2 must-haves for a strong hybrid work plan from a Stanford expert

Pre-COVID, remote work was embraced only by a handful of employers. Now, of course, that model has grown exponentially due to the pandemic–and it will likely stay that way for the foreseeable future.

Nicholas Bloom

“Working from home completely exploded,” Nicholas Bloom, William Eberle Professor of Economics at Stanford University and a remote work expert, said Tuesday during an HRE webinar. As the country reopens and employers consider return-to-office plans, hybrid models of work–in which employees work part-time at home and part-time in the office–will be the most popular trend, he said. Research shows the majority of firms, around 80%, plan to embrace a hybrid work model where employees will work three days in the office and two days at home.

Big-name employers including Apple, Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase and more are on that list. “It makes sense; firms are pretty happy with it and employees really want to work from home,” he said.

Further cementing remote work’s place: an employee-driven market where employee preference on how they work will surely be listened to by smart employers as they try to retain and attract talent.

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“Given how hot the U.S. labor markets are, if you are not offering hybrid, not offering any work-from-home post-pandemic, you’re risking losing quite a large number of your employees,” Bloom said.

Related: Requiring employees to return to the office? Get ready for them to quit

So, how can employers best make the model work going forward? Listening to employee feedback and utilizing the right technology are two keys, he said.

Surveys are incredibly important,” he said. “You need to find out what employees want. It may seem obvious, but there is a huge variance of what people want,” he said, noting that a number of employees want to work in the office full-time, another large number want to work at home full-time and the rest are “somewhere in between” and want to have the hybrid model.

Related: How this survey company uses its own tool to support employees

Employee feedback also is important because it allows employers to get data to help explain their decision-making when it comes to work models. “We hear employers complaining about employee complaints and not taking their desires into account,” he explained. Collecting data on exactly what they want makes it “much easier to defend your decision.”

Meanwhile, embracing the right technology also will ensure remote work’s success. Such technology tools as video calls, through providers like Zoom, WebEx and Microsoft Teams, and cloud services, which allow employees to share files or edit documents in real-time, make it fairly seamless for many employees to work remotely. That’s different from a decade or two ago when employees relied on dial-up, setting up conference call numbers and other challenges to working outside of the office.

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“If you go back 20 years, working from home was painful,” Bloom said. “It was a lot of telephone calls, emailing documents–very slow, very inefficient.”

Going forward, there will be even better technology–including virtual reality, better screen-sharing capabilities, better equipment and laptops–that will likely further propel the popularity of remote and hybrid working and make it even easier for both employers and employees. Even since the pandemic began, new tech features emerged that have been helpful for employers, he said.

“Thinking as a company looking to the future, it’s clear that technology for working from home is rapidly improving,” he said. “A number of things will make this easier in the future.”

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Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver.