During breaks in the day, she can start laundry, stretch on the floor to relieve chronic back pain, or get outside for fresh air. She was making herself a hot lunch and playing podcasts in the background while she worked. At the end of the day, she had time to try out a new dinner recipe.
But after spending three days working in the office as mandated by her employer in February, she says many of her new benefits have worn off. She now has to get up an hour earlier to get dressed, put on makeup and prepare her lunch. She drives about an hour to and from work to avoid public transport, which she says has more crime and drugs since the pandemic. She says she feels an unspoken, self-inflicted pressure to always be at her desk, cutting out breaks to breathe in the fresh air and stretch. And she books rides, dining experiences, podcasts and weekend chores. Although she enjoyed reconnecting with her colleagues at the office, Friday she says she is less productive.
“I’m just devastated,” says Scott, 37. “I don’t know how I did before.”
Scott is part of a growing group of workers who have been called back to the office in a hybrid environment, a catch-all phrase for working part-time in the Office. Market research firm Forrester predicts that this year 60% of offices will adopt a hybrid working policy, but it also expects a third to fail to execute it successfully as companies continue to design the workplace around face-to-face interaction.
And workers say they are discovering new frustrations with hybrid working as they adapt to both virtual and in-person work. From keeping track of their stuff, having two functional workspaces, and making sure their office visits coordinate with those of their colleagues, this model is fraught with unexpected obstacles, say -they. Certainly, workers say they prefer hybrid work rather than being in the office full-time.
“I hadn’t realized all the benefits [of remote work] until we have it,” said Ryan Faulk, director of a faith-based nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles, who declined to name his employer. “Going hybrid, now there are all these growing pains.”
At Google, which employs more than 156,000 people and had its Official return to the office on Monday, workers are concerned about covid risks in a hybrid work environment, said an Alphabet Workers Union member who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. The company requires employees to be vaccinated to return to the office but does not plan to test vaccinated employees. Workers also don’t understand what led the company to choose a three-day-a-week office work week and only some employees are eligible for full remote work, which could lead to a pay cut, said the trade unionist.
“Google employees have proven they can deliver when working from home, as evidenced by the record profits Alphabet has enjoyed. [during the pandemic]said Parul Koul, software engineer at Google and executive chairman of the Alphabet Workers Union. “If Google doesn’t even choose to keep workers informed or involved in decision-making… how can we be sure that the policies they put in place will effectively protect all workers? »
Google says its decisions were inspired by worker feedback. It also said it is offering employees weeks when they can work from anywhere as well as the ability to request work-from-home extensions. For those considering working entirely remotely, the company has launched a job locator tool to help employees determine if their salary will change if they leave campus.
In other workplaces, a hybrid schedule sometimes means going into the office and finding out you’re the only one there. Workers who can choose their days in the office say they often have to coordinate with other colleagues to ensure they are all present at the same time. (Mondays aren’t popular, according to one worker.) But for those with assigned workdays or whose jobs don’t require collaboration, the requirement to go to work can feel forced and unnecessary.
Jeremiah Dylan Cook, an analyst for an East Coast financial aid agency, said his work was somewhat siloed. In a week, he might only have one team meeting. When he works alone in the office, he wonders why he is not at home with his wife and his cat.
“It was like why am I here specifically?” he said about his return to the office. “There are managers who might need to be there and collaborate more, but I’m not one of those people.”
Hybrid working is also a nightmare for those trying to keep track of the different tools and files that workers need to have with them while doing their job.
For Mario Dcunha, senior product designer at financial software company Intuit, keeping track of the many adapters and chargers he needs for various screens has been somewhat irritating. Dcunha, who can choose how often he comes to the office, said he likes his hybrid way of working. He just wants technology to make the transition from a conference room at his office to his home setup easier.
“Even with all the latest gadgets, I still have to carry my adapters around,” he said, adding that he often left his adapters in the wrong place. “It was never such a big deal because I could just borrow someone’s magazine…but now there’s no one next to me.”
Faulk, the nonprofit in Los Angeles, said he often uses paper files and handwritten to-do lists in addition to tech tools like his laptop and charging cables. But remembering what to truck for work the following days quickly became a challenge, he said.
“I’ve left my laptop charger at work before and had to use my phone charger,” he said. “I was able to get through the first half of the day, but it was risky.”
Faulk said hybrid work also affected his finances. Now that he’s switched to microwaveable meals and is buying more lunches at restaurants, many of which have raised prices, combined with skyrocketing gas prices, he’s earning far less at home than when he was working remotely.
“My dollar doesn’t stretch that far,” he said. “Being able to work from home felt like a small raise.”
Getting used to office technology can be especially difficult after two years, during which time most conferencing tools have been upgraded. Karen Budell, vice president of brand marketing at Momentive, maker of SurveyMonkey, said her first week back in hybrid mode last month was fraught with technical issues and annoying social cues.
Budell, who voluntarily chose to work in a hybrid model, said when she used Zoom from a conference room screen, she often missed the links people shared in the chat box. She’s also had to get used to being fully present when physically in front of the camera in the conference room, which makes it difficult for her to multitask in Zoom meetings.
“I had to bring my whole being to the meeting, which means I’m now behind on Slack messages and definitely behind on email,” she said. “So I would be in a meeting where people are referring to an email that I hadn’t seen yet.”
Meeting RSVPs also become confusing, she says. Momentive allows employees to work remotely, in hybrid or in the office, and change their plans or days at any time. This means that when someone responds to a meeting, they never know when to book a conference room or host it entirely through Zoom. At the same time, if she sees someone on Zoom in a conference room she intends to enter, she doesn’t know if it’s her meeting or a previous meeting. And she says it’s hard to tell if someone is video conferencing from their office or just listening to music.
“It feels like a game of charades,” she said.
The trickiest adjustment Budell has had to make? Finding the right shoes that work for the office but won’t hurt his feet. She’s been cozied in slippers for two years.
As for Scott, to make sure she succeeds in the new hybrid environment, she shelled out a bit of money to make sure she had two working setups; she bought duplicate lighting and keyboard wrist rests so she could be comfortable at work and at home.
But echoing the current sentiment of many workers, Scott said she wants to choose when and how often she comes into the office.
“I personally don’t like it,” she said, adding that her preference was rather remote. “For me, the hybrid is…not preferable.”