With hybrid and remote work models, there is no ‘one size fits all’

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Three years into the pandemic, and the business world has learned something: Remote work is not only possible, for many, it’s preferable. This approach can lead to happy teams who enjoy the life-work balance without compromising productivity.

That’s why many employers are settling into a flexible model, whether full-time or hybrid, tailoring an approach that works best for their organization.

MELISSA COSENZO: ‘Remote work is here to stay.’ Photo by Judy Walker

“Remote work is here to stay,” said Melissa Cosenzo, a market manager at Robert Half International, a recruitment agency with offices in Uniondale. “We’ve seen it across the gamut on Long Island, across all industries.”

Still, there are those leaders who want their teams back in the office, said Janet Lenaghan, dean of the Frank G. Zarb School of Business at Hofstra University.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all,” Lenaghan said. “It’s driven by organizational culture and leadership.”

Yet those organizations without at least a hybrid model may be missing out on a broader talent pool, which employers need at a time of low unemployment as hiring remains a challenge. But to flourish, organizations must stay accountable to both their client and their employees, and employees must assert themselves so that they don’t miss out on opportunities that lead to growth, experts say.

Just how prevalent is the new world of work? Robert Half recently published research that found that 87% of workers considering a job change are interested in hybrid or fully remote positions. A look at job listings show these workers have options, with 28% of all new job postings in January 2023 advertised as remote, similar to the 29% of postings a year ago.

At press time, the balance seemed to favor employee preferences, and Lenaghan points to the nation’s unemployment numbers.

JANET LENAGHAN: Many organizations are now saying: ‘What we care about is your ability to perform at your best.’ Photo by Judy Walker

January, she said, had the lowest unemployment numbers since May 1969, and added another 500,000 jobs.

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“If that continues into February, that continues the balance of that employment relationship to the employees and the talent,” she said. “If that balance shifts, it would empower those employers who want everyone to come back.”

Meanwhile, flexible work arrangements “have come a long way,” Cosenzo said.

But in this business climate, balance is everything.

Take Rivkin Radler, the law firm headquartered in Uniondale.

“We’re doing a mandatory three days a week, but everyone – attorneys and staff – has to be here on Wednesdays,” said Evan Krinick, the firm’s managing partner.

On Wednesdays, the firm can hold firm-wide meetings and foster a “collaborate, collegial atmosphere that we think is important,’ Krinick said.

In this structure, productivity has not diminished at all, Krinick said, and team members appreciate the savings on commuting time and expenses.

Striking the right mix of flexible work offerings was essential to Nicole Penn, president of The EGC Group, an integrated marketing and digital agency with offices in Melville and Brooklyn. “We believe in the power of creativity that happens when you’re together ideating, conceptualizing and building” which “is best in person,” Penn said.

NICOLE PENN: ‘For us, there’s been no decrease in productivity.’ Courtesy of EGC Group

Since COVID, the agency “moved to scheduling in-person time with purpose,” and people can work from home two or three days a week, Penn said.

“It’s worked out quite well,” Penn said. “We now have talent all over the country. The best person for the best role sometimes is not always in our backyards.”

The agency brings in new hires for onboarding, and everyone gets together for annual meetings and holiday parties, she said.

“For us, there’s been no decrease in productivity,” she said, adding that “2022 was the best year we’ve had as a company.”

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For many, productivity is not impacted with remote work, experts say. The Robert Half study showed that 77% of professionals who can work where and when they’re most productive put in more hours now than they did three years ago. And even with longer workdays, 46% report higher job satisfaction.

Still, Penn says that as a working mom, the right balance in the hybrid model is key. That’s why at EGC there is a mentor program so that employees “have someone looking after their careers and have someone who is their champion,” she said.

Time onsite is key to career development, experts say.

EVAN KRINICK: At Rivkin Radler, leadership works to ‘avoid proximity bias.’
Courtesy of Rivkin Radler

“Much is learned by being present,” Krinick said, adding that the firm puts a special emphasis on ensuring that when team members are “physically present, they take advantage of those times.”

Senior management, he said, focuses on providing mentoring, training and development to ensure that the less senior team members “are learning the skills they need to become leaders. Programs are set up for that very purpose to make sure younger attorneys are getting that attention.”

Those deliberate efforts go a long way, Lenaghan said. “Nothing replaces vicarious learning,” she said, speaking of moments when people learn from more senior staff, simply by being invited to listen in on conversation. At Hofstra, she added, students are encouraged to “take advantage of those opportunities when you get them,” pointing out that these moments “are much more difficult to get when you’re remote.”

Time in the office has additional benefits. The Robert Half study found that 65% of professionals said they have more effective relationships with colleagues they’ve met face-to-face versus those they have not. And more workers are comfortable collaborating in person (49%) than virtually (31%).

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Meanwhile, at Rivkin Radler, leadership works to “avoid proximity bias” – that is, awarding special projects and the like to those who are in the office simply because they are present – “to be fair to everyone,” Krinick said, so that those working at home enjoy opportunities.

In this work climate, there are seemingly plenty of career opportunities, with 82% of managers who oversee hybrid teams feel in-office and remote employees have the same opportunities for career advancement, according to the Robert Half study. Yet, 42% of remote workers are concerned about being visible for project opportunities and promotions.

At Rivkin Radler, team members are reminded to keep current with available opportunities, and become proactive about the ones they are interested in so that they are considered.

As the work climate changes, some firms offer additional measures. EGC, for example, also offers unlimited personal time off along with its Summer Fridays. But one element that has not changed is its promise to clients. As an agency, the firm “shows value in the hours that clients pay us for – that’s paramount,” Penn said, adding that the flexible model “lets employees take the breaks you need.”

In this model, that accountability – Lenaghan calls it “deliverables” – is the currency that keeps organizations and their talent thriving.

Those deliverables are less about face-time, or who is in the office the earliest and latest, she said. Instead, many organizations are now saying: “What we care about is your ability to perform at your best,” Lenaghan said.

Some employees would even sacrifice salary for positions that offered more remote time. The Robert Half study found that 32% of workers who go into the office at least once a week are willing to take a pay cut of, on average, 18% for the ability to do their job remotely all the time.

Still, in the changing face of work, especially for those working fully remote, a strong structure is a must.

Lenaghan put it this way: “If you have a weak organizational structure, it gets exacerbated when you have a workforce that is fully remote.”

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