are somewhat slower than the Tuesday-to-Thursday buzz, with about 49% in attendance. Little has changed in these office traffic patterns since mid-2022, further indicating that some key hybrid habits are sticking.

It is critical that employees know which days of the week they should be in the office with their coworkers. If this pattern naturally looks different for your organization or there is a schedule that is best for your business, employees need to know that. After all, who wants to endure a commute and sit alone on their floor in Zoom calls all day?

Hybrid workplaces function best when people use the office to connect and collaborate in person with intentionality. “Office days” should be seen as a time to focus on team tasks, coaching and development. Certain activities are simply easier and more effective when done in person. For example, complex team tasks, brainstorming, relationship building, mentoring and feedback tend to be optimal in person (but should not be delayed or ignored when working remotely).

Which hybrid work policies are most common?

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Are workplaces mandating organization-wide hybrid schedules, or are they more gently encouraging certain guidelines? Or are they allowing employees to decide on their own?

Gallup research reveals that four in 10 hybrid workers get to set their own office schedule. Specifically, 31% of hybrid employees have full autonomy to choose their own office schedule each week, and another 10% are encouraged (but not required) to follow certain guidelines.

In contrast, five in 10 hybrid employees have a required hybrid schedule. This includes 28% who are required to be in the office on specific days and 22% who are required to be on-site a minimum number of days each week (but they choose which days). Regardless of whether the hybrid schedule is mandated or chosen by the employee, the most popular office days are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The balancing act for employers is this: Organization-wide mandates often backfire and disengage employees who feel that the requirements do not work for them and that they are not trusted by their leaders. Yet, failing to communicate a clear hybrid strategy and failing to ensure hybrid schedules are well-coordinated often erode teamwork, culture and, potentially, productivity.

It is critical that employees know which days of the week they should be in the office with their coworkers.

This seemingly paradoxical balancing act can leave leaders in a difficult position. The solution is a clearly communicated hybrid policy that managers are expected to adjust to fit the needs of their team.

It’s important to communicate when and why people are expected to be in the office while leaving some flexibility for reasonable adjustments. People tend to be more rational and cooperative when given guidelines that can be reasonably tailored to their situation.

Well-articulated hybrid policy guidelines also create some healthy social pressure for people to comply, as well as opportunities for the organization to nudge hybrid teams to improve their work habits. You might think of your hybrid policy as providing “flexibility within a framework.”

Who determines hybrid work schedules?

Who determines the hybrid work schedule graphic

Given that hybrid policies and schedules vary greatly across teams, it’s important to know who the primary decision-makers are when it comes to setting your hybrid work schedule.

Gallup finds that hybrid workers are most engaged when their team works together to determine their hybrid schedules. Unfortunately, we also find that this is the least common approach to designing hybrid work schedules, with only 12% of hybrid employees saying their team uses a collaborative decision-making process.

You might think of your hybrid policy as providing “flexibility within a framework.”

Empowering and teaching teams to collaboratively design hybrid work practices that best suit their needs may be the greatest opportunity for immediate improvement in today’s hybrid workplace.

Preparing to Lead Hybrid Teams

Now that hybrid work is the norm in many offices nationwide, the question is: How do we optimize hybrid work for our teams and the organization?

An important starting point for developing your long-term hybrid strategy is to assess how your organization will embrace the advantages of hybrid work while actively addressing the inherent challenges. There’s really no way around it: More flexibility and autonomy for individuals comes with more coordination and collaboration challenges for teams.

Leaning Into the Advantages

Hybrid employees consistently report that the greatest advantages of hybrid work tend to be better work-life balance, more efficient use of time, less burnout at work and more autonomy. Separately, our in-depth data analysis and consulting experience further validate these benefits and also demonstrate that hybrid workers have significantly higher employee engagement, better overall wellbeing and lower turnover intentions than fully on-site workers who are remote-capable.

Employers tend to agree with these benefits for employees — and add that their organization benefits from less turnover, a better employee value proposition and a larger talent pool. In our experience, job openings may receive as many as two to three times more applicants for certain jobs that allow hybrid or remote options.

Empowering and teaching teams to collaboratively design hybrid work practices that best suit their needs may be the greatest opportunity for immediate improvement in today’s hybrid workplace.

While 31% of leaders and managers and 52% of hybrid workers surveyed also mention increased productivity as a benefit of hybrid work at their organization, the jury is still out on how remote flexibility affects employee performance.

Currently, published research on this topic is sparse and shows mixed results. Notably, a handful of early studies warn that fully remote work could moderately decrease efficiency in certain jobs (e.g., call center employees, technology programmers), whereas hybrid work has tended to yield small to moderate improvements in efficiency.

What we know for certain is that leaders should be studying how remote flexibility impacts employee and team performance in their own organization so they can adjust accordingly.

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Overcoming the Challenges

Hybrid work is by no means simple. It is not just the act of splitting your time between home and the office. With the opportunity to build a better, more empowered workplace comes the inherent challenges of teaching people to work together more effectively.

Both employees and employers largely agree that the greatest risks of hybrid work tend to come from frayed workplace collaboration, communication, culture and coworker relationships. And the more often people work remotely, the more likely they are to experience these issues. For instance, “heavy hybrid” workers (e.g., one day on-site a week) are more likely to be significantly impeded by these challenges than are “light hybrid” workers, who are in the office three to four days per week.

Notably, these challenges are reported by employees at about half the rate of the previously mentioned advantages, with only 20% to 30% of the hybrid workforce reporting these top challenges. This suggests that the benefits of hybrid work can (and often do) significantly outweigh the risks when managed appropriately.

What we know for certain is that leaders should be studying how remote flexibility impacts employee and team performance in their own organization so they can adjust accordingly.

Where employers most often diverge from employees is in their heightened concern about creating accountability in a hybrid environment. When employers struggle to track key performance outcomes of individual employees and their teams, they become especially concerned about employees’ productivity when working at home.

Similarly, leaders and managers tend to be more comfortable leading hybrid employees than a team with a lot of fully remote employees because concerns about productivity, collaboration and culture tend to elevate when people are mostly working apart.

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Overall, manager effectiveness and giving teams time to adapt to hybrid work are key. Throughout the pandemic, we found that individuals who had experience working with any amount of remote flexibility before the pandemic had an easier time transitioning to remote work. However, hybrid work requires teams and managers to work differently, and many organizations have not done a good job of training them to work in a hybrid environment. And that lack of training and practice presents a real risk for organizations today.

Best Practices for Hybrid Workplaces

How can leaders use these insights to strategically craft a strong hybrid workplace?

We recommend incorporating the following best practices into your long-term hybrid workplace strategy.

  • Create a “workplace value proposition.” Now that people have a taste for remote flexibility, leaders must make coming into the office worth it.

Leaders need to ensure that people come to the office with intentionality — to collaborate with their coworkers, develop as professionals, stay close to their customers, discuss progress with their boss and build relationships. They need to see and feel their workplace culture come to life when they step in the door.

This starts with designing a hybrid policy, team schedules and office spaces that inspire better collaboration and a strong sense of culture. Leaders need to set their business needs next to their team feedback on a regular basis to ensure both are sufficiently addressed. It’s important to thoroughly understand the opportunities, challenges and potential consequences of hybrid work at your organization.

 

Now that people have a taste for remote flexibility, leaders must make coming into the office worth it.

  • Empower the team. Organizations must clearly communicate their new hybrid philosophy and guidelines. However, the real magic comes in the next step.

Organizations need to set the expectation for individual teams to adjust the organization’s hybrid work guidelines to best fit their needs. Teams should be accountable for executing their hybrid work strategy effectively in the same way they are accountable for their performance (and how it impacts the organization).

As previously mentioned, Gallup has discovered that hybrid employees are most engaged when their team collaboratively determines their hybrid work strategy. Not only do team members usually know what will work best for them, but they also collaboratively set expectations to remind everyone of their responsibilities to the team and not just the organization.

We recommend beginning this process with a “team reset,” which includes a series of check-in meetings for team members to align on how they will work together more effectively going forward. This involves reviewing their mission, goals, strengths and commitments to working in a hybrid environment. It is often formally captured in a team charter and routinely revisited during ongoing team check-in meetings.

  • Retool performance management. It is very difficult for leaders and managers to trust that hybrid work is good for their organization unless they have mechanisms for accountability related to employee productivity, collaboration and customer service.

If this is a concern for your organization, look no further than your performance management system. It should create visibility into individual and team goals, key performance metrics, and progress throughout the year.

A robust performance management system includes more than ratings and metrics. It focuses on regular checkpoints, proactive coaching and key behaviors that reflect your organization’s values.

In fact, employees want this form of performance development just as much as their leaders. Most employees want clear performance expectations, aspire to receive meaningful coaching and greatly value the opportunity to progress in their careers. And when they do not see a path to a bright future at their organization, they are quick to exit.

  • Train managers and their teams. Eighty percent of hybrid workers have not received any formal training on how to best work in a hybrid environment. Seventy-three percent of hybrid managers and senior leaders are equally unprepared to lead hybrid teams.

Yet, Gallup finds that having an effective manager is four times more important to team members’ engagement and wellbeing than where an employee works (i.e., fully remote, hybrid or fully on-site).

If you want your teams to reach new levels of success, train them to work together more effectively in a hybrid environment. And start by training and supporting their managers.

  • Beware of the real estate bust. Organizations have been quick to wonder about the impact of reduced office traffic on their real estate investments. Planning for these needs is no easy task. Office leases usually have a long horizon, and the cost of building in today’s market is steep.

Gallup’s survey of 135 CHROs from Fortune 500 companies revealed that four in 10 of those companies plan to reduce their real estate footprint in 2023 and that only one in 10 plan to expand their real estate. This is not surprising, given Gallup’s forecast of a 37% reduction in office foot traffic compared with 2019. Imagine the cost savings for employers, alongside the ramifications for the real estate industry.

At the same time, this is not just about shrinking your real estate footprint. Employers also need to design their offices for the future. With the arrival of hybrid work as a significant factor in how work gets done, employers need to reconstruct their office environment to support collaboration in a digital world.

Going forward, it should be assumed that any meeting will include remote participants unless otherwise specified. And organizations must ensure that employees’ home offices are equipped to maximize productivity and collaboration.

The Future Is Here

Employees have new expectations for where and how they will work. And employers have largely embraced the opportunity to provide their people with a new flexible work style. But what leaders need now is a long-term hybrid strategy that will best support their workplace culture and productivity.

Getting started is not as daunting as you might think. This is an opportunity to assess how your organization is operating today and how you can achieve your future vision through better collaboration, proactive performance development and a strong workplace culture. While the journey won’t be without its challenges, adopting an agile approach that allows you to learn and adapt as you go will ultimately improve your organization.

Although the media have portrayed this process as a power struggle, the reality is that leaders and workers have managed to find a pretty solid middle ground. The best thing leaders have done has been to listen to employee expectations and match them to organizational needs. This is good, but it’s not yet great (for many organizations). What leaders need to do now is lean even further into listening — because there’s only one workplace future that works, and it’s the future we build together.

Design a successful hybrid future for your organization:

Author(s)

Ben Wigert, Ph.D., is Director of Research and Strategy, Workplace Management, at Gallup.

Jim Harter, Ph.D., is Chief Scientist, Workplace for Gallup and bestselling author of Culture ShockWellbeing at WorkIt’s the Manager12: The Elements of Great Managing and Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements. His research is also featured in the groundbreaking New York Times bestseller, First, Break All the Rules. Dr. Harter has led more than 1,000 studies of workplace effectiveness, including the largest ongoing meta-analysis of human potential and business-unit performance. His work has also appeared in many publications, including Harvard Business ReviewThe New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and in many prominent academic journals.

Sangeeta Agrawal is a Research Manager at Gallup.

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