GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s been more than three years since the start of the pandemic, and many workers have not fully returned to the office.
According to data from February published by the Pew Research Center, 35% of workers in remote-possible jobs are fully working from home, compared to 43% in January 2022 and 55% in October 2020. The Pew Research Center reports that rate was only 7% before the pandemic.
Many employers are offering workers a hybrid option. For workers in remote-possible jobs, 41% are working a hybrid schedule, the Pew Research Center said, up from 35% in January 2022. About 59% of hybrid workers are working remotely for three days or more each week, while 41% are working less than that.
Economics expert Paul Isely, an associate dean at Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business, said hybrid and remote work is still evolving.
“We started to see people coming back into the office over the course of the last year,” he said. “In most big cities, it crossed that 50% occupancy, where about 50% of the people were in the office at any one time.”
WORKING PARENTS AND ‘TIME SHIFTING’
Many workers are looking for flexibility in their schedules, Isely said. Not all workers are the same: some work better in the office.
One group of workers that particularly like the flexibility of hybrid work is parents, Isely said, as it gives them the ability to take breaks to do things like pick kids up from school. That flexibility is leading to ‘time shifting,’ he said.
“So we’re actually starting to see that in offices that do this, that that work sort of draws down near the end of the day, then there’s another peak later at night,” he said.
Some workers are now clocking more hours in their hybrid schedules than they were in their previous schedules.
“It’s actually — in some cases now — increasing the amount of time people are working because they’re time shifting to later at night. But now they’re answering emails and things and other people answer those emails and it’s starting to create this system where people are starting to work 24/7 again, as opposed to being able to block it off in that 9-to-5 time frame,” Isely explained.
YOUNG PEOPLE AT THE WATER COOLER
While parents may be looking for hybrid schedules, Isely said it can lead to problems for younger workers.
“(This) is making it very hard for managers,” he said. “… It’s actually very detrimental to younger workers, even though the younger workers want more of this, because they aren’t getting the mentoring time.”
He said in hybrid schedules, younger workers miss out on talks around the water cooler and don’t become as connected to the office’s community.
Local employer Amway, which has around 3,100 employees based in Ada, offers hybrid schedules where employees come into the corporate headquarters two days a week for “campus collaboration days.” Mike Horrigan, the vice president of human resources for corporate, said young employees want to be in the office more.
“Interestingly enough, you would think it would be the opposite, but younger people want to come to the office more. That’s the people we see coming on noncollaboration days and engaging more in person because I think they like those connections,” Horrigan said. “Although they still want a high degree of flexibility, I think it’s also surprising to see they also are the ones that want to come in and be with each other as they address their duties.”
The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce says its members are also hearing a desire for flexibility and freedom from workers. Andy Johnston, senior vice president of advocacy and strategic engagement for the Grand Rapids Chamber, noted the chamber’s own young workers are wanting to work in the office.
“They want to be in the office more. It’s social, it also has a professional benefit, too. It helps you build your network as you’re starting out earlier in your career,” he said.
Isely said many young workers never learned how to socialize in a workplace after spending parts of their time in school learning over Zoom.
“They’re missing a key set of skills that they need to work in teams in the building,” he said. “How we go back and pick those up, I haven’t really heard yet, I haven’t seen a good answer yet. But I’m sure there’s lots of HR people thinking very much about it.”
He said young workers also expect more exact job descriptions and employers are having to do a better job at communicating what a job will look like right away.
“Part of this … is because entry-level workforce is short of workers,” he said. “So as they come in as entry-level workers, they’re used to not having a lot of competition for those jobs, so they can command what they want. What they don’t understand is that slack that exists in entry level workforce does not exist higher up on the ladder.”
NEW SCHEDULE, NEW CHALLENGES
As employers and employees adjust to hybrid models, they’re also having to adjust to new challenges. Johnston said employers are figuring out how to track if people are getting their work done and what a culture of success looks like in a hybrid model.
Christy Buck is the executive director of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan. She helps educate businesses and other organizations about mental health.
She said employers she’s talked to have been innovative in the shift to hybrid work schedules. She heard of one employer that was remote three days a week and had a 30 minute meeting every day at 9 a.m.
“Those touch points are great,” she said.
She said employers are also aware some employees work better in the office, adding the foundation offers flexibility but some co-workers opt to always work in the office. Juggling the needs of multiple employees can be complex, she said, adding that can have an effect on supervisors’ mental health.
Horrigan, the Amway executive, said the company’s monthly surveys have indicated employees feel supported and are getting the flexibility they’re looking for. He said Amway has had to adapt to determine which roles can be fully remote and which need people in the office.
While working hybrid schedules continues to evolve, it doesn’t seem like it’ll be going away.
“I think hybrid is here to stay,” Isely said, though he qualified, “We still haven’t found the right way to do it.”
News 8 is exploring how the pandemic impacted the workforce throughout the week of Labor Day. Come back Thursday to read about the struggles healthcare workers still face.