In March of 2020, companies officially closed their doors and opened their minds to new ways of running their business amidst the global pandemic. Since then, the feasibility and advantages of in-office vs. remote work have become a topic of conversation and controversy. Today, business leaders are rethinking ideal work structures again, and return-to-office mandates are rampant among companies like Netflix, Disney, Goldman Sachs and Apple. The response to these mandates has been mostly negative — but why rebuild the workplace of the past when we could be building a better future?
I’ve experienced firsthand the innovation that resulted from pandemic conditions rather than despite them. In a time of uncertainty, frustration and loss, businesses proved that growth and creativity are possible even amidst a crisis. While there’s no substitute for the unity and face-to-face communication of the office, remote work provides an important supplement to in-office work — one that accelerates growth on a global scale.
For this reason, I believe that hybrid work is no longer just a necessary precaution — it’s undeniably beneficial to business. In 2023, the workforce is more diverse, connected and adaptive than ever before. Hybrid work holds immense opportunity, and companies hoping to create the future must stop pining for the past.
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The modern office spans geographies to build cross-cultural understandings. Teams are multitalented and multinational, comprised of individuals with different backgrounds and fresh perspectives. Remote work allows qualified individuals to apply for positions previously unavailable to them; those who could not previously commute to the office daily now have full access to job opportunities beyond their geographical region, ushering in an era of equal opportunity.
With this shift, employees have the privilege of working alongside those who are different from themselves, creating space for cross-functional and cross-cultural collaboration. The diversity of available talent creates an inclusive, multicultural workforce that is better equipped to succeed by sharing ideas and exchanging information.
Rather than stunting company growth by employing only like-minded individuals, hybrid work fosters diversity of thought within businesses — without which true innovation would not be possible. Cultivating a vast cultural understanding improves the workforce and the work itself. Greater representation among the workforce increases the company’s capability of meeting a wider set of customer and consumer needs, reaching more audiences in more places.
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Over the past three years, the traditional workplace structure has been revolutionized. Hybrid work has frankly obliterated the limitations previously imposed by distance and time zones, enabling businesses to tap into a global talent pool — and modern business leaders know how to do just that. Companies now recruit top-notch candidates from anywhere in the world, regardless of their home base. This real-time, worldwide communication pipeline has also led to increased business opportunities, as organizations can effortlessly interact with customers and consumers from anywhere and anytime—allowing for broader market reach and increased revenue generation.
I experienced the incredible shift toward multinational, connected teams while working at James Hardie. Before 2020, I only met in person with my global direct reports as a team roughly once per quarter. Immediately after the pandemic broke out, we began establishing a daily cadence of meetings, even though one of my colleagues was based in Germany and the other was based in Australia. At first, these meetings were digital because they had to be; then, they became more regular because they were so effective. If our business leaders had become myopic about in-person collaboration, we would have lost the regular cadence of incredible, transnational connectivity we gained over the last three years.
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Not only did we become more connected during the pandemic, but we also became more pro-reactive. Responding to each outbreak meant planning for the next; people worldwide were exchanging information about the virus, trying to plan ahead for future challenges and opportunities. I believe this constant communication strengthened the pipeline of ideas and accelerated the pace of the right decisions made at the right time for the company.
The modern, digital workspace transcends boundaries, paving the way for seamless communication. Executives and employees can now collaborate anytime, anywhere, without needing to coordinate expensive in-person meetings weeks and months in advance. For example, project teams can now be comprised of employees located in multiple regions. North American teams can now collaborate with their Asian Pacific counterparts, whereas before, they would have operated in far-flung, in-office siloes. What’s more, when the work day for the North American team members ends, it’s only just beginning for the Asian Pacific team members.
As a result, projects can progress quickly and seamlessly around the clock. Thus, important decisions can be made more quickly, allowing for better alignment and maximized execution. The instant transfer of information allows companies to build and adjust strategies in real-time, keeping pace with the ever-changing market. This pace of continuous improvement would not be possible without a workplace structure that enables the constant progression of ideas across various time zones and locations. Thus, a hybrid work structure benefits the quality and quantity of work.
Lastly, employees are not the only ones who have responded positively to hybrid work — so has the environment. With fewer employees commuting to work, lighter traffic has reduced air pollution, and less paper is used for office materials — mitigating some of the environmental impacts of traditional office-based work. Not only is digital globalization better for business, but it’s also better for the planet. In many ways, the world has changed and has moved on — and it won’t wait for old-school business leaders to catch up.
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