There have been recent pushes to move workers back into the office instead of remote work, with many larger companies moving to hybrid or completely in-office. According to recent data from Kastle Systems, just over half (50.4%) of major metropolitan area workers went into the office at least once from Jan. 19-25, 2023—the highest number since the start of the pandemic.
A look at the state of remote work
However, the general consensus from a recent report by Buffer, “State of Remote Work 2023,” shows that employees don’t necessarily want to be back in the office. Out of 3,000 remote workers polled, Buffer found that while 84% had worked in the office before, 98% “would like to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of their careers.”
This is a clear indication that some form of remote work has become an integral part of the modern workforce and is likely here to stay, especially for Generation Z workers. After all, for many Gen Z with remote-work backgrounds, the in-office experience is completely new. Ashley Poitevien, assistant to the vice president of development and production at Harpo Films Inc., graduated into the workforce as a remote employee. Her first experiences with the work environment included the flexibility that comes with working remotely.
Remote work allows for increased diversity
Oftentimes, remote employees can work from anywhere, allowing companies to tap into a global talent pool. The Buffer report implies that companies are already embracing this trend, with 62% of respondents saying they currently work with teammates across different time zones. This suggests that organizations are increasingly looking beyond their local talent pool and are willing to embrace the benefits of a more diverse workforce.
Greater flexibility in schedules
When Poitevien moved into a role that required her to be in office five days a week, she realized how restricting it was for scheduling.
“I had to think about things like commute time, planning out time to exercise and having enough time to shower, then getting to work on time,” she says. “I had to maintain a very strict and specific schedule, and I would get home late.”
Though in-office work allows for more communication and collaboration
However, being in the office every day did offer her more opportunities for communication and collaboration with her coworkers. The Buffer report highlights several areas where remote work misses this mark. One of the biggest challenges according to respondents is “loneliness,” with 23% citing it as the biggest hurdle to remote work. This is followed by “not being able to unplug” (22%) and “staying motivated” (20%).
Poitevien’s experience working remotely has been in line with what the report highlights. “It is a bit lonely,” she says of remote work. “And I tend to personally become more of a shut-in when I work remotely. It’s also just easier getting certain questions answered in-office. You don’t have to text or Slack or email someone, it’s easy to just walk over to someone’s desk. Little daily interactions are definitely a lot easier and collaborating, it’s a lot easier when you’re in the office, and you have those spontaneous things. It’s not forced and awkward like on a Zoom.”
The organic environment for collaboration was a perk for Poitevien, but for other industries it is essential. Stephanie Vaz Ferreira is a technical designer. When she first started her job, she was working remotely full-time. While she loved the flexibility of cooking at home and enjoying her evenings without commuting, she wanted more collaboration.
“We found really creative ways to collaborate remotely in a successful way, but it really took away from the culture of the studio that architecture is so famous for,” Vaz Ferreira says. Moving to a hybrid environment offered what she was missing from being fully remote. Some of the perks were having fun team-building activities and passive conversations with teammates as well as easy access to leadership and supervision.
Remote work messes with work-life balance
Of those surveyed by Buffer, 78% said they have a healthy work-life balance. But their answers to other poll questions seem to tell a different story. In fact, 81% say they “[check] emails outside of work hours,” 44% are working more this year than last year and 21% are more burnt out than last year.
Nicole Olmeda, a communications coordinator who has been working remotely since the pandemic, says her work-life boundaries have become better recently.
“I would spend at least 2-6 additional hours. I remember this happening a lot at the beginning but the emails were non-stop,” Olmeda says. “I remember taking bathroom breaks and taking my computer with me and feeling so overwhelmed… There was such a sense of urgency that it threw me off on where and when to set those boundaries. Once I truly understood that my work is not a matter of life or death for anyone, and that things will proceed with or without me regardless of the outcome, it’s been easier to separate work from my personal time.”
Remote workers are still able to form connections with colleagues
Even with the struggles of connecting online, 75% of remote workers surveyed by Buffer “[reported] feeling connected to their colleagues or clients.” How? Well, 46% said they’ve interacted in person, and 38% “know about each other’s lives.” Those who feel disconnected “say there is no opportunity to connect socially (56%) or they don’t interact with their colleagues (53%), or they don’t know about them as a person (51%).”
“In our industry, it’s really important to have face-to-face collaboration, it’s revolutionary for a project team, and we often have to visit the sites we work on,” Vaz Ferreira says, “But I definitely don’t ever want to go back to working full-time from the office. I prefer the hybrid structure with flexibility to leave at certain times due to life demands.”
A desire for continued flexibility
Poitevien also prefers the hybrid structure to in-office or fully remote work.
“Now in my current job, we have some variation of hybrid,” Poitevien says. “I go in three days a week, and I spent two days at home. I think that is perfect. I don’t think I could do fully remote and I don’t think I can do fully in person because they’re both a little too extreme for me. Personally, I love the happy middle of the hybrid work because I get a little bit of that in-person action but not too much to the point where I’m completely burnt out and exhausted.”
Does the future have even more remote work? If it’s up to remote workers, the answer is a clear yes. And the data from Buffer’s report seems to lean towards that as well. According to respondents, “71% of companies are permanently allowing some amount of remote work.” This could look like a hybrid option with certain days in office per week or per quarter. And according to a 2019 Vox article, Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, believes it is possible that “by 2025, some 70% of the workforce will work remotely at least five days a month.”
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