How Work Could Look Different in the Future

Working from home may continue (if we don't mess it up)

Key Takeaways

  • Hybrid home-office work will become the norm.
  • Over 70% of workers want to keep working remotely.
  • The social and organizational changes of remote work will be massive.
Two people working on laptop computers at a kitchen table.
Surface / Unsplash

Working from home is likely to morph into a permanent hybrid work/office model. This sounds great, but it brings problems of its own.

The massive shift to working from home over the past year probably will continue, says a new deep-dive report from Microsoft. This shift could change the shape of cities, remodel our lives, and change the relationships we have with our coworkers. Will we move out of the big city? Can remote work—and specifically hybrid work—be sustainable? 

"I think we will see more 'flexible' work become the norm," Sukhi Jutla, the co-founder and chief operating officer of MarketOrders, told Lifewire via email. "For example, it will be OK to have a doctor’s appointment in the afternoon where you may need to be 'off-line' for a few hours and then can log back in and do the work a bit later."

Hybrid Work

According to Microsoft, over 70% of workers want to keep working remotely. At the same time, over 65% want more time spent in-person with their teams. And this is one of the main dilemmas with remote work that a hybrid model might solve. 

Work from home means no commute and (hopefully) a more flexible work schedule. But working in the office means that you can get out of the house (not everybody has a dedicated child-free space to work), and see your coworkers in person.

This personal connection is essential. At home, you can get your work done, but it’s hard to spark new ideas alone, in front of your computer. It’s also much easier to work remotely with colleagues when you already know them. If you have met people in real life, you can banter, tease, and generally communicate better with them remotely. 

"With a poor culture or management who doesn’t trust employees, work from home may be even more stressful."

"One of the best ways companies can keep their remote and in-office employees engaged is by implementing virtual team-building activities that can help improve communication and unity in the workplace," Simon Elkjaer, the chief marketing officer of Danish electronics company avXperten, told Lifewire via email.

This appears to be a common thread. "Even though we miss our in-person socials, we maintain our connection with each other through virtual socials and games," Eropa Stein, founder and CEO at Hyre, told Lifewire via email. "For more casual conversations, we use ‘donut,’ an app that helps virtual teams connect over the water cooler and virtual coffee chats."

Other companies organize virtual games, pop quizzes, and even bingo sessions. That may make you cringe, but a sense of community is even more critical when you can’t meet coworkers.

These problems can be eased if we adopt hybrid models, where employees split their time between work and home. You lose some advantages of permanent remote work (as we shall see in a moment), but you get to feel a part of the team.

Work-Life Balance

The clearest benefit to home workers is the improvement of the work-life balance. The idea is that you can set your own schedule, as long as you get the work done. But, in reality, many of us have trouble switching off, and the distractions of home can overwhelm us.

"With a poor culture or management who doesn’t trust employees, work from home may be even more stressful," Ryan Swehla co-CEO and co-founder at real estate investor Graceada Partners, told Lifewire via email.

"Meetings may run into the evenings or start early, given that there [is] no longer commuting. Perhaps managers want to ensure their employees are remaining 'productive' and checking in too often or stepping over traditional work-life boundaries."

Commuting and Living

Remote work means we can leave big cities and work in smaller or cheaper towns. Even country living is possible. A hybrid model might hamper these plans because you’d still have to attend the office a few times a week. 

Someone working from a remote location with other people, doing the same.
Annie Spratt / Unsplash

"Even if they have to be in the office 1-2 days a week, people will be willing to do longer commutes for a few days rather than five days," says Jutla. 

And small towns already are trying to lure workers from the cities. 

"The major trend we have seen so far corresponds to Zoom Towns, appealing to knowledge workers who can do their job remotely to seek more space, comfort, and safety, to the detriment of traditional hubs. And to the profit of smaller cities," Thibaud Clément, CEO of branding app Loomly, told Lifewire via email.

Another concept is the 15-minute neighborhood, a walkable community where you can access all of your daily needs—such as food, education, and recreation—within a 15-minute walk. If you can work anywhere and don’t need to be near your work or even near the freeway, you can prioritize other things. 

"This is where residents would live within 15 minutes of a good school, rapid transit, a place to buy fresh food, and a park," Clément. 

The only thing that we can be sure of is that our post-pandemic work model will be quite different. We have the potential to please both employers and employees, and forward-thinking companies will do just that. But exploitation and abuse also are possible, and we have to stay vigilant.

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