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The New Hybrid Office May Not be as Flexible As You Think

It is great news that offices and the world in general has been opening up. It not only feels good, but it is a clear sign that we are winning the battle against the pandemic.

There is a great deal of discussion about how workplaces will return. Will they go back to the way they were before? Will there be some tectonic shift in how we work? How will it impact employment levels, productivity, and business models?

We will have a more clear picture in 12 months, but one thing is clear to me: The new hybrid office won't be as flexible as you might think. Companies won't revert back to pre-pandemic ways fully, but it will get pretty close.

Here is my best guess - there will be more work from home opportunities, but they will be used much less than expected. I imagine that most workers will spend 3-4 days in the office on average. Work times may adjust a bit and some companies will talk a good game about work-life balance and worker well-being, but workers will see fewer real changes.

Why the pessimistic tone? I see a huge disparity in how employees view working and how executives view it. Executives, who generally have more autonomy and control, see going in to the office as no big deal. In fact, they like it. Employees see working from home as having the benefits of no commute and less distractions.

When it comes down to executives vs employees, executives win. Not only because of their position of power, but because of the subtle pressures they can exert. They can say one thing, but let their actions dictate something different.

Here is how I see it playing out in many situations - the company puts in a great policy that says workers can be remote 3 or more days per week. But executives will still go in to the office. They will notice who isn't there and who is. They will see the wasted money on the large office space (and not like it). They will promote and talk highly of the people giving them "face time". Employees will quickly gather that executives treat you differently when you work remotely.

This may even happen at the front-line manager level. Companies say "work at home" and managers say "I don't think so".

Unless executives are 100% supportive of the remote work style (meaning they say it is good and their actions support that talk), it won't work.

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