How do you encourage the workplace culture of your choice while allowing for the flexibility that ultimately allows employees to be successful?

Workplace culture has changed dramatically in just the past few years. The COVID-19 pandemic forced thousands of companies to transition from in-person jobs to online, work-from-home positions, a trend that has continued in many companies despite the absence of social distancing protocols. 

Yet at the same time, many other companies have begun sending workers back into the office, sometimes against employees' wishes. 

How will these trends change as we move into 2024? Which will win out: remote vs. hybrid vs. office? 

2023's workplace and culture

In 2023, businesses are still working to solidify their permanent workplace plans after COVID-19. 

Some companies have gotten into the groove of allowing employees to work from home permanently. They've sold or downsized their office spaces and feel confident sticking to Zoom and other remote communication methods. 

As many as 25% of professional workers work remotely, compared to only 6% prior to the pandemic. And while remote work offers many benefits to employers and employees, many companies have begun finding a compromise in hybrid work. 

Hybrid work allows employees to work from home some days while requiring them to come to the office on other days. Many companies see this setup as the best of both worlds. Now, as many as 58% of workers have the opportunity to work from home at least one day per week. 

But is the hybrid work method sustainable? Many companies think not. Major brands like Goldman Sachs and Google have recently begun bringing employees back into the office in herds, and as many as 90% of companies plan to implement return-to-office policies by the end of 2024. 

Many of these return-to-office policies permit workers to continue working from home two or three days per week. But companies like Disney and Blackrock want at least four days of in-person work, while Google expects its workers to come into the office all five days of the work week. 

Still, as of September 2023, the average office occupancy rate in the top 10 U.S. cities is only 47.3% of pre-pandemic levels. This is just a 3% increase compared to occupancy in September 2022. 

Workplace changes coming in 2024

The "return to the office" movement has already begun in 2023, but how will trends continue to change into 2024 and beyond? What changes can businesses expect beyond simply the location their employees are working from? 

Experts expect these remote vs. hybrid vs. office workplace trends in 2024 and into the next five years.

Focusing on skills over roles

Work-from-home (WFH) culture has made one thing clear: traditional office infrastructure isn't always necessary. When hiring new talent and adjusting responsibilities for current employees, many companies are focusing more on each worker's skills than on their roles within the company hierarchy. 

Creating a flat organizational structure allows companies to place the best talent in the best-fitting positions while rewarding expertise and success rather than moving up a ladder. Higher-ups can evaluate employees based on their deliverables rather than just productivity. 

Finding the best talent globally

While many businesses plan to shift back to completely in-office work, many others have used the pandemic as a launching pad for more remote work opportunities. Hiring fully remote talent gives companies the opportunity to search globally for the best fit for the role rather than needing to find talent within their local areas. 

Some global workers may never need to step foot into their company headquarters, conducting completely remote work throughout their tenure with the company. 

Using the office for social interaction

The companies requiring hybrid work models have begun saving tasks that require collaboration and social interaction for in-office days. Many companies have begun viewing the office as a place for workers to socialize and build a sense of community and camaraderie. This focus on in-office workplace culture could be why many remote workers say they are more productive at home than they are in the office. 

As more companies switch to hybrid models, companies may begin loosening the reins on in-office workers in favor of more casual conversations and team-building exercises. They may save the high-productivity tasks for work-from-home days, where employees can focus solely on their projects without external distractions.

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The pros and cons of remote vs. hybrid vs. office-only workplaces

When it comes to the choice between remote, hybrid, or office-only work, there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution that reigns supreme. Every option has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, paving the way for a nuanced decision-making process for both employers and employees.

It is crucial for organizations to carefully consider their culture, goals, and the specific needs of their workforce when determining which approach to embrace. Taking into account factors like collaboration, productivity, work-life balance, and employee satisfaction can help guide businesses toward the choice that aligns best with their unique circumstances and objectives.

The pros and cons

Below, we present a comprehensive breakdown of the advantages and disadvantages associated with remote, hybrid, and office-only models for businesses. Additionally, we learned the perspectives of employees, highlighting their own viewpoints on the pros and cons. Take a moment to explore each of the areas together. 

Business pros and cons

The pros of remote work include:

  • Higher employee satisfaction, and work-life balance, leading to happier employees
  • Potentially higher productivity rates, leading to increased performance
  • Lower office infrastructure costs and reduced environmental impact
  • Greater diversity in teams, as talent, is no longer limited to the physical location

The cons of remote work include:

  • Less opportunity for bonding and team-building, leading to loneliness and isolation
  • Employee activity, progress, and general engagement are harder to monitor
  • Maintaining a strong company culture and fostering employee engagement can pose challenges.  
  • As activities increasingly shift online, there is a growing need to address data security concerns.

The pros of hybrid work include:

  • Flexibility for people who prefer different working styles
  • Improved communication between in-office and remote employees
  • Increased team morale and productivity due 
  • A wider range of talent and skills are available for hiring teams
  • Cost savings for all, due to fewer office requirements and reduced commute times. 

The cons of hybrid work include:

  • Neither party is completely satisfied
  • Workflow disruption from hybrid employees attending in-office meetings as needed.
  • Managers must adjust their strategies for managing both on-site and remote workers.
  • Potential difficulty ensuring a consistent company culture across locations

The pros of full-time in-office work include:

  • Easier monitoring of employee productivity and understanding of skill sets 
  • Improved coworker bonding and a stronger sense of community within the workplace
  • Ability to hold events, such as team building activities or happy hours, in the office
  • Impromptu collaboration between staff  members and more flexibility

The cons of office work include: 

  • Lower employee satisfaction and reduced ability to implement flexible work schedules
  • Higher costs to expand office space from previous years  
  • Increased traffic congestion due to office location in urban areas or downtown cores. 
  • Risk of team members being exposed to illnesses and germs more easily in the office environment.  

Employee pros and cons

The pros of remote work include:

  • Greater freedom and flexibility without micromanaging
  • Opportunity to have the most ideal personal workplace setting
  • No commuting time and cost

The cons of remote work include:

  • Not every employee has an ideal work-from-home setup
  • Some employees need accountability from bosses and coworkers to maintain productivity
  • Some people thrive in socially active work settings

The pros of hybrid work for employees include: 

  • Employees can enjoy a balance of work-from-home and in-office days
  • Commute costs are still lower than full-time in-office schedules
  • Many companies allow employees to choose the days they work from home vs. in-office

The cons of hybrid work include: 

  • Employees who prefer completely remote work are not fully satisfied
  • Employees who initially worked fully remotely may live a far commute from the office

The pros of full-time in-office work for employees include:

  • Employees get to know their coworkers better
  • Employees can enjoy in-office amenities like gyms, better technology, and free meals

The cons of in-office work include: 

  • Employee work-life balance may decline
  • In-office work is not as safe when COVID-19 flare-ups occur

How to promote the new workplace culture

If your business is planning a transition to a new workplace culture in 2024, you can take a few measures to make it easier on your workers.

First, be sure to give employees plenty of time to shift to the new schedule, especially if they're changing from fully remote to fully in-office. 

Additionally, setting up a reward and incentive program can show your appreciation for employees adapting to new remote vs. hybrid vs. office schedules. With Giftbit, you can streamline your rewards and incentives process by sending automatic gift cards to employees who complete specific tasks.

The future of the workplace in 2024 and beyond

So, what is the true state of affairs? According to the research, it is characterized by a dynamic interplay among remote, hybrid, and office-only models.

The pandemic has accelerated the shift towards remote work, allowing companies to explore the benefits of a global talent pool and flexible arrangements. However, the return-to-office movement is gaining traction as organizations recognize the value of in-person collaboration and fostering a sense of community.

As we move forward, businesses must strike a balance between accommodating individual preferences, embracing technology, and building a strong workplace culture. By doing so, they can harness the best of these different models to create a productive and thriving environment for their employees. The workplace landscape is ever-evolving, and it is our collective responsibility to adapt and shape it to enable success for both individuals and organizations.