Hybrid working is now the dominant business model for knowledge workers

hybrid workingFuture Forum, a consortium launched by Slack with founding partners Boston Consulting Group, MillerKnoll and MLT has released the latest findings from its  Pulse study, which shows that hybrid working has become the dominant work model for knowledge workers around the world. The report claims that the percentage of people working in hybrid arrangements has increased to 58 percent (from 46 percent in May 2021), as the share of workers who say their teams work exclusively either from home or from the office has declined sharply.

Globally, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of those surveyed now say that their preferred work environment is hybrid—underscoring the urgent need for leaders to align on how they can embrace flexibility while ensuring an equitable experience for all members of their workforce.

The Future Forum Pulse is published quarterly and is based on a survey of more than 10,000 knowledge workers in the U.S., Australia, France, Germany, Japan and the U.K. Data from the Pulse shows that despite uncertainty around new Covid-19 variants, knowledge workers are now feeling more positively about their employee experience than at any other point since Future Forum began surveying in summer 2020. Executives are feeling less concerned about what some initially viewed as obstacles to hybrid working—like how to support coordination and innovation for distributed teams—as a growing number (41 percent) refocus on a more nuanced, long-term goal: how to prevent inequities from developing between remote and in-office employees.

“It’s past time to move beyond the ‘remote versus office’ debate. The future of work isn’t either/or, it’s both,” said Brian Elliott, Executive Leader of the Future Forum. “A hybrid model can foster a more flexible and inclusive workplace, but only if leaders are intentional about establishing guardrails to ensure all employees have equal access to opportunity and can participate on a level playing field.”


Flexibility is key

The Future Forum Pulse claims that the vast majority of global knowledge workers now expect to have flexibility in where and when they work. Seventy-eight percent of all survey respondents say they want location flexibility (up from 76 percent last quarter), while 95 percent want schedule flexibility (up from 93 percent). Executives who are concerned about the Great Resignation should take note that among their employees, requests for more flexibility are not “empty threats”—72 percent of workers who are dissatisfied with their current level of flexibility at work say that they are likely to look for a new job in the next year, compared with 58 percent of all respondents.

The desire for flexibility is particularly strong among those who have been historically underrepresented in knowledge work, including people of colour, women and working mothers:

  • In the U.S., 86 percent of Hispanic/Latinx knowledge workers and 81 percent of Asian/Asian American and Black knowledge workers would prefer a hybrid working or remote work arrangement, compared with 75 percent of white knowledge workers.
  • Globally, 52 percent of women want to have work location flexibility at least three days a week, compared with 46 percent of men; and 50 percent of working mothers want to work remotely most or all of the time, compared with 43 percent of working fathers.


Better experiences

The Pulse data claims that there has been a marked improvement in knowledge workers’ employee experience scores with the rise in hybrid work. Globally, workers are polling higher quarter-over-quarter across all eight elements of the Pulse survey, including 12 percent higher for overall satisfaction with their working environment, 15 percent higher for work-life balance and 25 percent better about work-related stress and anxiety. Remote and hybrid employees score higher than full-time office workers on all elements of the employee experience, from work-life balance and work-related stress, to measures like sense of belonging at work and value of relationships with coworkers—long a source of concern about remote and hybrid work arrangements.

In the U.S., these gains have been driven by sharp increases in the scores of people of colour, particularly Black and Hispanic/Latinx knowledge workers. Since May 2021, sense of belonging at work has increased 24 percent for Black respondents and 32 percent for Hispanic/Latinx respondents, compared with 5 percent for white respondents. During this time, agreement with the statement “I am treated fairly at work” has also grown significantly among Black knowledge workers (+36 percent) and Hispanic/Latinx knowledge workers (+13 percent). Notably, while these gains have helped close the employee experience gap, Black respondents still trail behind white respondents on both measures.


Proximity bias

Although employee experience scores are rising, there is growing awareness among executives of the risk of proximity bias, or favoritism toward colleagues who work together in a physical office. Today the number one concern among executives with respect to flexible work (cited by 41 percent of respondents, up from 33 percent last quarter) is the potential for inequities to develop between remote and in-office employees.

Yet despite this concern, executives are still spending more time in the office than their employees. Seventy-one percent of executives report that they currently work from the office three or more days a week, compared with 63 percent of non-executive employees. And this disparity is likely to grow—of those currently working remotely, executives are far more likely than non-executives to say they want to work at least three days a week in the office (75 percent versus 37 percent).

Data from the Pulse suggeststhat the harms of proximity bias could fall hardest on historically underrepresented employee groups, since they are opting into flexible work arrangements—and opting out of work in the office—at higher rates than their peers:

  • In the U.S., 84 percent of Hispanic/Latinx respondents, 76 percent of Black respondents and 74 percent of Asian/Asian American respondents report that they’re currently working either remotely or hybrid, compared with just 67 percent of white respondents.
  • Globally, women are more likely than men to be remote workers (33 percent versus 27 percent), while working mothers and fathers are more likely than non-parents to be opting into flexible work arrangements (75 percent versus 63 percent).

Image: Herman Miller