The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the acceptance of remote work. And online collaboration tools, such as Zoom, have enabled businesses to operate effectively, regardless of location. Human resources executive Jeff Smith says, “I think the acceleration of video-based technology is a very good thing.”
According to 2023 remote work statistics and trends, 28.2% of full-time employees work a hybrid model, while 12.7% work entirely from home. Smith has decades of experience advising businesses and executives on all aspects of recruiting, compensation, management, and leadership development — and his take on this phenomenon is insightful.
He understands the importance of flexibility in the workforce. “It shows trust and allows people to be able to prioritize things in their life in a way that makes most people feel valued,” explains Smith, whose resume includes Senior Consultant at Personnel Decisions International and the VP of People Development at Time Warner.
Benefits of a hybrid work schedule include increased employee engagement and job satisfaction, elevated productivity, and reduced costs related to rent, utilities, and parking spaces over time. Workplace software purveyors OfficeRnD reports that a business can substantially reduce office costs by up to 40% by implementing a hybrid work model. In addition to reducing overhead costs, utilizing a hybrid workforce allows a company to access a wider pool of talent and attract and retain top talent.
Even so, traditional in-office work is nowhere near obsolete. In fact, 59.1% still work in an office — but according to a survey by freelancing platform Upwork, 98% of workers want to work remotely, at least periodically. So, office building or spare bedroom — does it really matter where the work is getting done? Not necessarily. Smith says, “Ideally, managers and organizations can be outcome-focused, more than place-focused in terms of work getting done.”
He believes in the hybrid workplace model’s positive capabilities, which allow employees to find a balance between working at the office and working remotely based on their position and personal needs. However, “in the end, it comes down to the job and the company and what needs to get done,” says Jeff Smith.
Working from home requires people to be able to focus and produce quality results without being micromanaged in person. It’s not an excuse to slack off from one’s responsibilities. Jeff Smith, former BlackRock HR executive, says, “The No. 1 thing in this entire conversation should be getting the job done and being a strong performer. This is usually the most important to the organization but also what will earn you flexibility”
The New York City-based human resources executive continues, “I have seen that people are much more flexible with folks that get their job done than those who are struggling. It is very hard to give flexibility and time off and other things when someone is not doing what is expected of them.”
Remote Work Is On the Rise
Smith isn’t alone in this thinking, and the future of remote work looks promising. The Upwork survey estimated that 32.6 million Americans will work remotely by 2025. That’s approximately 22% of the workforce.
Information technology is the top industry for remote workers in 2023. Other sectors that embraced remote work include customer service, HR and recruiting, project management, medical and health, marketing, accounting, and finance.
In 2022, the most common remote employment opportunities included accountant, executive assistant, senior financial analyst, customer service representative, recruiter, technical writer, product marketing manager, and graphic designer.
Remote work is also one of the human resources industry’s biggest challenges. Jeff Smith, former BlackRock HR executive, says, “The often unrealistic expectations of employees created by COVID that they can and should be remote is in many cases in direct conflict with senior executives’ desire for people to be in person.”
He continues, “The hard part is if you let every group and manager decide, you will have uneven and likely biased processes and policies, so you need to balance that with some sort of central policy and have flexibility and exceptions.”
What’s the solution? According to Smith, it’s “there is no single right solution – every company needs to do what is right for them and their culture and have the right policies and practices in place.”
Jeff Smith, BlackRock’s Former HR Executive, Offers Human Resources Insights
The shift to remote and hybrid work demands a new approach from human resources. Fostering a healthy company culture is essential to executives since it establishes the perspective and belief systems about the way things are done in the organization and can improve workflow overall. The culture sets expectations for how individuals behave, work together, and function as a team. It helps break down boundaries and guide decision-making.
Cultivating a strong company culture is, to a degree, simpler to accomplish with an in-person workforce. “It is easier to have random or spontaneous moments of learning or mentoring or coaching or ideation and innovation if people are walking the halls and interacting with each other,” says Smith, who has a Ph.D. in industrial organizational psychology from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and has studied how groups work together and why some companies succeed where others fail.
He points out that many HR responsibilities shifted due to the pandemic. “HR was on the front line of the health and safety of employees and balancing productivity,” says Smith. “COVID also increased stress and the focus on mental health and support for mental health and well-being, which was — and is — more critical as time goes on.”
He continues, “There were lots of difficult decisions made during COVID [regarding] restructuring and layoffs that HR departments were right in the center.”
The longtime HR executive embraces the changes that come with establishing a hybrid work business plan and driving business strategy and operations. “Building and growing a company is by far my favorite part of the work world,” says Smith. “I am not as interested in stable environments that are not growing or changing. I think most of the opportunity and action is in times of change and we are definitely in a time of change.”
Interesting Related Article: “5 Effective Ways to Overcome Challenges of a Hybrid Workplace “