12 Months of Hybrid Work (in 2023)

Published
December 21, 2023
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12 Months of Hybrid Work (in 2023)

TL;DR Article Summary

The year 2023 witnessed a dynamic shift in work trends, transitioning from the Return to the Office (RTO) focus to a stabilized hybrid work landscape. Here are key phases and insights shaping the hybrid work discourse throughout the year.

  • Employee preferences shifted towards increased work schedule flexibility, sparking a debate with CEO mandates for a greater office return.
  • Research indicated that employees value socializing and collaborating in the office, prompting a shift in office design.
  • Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For highlighted the importance of flexible work models for recruitment and retention.
  • Real estate distress surged, reaching a 10-year high, signaling challenges in reconciling the return-to-office push with hybrid work demands.
  • Organizations embracing hybrid work increased, with the Flex Index indicating a shift from full-time in-office requirements to structured hybrid models.

“2023 is the year of the pancake and the end of the Return to the Office.” 

This is how Nick Bloom, Stanford economics professor and WFH Research cofounder, described the work from home trend in the beginning of December. The latest Census, SWAA, and Kastle Data all showed that remote work decreased throughout 2020 to 2022 as organizations lifted pandemic-induced restrictions and required employees to return to the office. 

The beginning of 2023 promised a continued battle about the future of work: remote, in-office, or hybrid? Companies headed into this year with big goals to get employees back into the office. RTO topics headlined everyday, with large companies like Google and Amazon spearheading the move.

As we near the end of 2023, we see that days worked from home and office occupancy rate begin to plateau, demonstrating that where people work has reached a level of stability. See how the hybrid work talk has evolved throughout 2023:

January: ‘Hybrid Work Will Reign in 2023’ Prediction

“Hybrid Expert” Dr. Gleb Tsipurksy came out with the article ‘The Financial Advantages of a Hybrid Work Model.’ He made the case that hybrid work allowed companies to take advantage of the benefits of remote work, such as increased productivity and reduced costs, while also maintaining the benefits of face-to-face interaction and collaboration that came with onsite work. 

Other experts, including Wharton management professor Martine Haas, predicted that hybrid work was here to stay. During the worst two years of the pandemic, she said entire industries shifted to remote work without considerable loss in productivity. Amid a tight labor market and a lot of attrition, companies will realize that hybrid work may be the compromise between the flexibility that employees want and the return to office that employers want. 

“A lot of companies have moved toward hybrid in the last year and have found it not perfect, by any means, but [it] seems to be striking a pretty decent balance between what employees want and what employers want.” - Martine Haas, Professor of Management at the Wharton School

February: The ‘Year of Efficiency’

Mark Zuckerberg called 2023 the ‘Year of Efficiency.’ Giant tech companies like Google and Amazon fell in line with talk of ‘streamlining’ costs and slowing hiring. Hot desking and hybrid work increased in popularity as these companies looked to have employees return to the office while cutting back on office real estate. 

According to the February data in WFH Research, there was a trend toward increasing in-office attendance and decreasing work-from-home time, with the days worked from home dropping to 27%. Employers offered fewer fully remote jobs and more fully onsite jobs than employees wanted. Company leaders at the start of 2023 looked to this year as one where companies will run leaner and faster, and the large majority of employees return to the office as the WFH experiment comes to an end. 

March: What Will Make Hybrid Work Stick?

The New York Times released its article ‘Office Mandates. Pickleball. Beer. What Will Make Hybrid Work Stick?’ saying executives are making return-to-office plans with more permanence and communicating requirements more clearly, though what their plans look like vary widely. It seemed that RTO was the way to go—especially for larger companies—but the logistics of how that would happen remained a mystery.

“There’s not a Hybrid Office 101, where you can pick up the book and see what 100 offices have done before.” - Richard Buery, chief executive of the Robin Hood Foundation.

The article continued by saying that fully remote work and fully in person are simple enough to dictate, but hybrid work often creates a conundrum. Employees said the primary motivation for them to commute into the office is the guarantee of seeing teammates, but that demands coordination with everybody coming in on the same day. For those that tried mandating RTO with rigid policies, there often was greater backlash.

April: Fortune’s 100 Best Companies To Work For

Fortune released its 2023 Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list. Companies high on the list provided flexible work models in order to stay competitive in their recruitment and retention of workers, while also maximizing the returns on their real estate expenses. In fact, 96 of the 100 best companies provided remote work options. 

For example, American Express (No. 3 on the Best Companies list) gave workers the option to come to the office when there’s true purpose, whether to collaborate, meet new colleagues, or build relationships. Salesforce (No. 8) considered the various needs of its employees when designing office workspaces to help their employees do their best work. 

What the results show was that employees increasingly want work schedule flexibility and more say in when and where they work. The debate between what employees want and what employers mandate continues as CEOs increasingly demand workers to return to the office for a greater amount of time.

May: Collaboration Is the Name of the RTO Game

While some employers required employees to return to the office to justify their real estate expenses, others turned to making office time more purposeful for employees when they were there. Talks about how offices have to start earning the workers’ commute began to appear. That became a worthy question for employers trying to entice their workers back into the office. 

For example, Cisco rebranded the office as a ‘collaboration center’ and slashed private workspaces to coax employees back. The tech giant gave its traditional office an overhaul and built workspaces fit for the future of hybrid working. Redesigning the office into more collaborative centers makes sense when research increasingly shows that the top reasons employees want to be in the office is to socialize and collaborate with team members. 

“When employees were showing up, they weren’t going in private rooms. They were just sitting at tables. They wanted to spend time [with coworkers] and they wanted those interactions.” - Chuck Robbins, CEO at Cisco

June: Mondays Are the New Office Fight

That was the headline for one of the Wall Street Journal’s articles about the RTO movement. It started off with “Bosses argue that starting off the week in person—instead of remotely—creates good energy.”

This follows as bosses continued their push to get workers into the office more as a way to boost productivity and improve company morale. At that point, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays were the highest in-office attendance days, and some employers wanted their workers back in-office on Mondays as well. Historical data showed it would not be an easy endeavor. 

On the Monday before Memorial Day, the office occupancy rate was at 45% of pre-pandemic levels, according to Kastle Systems, which tracks security badge swipes into buildings across major U.S. cities. That was up from a 41% rate on the same Monday in 2022, but far from the 58% who went to offices the Tuesday before Memorial Day this year. 

July: Tension Is Rising Around Remote Work

Harvard Business Review reported on the disconnect between employer and employee around hybrid work and the details surrounding it. While workers argued they could be just as efficient working from home, many company leaders disagreed, citing everything from reduced collaboration, innovation, and productivity to a lack of supervision and training, especially for younger employees.

The issue around RTO, hybrid work, and work flexibility continued to be polarizing. Most large-company executives continued to lean toward pre-2020 norms. In a survey by consulting firm KPMG, nearly two-thirds of CEOs at multinational companies said the “ideal” working environment at their company by 2025 would be full-time in-office. Another 28% favored a hybrid model, and just 7% said they foresee a fully remote setup.

As we headed into the Fall, Fortune predicted that it would shape up as remote work’s biggest test—with one million workers facing orders to go back to the office. 

August: RTO Mandate Regret

Following in the footsteps of other tech companies, Zoom asked employees living within a 50-mile radius of its offices to work onsite two days a week. Needless to say, employees were unhappy with the new policy when CEO Eric Yuan informed employees in a Zoom meeting. 

Similarly to Zoom, many companies continued to ask their employees to show up to the office only part-time, as hybrid work shapes up to be the middle ground that employees and employers can agree on. And as organizations have employees return to work in the office some days of the week, the way to go about doing that shifted away from top-down mandates. 

“People do want structure, and people like boundaries. But they don’t like to be told what to do, so I think the secret is to not make them feel like their autonomy is being denied or that their ideas aren’t important, while still giving some structure.” - former Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield

In fact, real estate boss Scott Rechler said that the only offices to survive in a hybrid-working world will be those in the best locations and with top amenities. That means offices designed to support a better workplace experience will be the ones that’ll attract the most employees back. 

September: One Last Push for RTO

Many hybrid work leaders predicted there would be another wave of RTO mandates as CEOs tried to return to pre-pandemic office occupancy levels. Labor Day marked a big win for them.

Data from Kastle Systems found office occupancy was up to more than 50% in the weeks following Labor Day—its highest level since July. The report showed Tuesday as the most popular day to go to the office, followed by Wednesday, Thursday, then Monday. Friday was the least popular day to commute to the office. (It’s no surprise that real estate billionaire Steven Roth and remote work Guru Nick Bloom both said Fridays are ‘dead forever’ for offices.) 

However, it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies for the RTO advocates. Grindr announced that it would begin enforcing a two-day RTO requirement, which prompted almost half its staff to resign upon learning of the news. If there’s anything we learned this year, it’s that remote work policies should consider employee preferences. 

October: The Future of Work Is Hybrid

Nearly half of the companies reneged on their remote work policies this past year, with Roblox being the next company that had previously touted its remote work policy to tell employees they have to come to office three days a week or take severance package. Commute times in the U.S. were near pre-pandemic levels as companies clamp down on a return to office.

Even so, only about 15% of remote-capable companies require five days a week of in-office work, according to a ZipRecruiter survey, signaling that the fully in-person workweek is almost extinct. That led to a commercial real estate crunch so bad that $80 billion worth of property was in distress—a 10-year high. It was the highest level in a decade, as rising interest rates and decreased office demand due to hybrid work shook the property market. 

A WTW survey reported that leaders expect more than half of their employees (55%) to work either fully remotely or hybrid in three years, compared with 15% before the pandemic. As the future of work became ever more hybrid, leaders began to seek the “right” balance between in-person and remote work, as well as between mandates and persuasion. 

November: Hybrid Work Is Here To Stay

Research about the advantages of hybrid work skyrocketed this year, with many studies showing that flexibility is highly desired by employees—especially those from underrepresented groups. When Allstate adopted flexible work, its job applications soared 23%, with large increases among women and people of color.

Hybrid work not only helps organizations attract diverse talent, it also supports sustainability and allows organizations to save on office real estate. According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, hybrid schedules could cut emissions by 11% to 29%. Allstate was able to cut half of its office space after adopting flexible work. 

The number of organizations embracing hybrid work rose throughout this year. The Flex Index reported that the percentage of companies requiring full-time in-office was decreasing, with most moving toward structured hybrid, which has grown from 20% to 29% of companies throughout 2023.

December: How Do We Make Hybrid Work Better?

As we come to an end in 2023, it’s apparent that organizations are still trying to figure out what the future of work will be like for them. Recently, GM ordered workers back in the office three days per week and ended a flexible pandemic-era policy of ‘work appropriately’.

Neiman Marcus Group doubled down on remote work, stating that the move has helped decrease its office footprint by nearly 80% and given them a competitive advantage in recruiting. On the other end of the spectrum, Boeing is reversing its hybrid policy and requiring thousands of workers to return to the office full-time.

As 2024 approaches, conversations around returning to office will still continue, but the question will shift from where to how. Work location trends have largely stabilized, and most companies have no plans to decrease remote work flexibility in the coming months. As such, it’s time for leaders to optimize their hybrid workplace and develop a long-term hybrid work strategy. 

Workplace Trends To Look Forward to in 2024

Advantages of hybrid work include higher engagement, better overall wellbeing, and lower turnover risk compared to fully onsite workers. However, hybrid working can create some new obstacles, including decreased collaboration and communication and feeling less connected to company culture. 

Successful hybrid working in 2024 will require the right balance and skills. Embracing Artificial Intelligence (AI), investing in training your employees on new skills, improving your organization’s tech stack, and rethinking your office design and utilization to support hybrid work will be key to crafting a hybrid work strategy that will work in 2024. 

What hybrid work topics did people search for this year? Check out our Top 10 Most-Visited Articles of 2023 to learn more. If you’re ready to supercharge your hybrid workplace in 2024, create your free Skedda account today.

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