Opinion | The ‘Hybrid Office’ Could Be Great. It Could Also Be Hell.

But others are less bullish. “A lot of people assume that because we know how to work together [in the office], we know how to work apart, then we can do hybrid,” Kristi Woolsey, an associate director at Boston Consulting Group, told The Financial Times. “But hybrid is a third way. It’s incredibly difficult to do.”

What could go wrong?

  • Sid Sijbrandij, the chief executive officer of GitLab, argues that the hybrid model will create a cumbersome and potentially discriminatory system of tiered communication: “Eventually, remote workers will find that they are not getting promoted at an equal rate, because they are less visible, and the productive remote employees will leave for all-remote companies that invest in their remote team members.”

  • For the same reason, the hybrid model could end up worsening gender inequities in the workplace, as college-educated women with young children are much more likely than men to want to work from home full time. “Adding this up, you can see how the let-them-choose approach could lead to a diversity crisis,” says Nicholas Bloom, one of the University of Chicago researchers. “Single young men who generally opt to go into the office five days a week could rocket up the firm while employees with young children, particularly women, prefer to work from home and are held back.”

  • At companies reducing their physical footprint, employees won’t be guaranteed their own desk every day of the week. That could maximize the number of people dissatisfied with their arrangements, irritating both those who would prefer to work entirely in the office and those who would prefer to work entirely at home. It’s also a way for employers to pass on the cost of real estate, a burden that will be disproportionately borne by younger and lower-income workers.

  • Bosses, too, have apprehensions about the logistics of a hybrid model. “If Monday and Friday are likely to be overwhelmingly popular, what then?” Mr. Laurent writes. “If employees are told to pick different days, when will they collaborate with colleagues face-to-face? This will take time, effort and investment to manage.”

A cautionary tale: “At its worst,” Bryan Walsh writes at Axios, “hybrid work may resemble the subpar hybrid schooling too many American students have endured over the past year, with overworked teachers struggling to simultaneously handle in-person and remote students.”

Even at the height of workplace restrictions last April, about a third of U.S. employees reported never working remotely. The ability to do so is one that breaks starkly along lines of class, education and ethnicity: While people of all income levels say they want the option of working remotely, Aki Ito writes for Insider, “people who are highly educated, highly paid, and white expect to work from home in 2022 far more than their low-paid, less educated and Hispanic counterparts.”

The shift to remote work has high stakes for those workers, too:

  • As David Autor and Elisabeth Reynolds of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded in a report last summer, a reduction in office time and business travel will mean steep declines in demand for “myriad other workers who feed, transport, clothe, entertain, and shelter people when they are not in their own homes.”

  • The effect will be especially pronounced in cities. Given that the service industry has provided the primary source of job growth in recent decades for urban non-college-educated workers, they wrote, “these changes in the economic structure of urban life would again fall heavily on the employment prospects of urban low-paid workers.”

  • According to McKinsey & Company, more than half of displaced low-wage workers may need to shift to higher-wage work requiring different skills to remain employed.

But whether that will happen is far from certain. Consider the case of Edvin Quic, who works for an app-based food delivery service in New York City, without benefits or the right to a minimum wage. At the beginning of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, he was earning twice as much as he did before. But less than a year later, business was down again, to about $60 to $80 per day. As of February, he was planning to open a takeout restaurant in Brooklyn.

“Doing deliveries,” he said, “there’s no future in that.”

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“Google’s Plan for the Future of Work: Privacy Robots and Balloon Walls” [The New York Times]

“What Was the Office?” [Curbed]

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