[Research Report] What Hybrid and Remote Employees Really Want

Hybrid and remote employees want more flexibility in hours, renegotiated in-office days, and better support from their manager and company.
Daan van Rossum
Daan van Rossum
Founder & CEO, FlexOS
I founded FlexOS because I believe in a happier future of work. I write and host "Future Work," I'm a 2024 LinkedIn Top Voice, and was featured in the NYT, HBR, Economist, CNBC, Insider, and FastCo.
October 20, 2023
min read

Hybrid and remote employees want more flexibility in hours, renegotiated in-office days, and better support from their manager and company. What else do they want, and how can companies and managers engage and retain them better? 

Hybrid and remote employees are simply intolerant of the old 9-to-5 in offices.  

But it’s not just about the “where” we work (43% of employees would consider quitting if told to work in the office full-time); the “when” matters more than ever, as does the “how.”

Research from FlexOS reveals that one in two hybrid and remote employees believe greater flexibility in working hours could substantially improve their work.

Our survey also found that a flexible workplace and more autonomy alone are insufficient for hybrid and remote employees to do their best work. 

Employees told us they needed clear communication guidelines, better trust-building with their managers, more in-person connections, and better technology.

Key findings from “What Hybrid and Remote Employees Really Want”

  • 50% of all employees practicing remote or hybrid remote work believe that more flexible time to work can improve their remote or hybrid policy. Even people who almost always work in-office would like more flexibility in when to work (48%).
  • 30% of hybrid employees want more in-office days. Even amongst almost and fully remote employees, 10% think more in-office days will help improve working policy. But just as many people want more remote days, highlighting that the number of office days remains a contention. 
  • Employees rate their managers a meager 7 out of 10 on their success in effectively managing their hybrid or remote team. Managers should improve on communication, task management, and team bonding, amongst other best practices. 
  • 33% of employees want their companies to provide better remote technology and infrastructure support and offer a budget to set up ergonomic home workspaces
  • 43% of employees would consider quitting if requested to be in-office full-time, almost three times as much as the hybrid and remote managers we surveyed in June. 23% wouldn't be happy but still return to the office. Only 34% of respondents would be happy to return to the office.

Want 1: Autonomy is not just where, but also when to work.

The “where” we work has been settled, with remote work statistics from Stanford research showing that we’ve reached equilibrium at about 2-3 days of office work per week.

Now it’s time to focus on the “when.” 

One in two hybrid and remote employees participating in the survey believes that more flexible working hours would significantly improve their hybrid and remote policy. 

"Decoupling business results from geography is the current frontier of remote work. The next frontier — decoupling business results from linear time — has the power to transform how we design our lives, community, and society." —Darren Murph, former Head of Remote, GitLab

Even for employees working in the office four days a week, 48% would like more flexibility in working hours. 

This isn’t about flexibility in choosing where and when to work; it is about giving employees trust and letting them take authority over their own jobs. 

"In Future Forum's research, we saw for time and again that giving people the freedom to do focused work when they're at their best unlocks more productivity than location flexibility. But leaders need to enable focus time (uninterrupted blocks at least 2 hours long) by putting constraints around the always-on nature of work in the tech era. Concepts like core collaboration hours (ex., 10am-1pm Monday through Thursday) are a great place to start." – Brian Elliott, co-founder of Future Forum

The second most popular demand is to compress the usual 5-day workweek into four days or less: 33% of the employees want to decrease the number of working days. 

The 4-day workweek model is getting more common in Europe and has been in trials elsewhere. A recent study in the US also showed many positive benefits. The advent of AI also plays a role, allowing people to streamline their workload.

“The growing popularity of a 4-day workweek is merely the tip of the iceberg, and the integration of AI technologies could very well propel us toward a 3-day workweek—or even less. As AI takes over routine tasks, the emphasis shifts toward strategic, meaningful work, potentially condensing the effective workweek even further. This raises provocative questions about whether a Universal Basic Income could become not just ethical but also economically viable, as we navigate a future where 'work' is fundamentally redefined." – Iwo Szapar, Co-founder & Head of Remote, Remote-first.Institute

In third place, 21% of hybrid and remote employees believe more days working at home can improve their hybrid and remote policies.

Finally, 18% want to practice fully asynchronous work, and 13% want more days in the office.

Want 2: Renegotiated Office Days

While 21% of hybrid and remote employees want fewer days in the office, 13% want more in-person days, indicating that the debate for the right amount of office days hasn’t been settled yet. 

Especially hybrid employees (1-3 days a week in the office) are split: 31% say they want more in-office days, while 39% want fewer office days. Only 30% are happy with the amount of office days they currently have. 

“We are social animals — we crave time with like-minded peers and value space where we can see our communities. But the where comes second after the who. Employees come to the office to be with certain people and that’s why they report being more satisfied when there’s a general agreement and commitment to set days in the office. Our data revealed that in 2023, the office is liveliest from Tuesday to Thursday so smart companies should align their return-to-office policies with this midweek surge for optimal results." – Nellie Hayat, Workplace Innovation Lead, Density

Surprisingly, even some almost or fully remote employees long for more office days (10%), challenging the notion that remote workers want complete isolation.

"For many companies, the promises to distributed teams of quarterly gatherings were dashed when companies pulled back on travel budgets -- digital-first shouldn't mean never in person." – Brian Elliott, co-founder of Future Forum.

Want 3: More from Managers, Especially in Communication, Task Management, and Team Bonding 

Gallup estimates that managers create 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores, increasing the importance of managers in hybrid and remote working models, where they often are the only connection employees have with their work and company.  

Unfortunately, employees rate their managers a meager 7 out of 10 on their success in effectively managing their hybrid or remote team. 

Research Report What Hybrid and Remote Employees Really Want Statistics 4

If that wasn’t painful enough to hear, nearly 1 in 2 hybrid and remote employees say their manager doesn’t apply any well-established hybrid and remote best practices as prescribed by the likes of McKinsey, such as selecting suitable tools, scheduling regular check-ins, and maintaining balanced communication for clarity and connection. 

"The glaring 7 out of 10 score for managerial effectiveness in hybrid setups tells us there's room for serious improvement. What is troubling is that basic best practices for hybrid work, such as clear communication and promoting inclusion, are still not universally applied. Managers must be equipped with tools and training that go beyond conventional leadership norms." -- Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, CEO of the hybrid work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts, authored the best-seller Returning to the Office and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams.

Especially important best practices such as Promoting Inclusion (18%), Recognition and Celebration (24%) and Well-Being (25%) all score very low.

Common Frustrations

Asked what frustrates people most about their manager’s hybrid or remote work approach, 30% of employees cited a lack of clear communication, saying their managers give unclear instructions and guidance, hindering them from performing well.

Interestingly, mostly in-office employees (four days/week) are MOST FRUSTRATED about their managers’ lack of clear communication (41%.) Hybrid team members are least likely (25%) to cite communication as a point of frustration. 

Another key point managers can improve is to be more mindful in assigning tasks. 29% of employees find that their managers usually assign conflicting or overlapping tasks.

Maintaining relationships is another challenge that especially plays out in remote teams. Remote employees are 36% less likely to say that their managers effectively build connections and make themselves available versus their almost always in-office counterparts.

Empathy for Managers

While people don’t score their manager particularly well on their ability to lead hybrid and remote teams, they understand that managers have a lot of other responsibilities on their plates.

44% of respondents believe their manager struggles with juggling the demands of their own workload with the time required to manage the team effectively.

Employees are also sympathetic to managers’ conflicting expectations between upper management and hybrid or remote team members about when and where to work (30%.)

24% of employees believe their manager struggles to balance the company’s need for consistency with autonomy for remote teams

“A critical step is for managers to acknowledge that remote management and work can be hard. Many managers hesitate to discuss challenges with their teams, and try to act as if it's 'business as usual.' Instead, schedule a dedicated team session on talking about the team's challenges and what possible solutions are (from joining each other's calls to shadow, to using screen shares, to having working hours to provide separation). The outcome can mean aligning on team norms, to help teams productively work together." – Ashley Herd, founder, Manager Method.

Want 4: Better Technology – At Home, In the Office, and Between

Beyond when and where to work, the ‘how’ is also important. Hybrid and remote employees frequently encounter technological challenges, hampering their productivity.

An additional problem this creates is that it leads to inequitable experiences between in-person attendees and remote ones. 

As a result, when asked how their company can support them better, 33% of all employees want better remote technology and infrastructure support, such as providing them with premium subscriptions to Zoom and ChatGPT alongside equipment like monitors and noise-canceling headphones. 

"Virtual-first ways of working blur the line between physical work environments and virtual work environments. In both places, team members need to be equipped with the tools, policies, and resources that keep them, their results, and the company safe and productive." – Laurel Farrer, Founder, Distribute Consulting 

Another 33% of employees want to be offered a budget for setting up ergonomic home workspaces. More money talk: 31% of employees want a flexible stipend to cover internet and other relevant expenses.

Clear and inclusive remote communication guidelines and a central knowledge-sharing platform for remote collaboration are other areas where employees want to enhance their work experience. 

“Companies MUST democratize access to information and redefine the notion of "proximity to power." At most firms, data isn't organized and accessible through digital means and proximity to power = HQ. This model is exclusionary whether intended or not, but either way, it's a stark business risk. We don't need to look further than LinkedIn to see that power resides with those who share data, insights, and context with their audience on THEIR time. Is this not the same dynamic that should exist within a company or team? On-demand access to essential information and leadership so they can innovate and stay ahead? Digital inclusivity is the new currency. Period.” – Dave Cairns, Future of Work Content Creator

Want 5: Never Return to the Office Full-Time

We’ve seen some employees ask for a bit more time in the office and others a bit less. But one thing hybrid and remote employees have in common: they don’t want to return to the office full-time. 

43% of employees would consider quitting if requested to be in-office full-time, almost three times as much as the hybrid and remote managers we surveyed in June. 23% wouldn't be happy but still return to the office. Only 34% of respondents would be happy to return to the office. 

Interestingly, even 28% of those working four days per week in the office would still consider quitting if a full RTO was mandated. This shows how even minor flexibility makes a big impact.

“The data shows that the typical employee wants a moderate hybrid plan. They don’t want to be fully remote as they enjoy engaging with co-workers and time together, but they also don’t want a full return to the office, which is intense and draining for many. Managers seeing this should focus on making hybrid successful rather than battling for a full office return, which this data suggests could lead to mass quits.” Nick Bloom, Stanford Professor and World’s Leading WFH Researcher

Let’s Conclude

In conclusion, this research study provides valuable insights into the preferences and challenges hybrid and remote employees face as they navigate the ever-evolving work landscape. The study reveals several key findings that shed light on the future of work:

Autonomy in when and where to work is a central theme. While the "where" of remote work has found equilibrium at 2-3 days in the office per week, the focus has shifted to the "when." A significant 50% of respondents strongly desire more flexible working hours, emphasizing the need to decouple business results from linear time. Furthermore, the concept of a 4-day workweek, driven by AI and workload streamlining, is gaining traction and has the potential to reshape work as we know it.

The renegotiation of office days is a topic of ongoing debate. Notably, 21% of respondents wish for fewer office days, while 13% seek more in-person office interactions. This divergence in preferences highlights the need for organizations to strike a balance that accommodates the varying needs of their employees, especially as it pertains to hybrid work arrangements.

The role of managers in hybrid and remote work models cannot be overstated. The study reveals that despite their pivotal role, managers are rated at a modest 7 out of 10 regarding their effectiveness in managing remote teams. Even more concerning is that nearly half of hybrid and remote employees feel their managers do not consistently apply best practices such as clear communication, inclusion, and recognition. Effective management remains a crucial area for improvement.

Technological challenges present a barrier to employee productivity for hybrid and remote employees. These challenges also create disparities between in-person and remote work experiences. Respondents desire better remote technology support, ergonomic home workspaces, and stipends to cover internet and related expenses. Clear communication guidelines and knowledge-sharing platforms are also needed to enhance remote collaboration.

Employees never want to return to the office full-time. A significant 43% of respondents would consider quitting if required to return to the office full-time, highlighting the popularity of hybrid work arrangements. This data emphasizes that employees value the flexibility and autonomy to engage with colleagues while avoiding the intensity of a full-time office return.

In summary, the research paints a clear picture of the importance of flexibility, autonomy, and effective management in the future of work. Organizations prioritizing these aspects will likely have a more engaged and productive workforce in the evolving world of hybrid and remote work.

About the Study

The survey was conducted through the Pollfish panel of 200 hybrid and remote employees in the USA across all age ranges, seniorities, and industries. The survey ran in August 2023. 

The survey classifies employees into four groups of employees:

  • fully remote employees (coming into the office less than once a month)
  • almost always remote employees (maximum two days per month in office)
  • hybrid employees (1-3 days in office per week)
  • almost always in-office employees (4 days in the office per week).

Respondents were invited using a double opt-in: they confirmed their interest, created a profile via a verification process, joined the respondent pool, and were invited to take the survey as they fit the targeting criteria.

About FlexOS

FlexOS was founded in 2021 to solve the biggest challenges in hybrid and remote work. The company raised a $1 million dollars seed round from investors that previously invested in Paypal, Dropbox, and more. The team works hybrid and remote out of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and is inspired to make the world of work a better place by letting people take agency and autonomy in their work.

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