Will hybrid work go back to being the exception rather than the rule?
That’s the big question business leaders and employees have wondered for months, and here in Denver, we’re starting to see a few trends emerge. Our region has seen an incredibly strong recovery following last year’s downturn. In the 17 years I’ve been at Lucas Group, I can’t recall a time we’ve been this busy with candidate placements. Businesses can’t hire accounting and finance professionals fast enough.
Companies aren’t just on a hiring spree; they’re also eager to bring teams together for full-time, in-office work. When many companies in Denver announced their return-to-work policies in June, I was surprised by how many favored full returns. We’re lucky to have high vaccination rates and a low transmission rate, and for much of June and July, a return to the “new normal” looked a lot like the “old normal.”
While there’s been a lot of media attention given to the possibility of a primarily hybrid or remote work world, that isn’t happening here in Denver.
This doesn’t mean all employees are happy with a full return. I’ve heard several comments along the lines of “our leadership team is not progressive enough to adopt a hybrid work schedule.” Some people have adapted their lives to work remotely, and a full return to the office isn’t something they want. I have multiple conversations every week about return-to-work plans. Nearly every person I speak to has a different perspective on what flexibility means to them or their business.
The “New Normal” Disconnect: Employers and Employees Want Different Things
A July McKinsey & Company survey found that more than three-quarters of C-suite executives expect their “core” employees to be back in the office at least three days per week. The executives acknowledged that employees are productive when working from home but fear that remote work is hurting organizational culture. They’re ready to return to the pre-COVID world as closely as possible. These are the same points I’ve heard in my conversations with business leaders.
Employees, on the other hand, aren’t ready for the full return. The McKinsey report found that three-quarters of employees prefer to continue working from home 2-3 days per week. Employees also acknowledge the downsides of pandemic work-from-home life: difficulty disconnecting from work, a decreased sense of belonging, and weakened social networks. These are downsides I’ve experienced myself, along with the challenge of juggling remote learning for my son before he returned to in-person classes last spring. On the flip side, I haven’t missed time lost to commuting and I’ve adapted a leaner, more flexible approach to my day-to-day work. Professionals I’ve spoken to express similar mixed feelings: there’s a desire for stronger connections and in-person community but with continued work flexibility.
Reimagining the Workday: Finding New Opportunities for Connection and Community
Earlier this year, Lucas Group reopened our offices with a flexible approach: your workspace is available if you need it, but you are not required to be in the office. Our Denver branch office, where I’m based, is in the process of relocating to a new space. After more than a year of remote work, I returned to the office to clean out my desk in preparation for our move. While going through old papers, I enjoyed seeing small tokens from my time at Lucas Group, like the menu from my first year-end meeting. Passing our conference room, I remembered the weekly “breakfast club” we held before our morning meeting. These shared experiences are what’s made Lucas Group so meaningful and rewarding for me. I also believe they’re why my team worked so well when we were apart– we already had a strong foundation of trust, camaraderie and connection built through our time together.
Hybrid work models are complex, and flexibility can mean very different things to different people. For some, flexibility may mean in-person work but with varied start and end times rather than a traditional 9-to-5. For others, it may mean working from home 2 or 3 days a week. Still others may expect to be fully remote.
With new concerns over COVID variants, continuing to be in-person full-time may not be possible in the coming months. Companies like Google, Facebook and Apple are hitting pause on their return-to-work plans. Others are offering additional location flexibility and rethinking vaccine requirements. Rather than thinking of this as a step backward, I’m looking at this as an opportunity to reimagine our workday for greater community and connection.
Let’s lean into what makes people and businesses thrive. How can we encourage safe opportunities for in-person connection and company culture building while continuing to provide flexibility for those who need it? There’s no easy answer and it’s a challenge we’re continually exploring and innovating on here at Lucas Group.
I’d love to hear how your company is approaching this and invite you to share your perspective in the comments below.