Fall is right around the corner, and it marks a return to the office for many companies. However, many are still determining how to proceed—in person, remote, or a hybrid model?
The pandemic has proven there are many ways to work, each with their own unique set of benefits. While many employees miss in-person collaboration and customer relationship-building, some prefer the flexible schedules that working from home has provided.
Varying employee preferences leave business leaders with tough decisions to make as they consider how their future workplace will foster creativity and meet business priorities, while also accommodating shifting workforce demands (especially as talent and retention battles heat up).
In many cases, there’s a generational divide: An Adobe survey showed nearly one in three millennial and Gen Z small business owners are planning to continue to provide employees the flexibility to work remotely full-time—showing higher levels of comfort with this approach compared to those ages 45-54 (17%). With an affinity for technology, millennials are helping pave a future of work that redefines the usual 9-5 at the office.
Whether businesses choose to move forward with in-person, remote, or hybrid work, those that operate with a digital-first mindset are set up for success. We’re moving into a new phase of digital transformation: one where workplace flexibility is key, a hybrid model is the norm, and employee experience is rooted in a digital-first mentality. The goal being that regardless of where and when employees are working, they can be productive and collaborative from anywhere.
I spoke with two millennial entrepreneurs about how they’re leading with a digital-first mindset to offer their employees flexibility while maintaining productivity and driving growth.
Bell + Ivy, an integrated marketing agency, is one company that transitioned from in-person to remote work during the pandemic. “When we were able to open up again, we ran an internal poll and realized that our teams were split on going back,” said Cynthia Johnson, co-founder and CEO of Bell + Ivy. “We decided to adopt a work from anywhere model. We reduced our office sizes and gave everyone the option to work from the office or anywhere else.”
Many Americans made the choice to move away from cities over the last year, and hybrid work models are making that transition easier. “For employees who wanted to move during the pandemic or after, they didn’t have to move back to keep their jobs,” Johnson said. “Team members who had long commutes now have more time in their day, and because of that their work is more efficient.”
The pandemic expedited the adoption of remote and hybrid working models, and many businesses fared well during the trial run. According to Johnson, “the best part is that people feel that they have a choice, and we trust them.”
Peter Voogd, founder of The Game Changers Academy, an academy and community for entrepreneurs, had always used a hybrid model, but the pandemic provided an opportunity to shift to a fully remote workforce.
“Millennials and Gen Z are leading the cultural shift to more hybrid work models. Younger generations value flexibility and freedom in their workplace, which is why we adopted a fully remote, results-oriented work model,” said Voogd.
With the labor shortage leaving some businesses scrambling to find employees, Peter found remote work to be a competitive edge in the hiring process. “We can attract A+ players that are more productive because they have the autonomy to choose when and where they work.”
Remote work doesn’t have to mean limited engagements—it can offer up opportunities to reach farther. “We still have the option to meet in person when we can but being able to travel and work anywhere in the world is the ultimate goal,” clarified Voogd.
Fueling the change
The good news is many companies are at least halfway to a digital-first mindset, thanks to a year-plus of testing out virtual conferencing technologies, collaboration software and cloud storage. The next move is to look farther into the future and determine necessary, long-term changes. For example, some small businesses might choose to invest more in digital collaboration tools and scale back overhead expenses, like a large office where each employee gets a private workspace.
Changes in the workplace are far from over, making it an exciting time for companies to reimagine how they do business every day. Offering flexibility beyond the traditional office-centric, 9-5 workday grants employees the autonomy to invest time into their work and career, while maintaining personal life boundaries.
“As an entrepreneur, I’ve learned that people-first businesses drive the most successful companies,” said Johnson.