A new Gallup Poll concludes that remote work is persisting and likely to become a permanent fixture. According to the poll:

-Forty-five percent of full-time employees were working partly or wholly remotely in September 2021

-Nine in 10 remote workers want to maintain remote work to some degree

-The same number anticipate keeping remote hours for the rest of 2021 and beyond

According to Gallup, two-thirds of white-collar employees worked from home exclusively (41 percent) or some of the time (26 percent) in September.

The Partnership for New York City just completed a study indicating that 46 percent of Manhattan office workers are in the office from one to five days per week, but 54 percent are still fully remote. As of late October, only eight percent were in the office five days per week. By early 2022, however, the companies surveyed by the Partnership expect 13 percent of their workers to be in the office full time, 21 percent to be fully remote, and 66 percent to be a part of a hybrid workforce schedule, spending one to four days in the office.

Workers Want a Hybrid Model

Another Gallup study of more than 9,000 American workers indicated that more than nine out of ten workers now working remotely at least part of the time hope they can continue to do so after the pandemic. Of this group, 54 percent would prefer to split their work time between their home and the office. Smaller groups prefer full-time work at home (37 percent) and full-time office work (nine percent).

Workers cite time savings as a critical advantage to a hybrid workforce model: reduced commuting time, more flexibility to balance work/personal responsibilities and greater peace of mind. Nearly one-third of employees said they would look for another job if their employer forced them to return to the office full time. However, over three-quarters of workers expect their employer to allow remote work at least part of the time permanently.

Women More Likely than Men to Seek Hybrid Workforce Model

Even before the pandemic and the popularization of hybrid work, women were more likely to seek flexible working arrangements than men. This is partly because women still tend to assume more responsibility for childcare and eldercare, and a flexible work arrangement makes this juggling act more manageable and less stressful.

Women also view full-time remote work more favorably than men, seeing more benefits and fewer pitfalls. For example, fewer women than men feel their ability to collaborate, their real-time communication or their relationships with colleagues suffer from working remotely. And they’re even keener than men on the benefits of remote or a hybrid workforce, from time savings to reduced costs and avoiding office politics.

Do Women Pay a Price for Hybrid Work?

Practical benefits aside, an unintended consequence of self-selecting remote work could be less time in the office for women and more time for men. Sian Beilock, president of Barnard College at Columbia University, argued that “If female professionals become scarcer at the office, more women will feel as though they don’t belong and opt to work remotely. So women will be even scarcer. This is a potentially dangerous cycle that threatens the strides in gender equity at the office that have been made in the past several decades. Women will miss out on the connections, networking and mentorship that lead to advancement. Meanwhile, they will experience increased loneliness and the stress that comes from feeling that the division between their work and their home life has eroded.”

Business’ early attempts to grant women more flexible schedules and work from home policies were not always successful, even earning the dismissive name “mommy track.” Women gained some measure of work-life balance in the short term but were penalized for seeming to prioritize their families over their careers. As a result, they were excluded from important projects and passed over for promotions.

A recent survey from consulting firm Egon Zehnder found that 97 percent of C-suite leaders believed women benefitted from working at home. But more than seven in ten C-suite leaders say remote/flexible employees may be passed over for leadership roles because they have less physical visibility than those working on site. Moreover, even when leaders support remote work, “proximity bias” can creep in. Consciously or otherwise, managers tend to view the employees they see daily as more diligent and deserving of promotions and other considerations.

Interestingly, 84 percent of the C-suite professionals expect women to return to the office at the same rate as men, so they see this as a temporary phenomenon. They seem to discount the seismic shift in attitudes about work that we have experienced in the past year and a half.

How to Mitigate the Career Impact of a Hybrid Workforce

The leaders surveyed by Egon Zehnder recommend increasing inter-department communication, volunteering for or owning projects and creating more opportunities for collaboration. These are relatively conventional internal networking practices that could apply equally well to those working in the office.

Making the hybrid model work for everyone might require more formalized management and policies. One practice that is becoming common is to have both in-office and remote staff log into videoconferences from their desks. When you gather the in-office employees in a conference room and have only the remotes call in, the remotes become a peripheral and lesser part of the meeting, who struggle to hear and be heard. This practice is not always popular in the office (“Why am I in the office dialing into a company Zoom call?”), but it does create more equity and the opportunity for everyone’s voice to be heard.

Adding structure to the hybrid work model, rather than letting employees set their own random schedules, can also help. More progressive companies are applying this model to all employees, including executives, to reduce proximity bias. But, again, this is not always popular. Employees can see this as losing some of their newfound freedom and sliding back into old practices. Still, by scheduling time in the office for all employees, possibly including at least a day or two where everyone is in the office, employers can mitigate the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome, foster collaboration and reinforce the company culture.

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