By Ann Boehm, May 16, 2022

I’m predicting it now. The Merriam-Webster word of 2022 will be “hybrid.” I could be wrong. They may choose “inflation.” But I’m an employment lawyer, so I’m going with “hybrid.”

In case you don’t pay attention to the Merriam-Webster word of the year, I’ll relay that the word of 2021 was “vaccine.” In 2020, it was “pandemic.” Seems logical to me, given the theme of the past two years, that “hybrid” will win in 2022.

Why “hybrid”? It’s the post-pandemic workplace dynamic being utilized by most employers in 2022. Employers are requiring employees to come to the office X days per week, and work from home X days per week. Or month. Or whatever. It’s like trying to have your cake and eat it too. (I’ve never really understood that expression. Have your cake and eat it too? If you have cake, don’t you eat it? Anyway, I’m using it here.)

The hybrid workplace is an effort to satisfy the 75% of executives who want to come back to the office three or more days a week and appease the 63% of rank-and-file employees who want to stay at home in their jammies and comfy shoes with Fluffy on their laps. (Statistics from “1 Big Thing: Your office, forever changed,” Axios Finish Line (March 23, 2022)). It’s also an acknowledgment that “[n]ever again will most office workers spend five-day, 40-hour weeks in physical buildings, jammed with humans,” per that same article.

Just for the record, I’m a big fan of the idea that 40 hours a week in an office is history, but not everyone is. And pre-pandemic, the Federal government was one of the ultimate employers of the in-office, 40-hour-week.

Here’s the thing to keep in mind: Work is not a place, it’s what you do. You may have seen that slide if you’ve taken some of our training. It makes a lot of sense.

There’s another thing to keep in mind. Every Federal agency has a mission and obligation to the public to fulfill that mission. Where the mission is accomplished is not what matters. What matters is that it is accomplished.

I’ve read a lot of articles about the workplace and the pandemic. One of my favorite quotations explains that “expecting people to just ‘return to work’ does not acknowledge the challenges and difficulties employees endured. Employers can’t expect employees to pretend like we didn’t just live through a social catastrophe …  Employers need to understand the employees returning to the office are not the same people who left last March,” Stanford University sociologist Marianne Cooper told The Washington Post.

“America’s workers are exhausted and burned out – and some employers are taking notice.”

I think that’s freaking genius. The article is pretty daggum old in the pandemic scheme of things – June of 2021 – but the quote resonates. The other thing to keep in mind is that the quote applies to everyone in the workplace — supervisors, employees, HR specialists, counsel, etc.

Everyone is dealing with the post-pandemic world in their own way.

So, I’ve been reflecting. Pre-pandemic, agencies offered telework and flexible work schedules. I used to have a supervisor who had an alternative work schedule that meant she did not work at all every other Friday. She worked her eight nine-hour days, one eight-hour day, and had every other Friday off. It drove me crazy. Can I tell you how many times I needed something approved on her “AWS”? I would have greatly preferred that she be at home teleworking every day.

As a supervisor, I much preferred teleworking employees to AWS employees who had a full day off every other week. Remember: Work is not a place. It’s a thing you do.

There will always be supervisors who want to eyeball their employees, have them in the office. That’s why hybrid work is what 2022 is all about.

How should you handle this hybrid world? Please do me the favor of managing effectively. Figure out whether telework helped or hindered your mission. If it hindered it, you need your people to return to the office for at least part of the week. You will be in hybrid land.

The hybrid workplace will not make everyone happy. In early April, the Washington Post published an article focusing on the stressors of hybrid work. “Hybrid work for many is messy and exhausting.” One of the frustrated workers explained that going from total telework to three days in the office requires her to wake up an hour earlier, spend an hour driving, and miss out on breaks for fresh air, and hinders her ability to stretch regularly to alleviate her chronic back pain. Other issues with hybrid work include problems keeping track of belongings in two workplaces and trying to figure out when office visits coordinate with those of colleagues. Some workers are also mystified by making the effort to go into work only to find that they are in the office alone.

Despite these frustrations, the stressors of the hybrid working world are better than spending full time in the office, according to the Post article. And thus, it seems certain that hybrid is here to stay.

Expect some growing pains. Expect some frustrations. Expect employees to complain. But in the end, hybrid is better than the old school version of the in-person government workplace. Remind your employees of that. It’s not horrible. And that’s Good News. [email protected]

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