Hybrid working a reality but business leaders not yet giving up on the office

Research finds C-suite executives and business leaders will primarily split their workforces between on-site and remote work, with markedly small numbers looking to adopt exclusive on-site or remote working practices

The first Quarterly Executive poll for 2021 by customer experience and human capital management firm West Monroe has found that despite the recognition of the harsh reality that the hybrid workplace will be a fixture for business for some time to come, if not permanently, senior management teams believe that a divided workplace will almost certainly hinder productivity.

The survey took the opinion, on 5 and 6 January 2021, of 150 C-suite executives at companies in the US with over $250m in revenue. It investigated pertinent issues such as whether political and social issues were affecting the new business environment. For example, it asked if remote working would be sticking around, whether employees should be taking vaccines to facilitate a mass return to work, and how current socioeconomic strife was dictating their decision-making in 2021.

The bottom-line finding from the research was that most of the C-suite executives and business leaders weren’t giving up on the office just yet. Companies will primarily split their workforces between on-site and remote work (43%), with another 38% saying they will be mostly on-site with some remote work. Both fully on-site working and mostly remote working with some on-site work were indicated by 9%. Only 1% said they were shifting to a fully remote workforce.

Remote working appeared to be less appealing to the executives. Nearly half (47%) of respondents said their workforces would be on-site most or all of the time when it was safe to return to work. In what could have been an indication of the state of Covid-19 vaccine roll-out in the US in early January, 51% of the sample said they would require employees to have the vaccine to return to the office and 49% would not. 

Yet one of the key findings was that the hybrid workplace appeared to hinder productivity the most, according to respondents, with 45% citing social distancing requirements as a problem and another 34% saying remote working was leaving them in siloes. Despite the general fears that broadband issues were holding back workers, only 5% noted this as the principal hindrance, along with 9% citing the need for new technology. Just under a fifth (19%) said responsibility for remote education and/or remote learning was affecting productivity.

Asked about priorities and imperatives for 2021, looking at areas for technology investment was indicated by 37% of executives, with front-end customer experience and e-commerce noted by 19%. Communications technology came a surprising sixth place, with just 3% of executives regarding it as a top priority for 2021.

Just over half (55%) said social, economic and moral issues would play an increased role in business decision-making in 2021. More than a quarter (29%) of companies were considering moving major operations or headquarters to another state or country.

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