Perhaps outside of the industrial revolution in the late 1800’s, the last three decades has yielded the greatest shifts in workplace dynamics in history. In the relatively short span of some 30 years, we created entire new industries, automated other industries out of existence, and revolutionized our communication workflow in ways that we could only dream of. The latest shift in labor dynamics ranks up there with the best of them; the work from home revolution brought on by the threat posed by COVID-19. Seemingly overnight, whole industries that could move to a remote collaboration workflow flipped the switch and brought their entire business online. According to a survey administered in October 2020 by the Pew Research Center, 71% of workers who could work from home were doing so all or most of the time.
Today, that number has undoubtedly fallen as some businesses have returned to the office. But with the onset of the higher-transmission Omicron variant, many offices’ transition plans have been interrupted. It’s not like the existing transition plans were going well either; many employers have experienced significant turnover following the announcement of inflexible return-to-office plans. According to Owl Lab’s 2021 State of Remote Work report, 50% of workers have said that they won’t return to jobs that don’t offer remote work after the pandemic wanes. The exception may be with federal government employees as President Biden has announced plans for most federal employees to return to the office in his recent Sate of the Union Address.
The desire for remote work and flexibility in the workplace
This desire to remain remote, coupled with the empowerment provided to workers as market conditions have resulted in an increase in demand for skilled labor, has contributed to the “Great Resignation.” With employee loyalty at an all-time low, the availability of remote work, record corporate profits driving growth despite supply chain shortages, and the ever-present demand for skilled talent, many employees feel that jumping ship is their best chance to advance their career and that now is the perfect time to do so. We have talked extensively about this phenomenon in an earlier blog post about retaining cybersecurity talent throughout the great resignation, and these market conditions have driven businesses to adapt these lessons to keep their best workers. For some businesses that adaptation is purely to compensation packages, such as Amazon who raised its salary cap for corporate workers to $350,000, whereas others look for alternative methods to keep their employees satisfied.
One of the biggest takeaways from our blog post on the issue is that the greatest thing that employees value right now is flexibility. Flexibility in when, how, and where they contribute to the company. Workers are overwhelmingly in favor of having the option to telecommute at least part time, being able to flex their hours to better adopt a strong work-life balance, and retaining the autonomy they gained over their work environment during the initial push to remote work. This reality, in combination with the onset of the omicron variant, is what forced employers to cancel their initial return-to-office plans. But as we look to the future where coronavirus restrictions are lessened and the risk to employee health wanes, businesses will look to bring their employees back in person.
Introducing: The Hybrid Model
These factors have led many to consider an alternative path to the binary choice of “remote” or “in-person.” The immense popularity of remote work capability among workers and the economic incentives for businesses seem to point to the desirability of a mixed model that incorporates some amount of office presence with the ability to work remotely when face-to-face meetings aren’t strictly necessary. While it may not be suitable for all businesses, especially when there are complications such as the handling of classified data, many predict that it will be the most popular path forward. Banking giant Wells Fargo has embraced the hybrid model by having most employees come in only three days a week starting March 14th, and others are likely to follow suit. Even among those that plan to eventually return to a full in-person presence, many may choose to ease back into it with a hybrid approach to avoid the inevitable culture shock for those of us that have spent the last two years working exclusively in pajama bottoms.
Even still, this migration won’t be easy. Challenges for both employers and employees alike will need to be met head on. From a logistical standpoint, the hybrid approach will be challenging in having to support a constantly fluctuating population of both remote and on-prem users. From a cybersecurity standpoint, this is yet another chink in the armor to what could allow for a gap in security posture as you have to ensure that security controls work seamlessly for all users whether they be remote or in the office. Implementing zero trust principles and increasing automation in cybersecurity will be key. Automation can help by eliminating repetitive and menial work that frees up staff to focus on projects that support this changing environment. This approach is also advantageous in terms of decreasing the need for a large cyber/IT workforce focused on the mundane elements of the day-to-day cybersecurity operations, while simultaneously reducing the opportunity for human error and misconfiguration. This isn’t a silver bullet solution since there will undoubtedly be many complications in securing the hybrid work model, but it may be the best we can hope for as we deal with the aftermath of the last two years.