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In a post-pandemic world, the scene of a busy and bustling office filled with dozens of knowledge workers sitting at closely packed together desks is unlikely to return. We recently took a look at what the new office could look like and came to the conclusion that remote work is here to stay. But it remains to be seen what shape a hybrid workforce could take. At the core of the uncertainty is disagreement on whether the new workforce should be remote-first, office-first, or somewhere between the two.

The disagreement stems from how often workers should be in the office. In a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study on remote workforces, more than half of surveyed employees wanted to be remote three or more days of the week while only 24% of executives expected the majority of employees to be remote for a large part of the week.

Scenario 1: Remote Work Takes Lead

Remote oriented business structure
The workforce got a taste of remote operations, and they liked it.

In a remote-first environment, day-to-day operations will more closely resemble that of a fully-remote company with only minimal office presence. By taking remote-first approach to a hybrid workforce, employees can choose to work entirely remotely, with a return to the office being optional. This new vision of the office would see fewer people at desks, which would be less densely populated. Offices would still have a role to play in helping to fostering a community and encourage collaboration, but their primary goal of being a center of productivity would be lessened.

A more geographically diverse workforce can be expected as companies no longer need to drawer talent from a local workforce. But even with a primarily remote workforce, companies should still have events to bring teams together or even the entire company. That can be accomplished either virtually or in-person.

Virtual meetings can feel like you’re sitting at the same table with a high-quality webcam.

In a remote-first workforce, the role of the office needs to be re-examined. If it primarily serves as an occasional work hub or collaborative space, can be it be smaller with more meeting rooms and fewer workstations? A rethink of real estate strategy may also need to happen at the same time, as moving to a smaller office can lead to lower running costs.

Scenario 2: Remote Work with Limited Office Time

Offices are likely to be around for a long time, ensuring “Office Space” will remain a classic for years to come.

Scaling back from a fully remote office to requiring a small number of days in the office, we have a more hybridized workforce. This could resemble something like working three days out of the week remote and two in the office. It would still mean employees are primarily remote, but the office retains its function as collaborative and part-time productive space. In this model, the workforce won’t be as geographically diverse and more closely resemble the pre-pandemic idea of a local company.

The office still would be vastly changed from its pre-pandemic form, as the entire workforce won’t likely ever be in the office on a given day. Expect a reduced number of desks spread further apart, and staggered schedules will be required as the post-pandemic office will no longer be so closely packed together with social distancing guidelines. It can be a loose policy that leaves it up to the employee on how many days they want to be in the office or a strict one where days are designated for them.

Empower your team with the flexibility to get down to business anytime, anywhere with the right laptop.

The number of days employees should be in the office is a central issue, as executives are not in agreement on how much of work should be remote. In the PwC study, 68% of executives wanted employees to be in the office at least three days a week and 65% believed the office plays a big role in increasing productivity.

Scenario 3: The Office Still Plays a Central Role

A woman and her team, ready to get back to work
Business as almost usual

In an office-first hybrid workforce, the office most closely resembles its pre-pandemic self. Employees will be expected to primarily work from the office, with only a limited number of days remote. Alternatively, it could be that most employees will be working from the office, with only a few being allowed to work remotely. An office-first strategy may also require an expansion of real-estate, as offices will now be expected to retain pre-COVID levels of workers while adhering to social distancing guidelines.

With a mass return to the office, remote workers may be at risk of not being on a level playing field with their in-office co-workers. According to a recent ZDNet article, parity between in-office and remote workers must be reached or else remote workers may feel alienated or being like “second-class citizens”. If executive leadership returns to be primarily in-office, then any employees following them may see more opportunities.

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While the traditional view of a packed office might not be returning, it remains to be seen which hybrid workforce model takes root. The majority of executives seem to support keeping the office as at least a part-time productivity space while employees want to keep the number of days in the office to a minimum.

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Wallace Chu

Author Wallace Chu

A self-professed tech hipster that loves computers and music. Uses an iPhone ironically.

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