Ready for the million-dollar question that’s been on the minds of the collective working world for the past several months? “What is the future of the workplace really going to look like?”

The prevalence—and overall acceptance—of remote work has grown tenfold over the past year. We’ve reached the point where some companies have implemented fully remote plans for their workforces—plans that will continue well beyond the pandemic’s end. Yet even as COVID-19 concerns continue to dwindle in the United States, the future of the workplace still remains unclear.

I recently led a webinar panel hosted by HRMAC’s Chicago chapter that discussed this very topic. Joined by a group of HR and TA leaders from the Chicago area, we provided our personal opinions on the future of the workplace, addressed common workforce trends, and anticipated what to expect in the months—and years—ahead.

The New Hybrid Workplace: What You Need to Know

Employee surveying

To generate a comprehensive understanding of their employees’ workplace expectations and preferences, organizations have utilized pulse surveys to more effectively plan for the future. According to Darshini Brown, CHRO at SAI Global, these surveys revealed interesting results.

Reports conducted by SAI Global showed that only 4% of the company’s workforce wants to return to in-office work on a full-time basis upon the conclusion of the pandemic. In Darshini’s eyes, this signaled a dramatic shift in how the workplace will operate in years to come.

“Most people aren’t excited about going back to the way things were,” said Darshini. “In reality, workers are looking for more flexibility—and remote work alternatives will certainly provide that.”

Honest and open communication

Effectively laying the groundwork for the future of the workforce is largely contingent on the organization’s ability to communicate with its employees. More specifically, are employers willing to have honest and open conversations with their workers about expectations moving forward?

When asked about the greatest cultural challenge that her organization overcame during the pandemic, Beata Weiss—Vice President of Human Resources at Epsilon—cited a change in communication styles. By being more direct with employees, her organization was able to foster more transparent and heart-to-heart conversations with workers.

“While it may have been uncomfortable for our executives and team leaders, I think our change in communication style was a differentiator for our organization,” said Beata. “Our teams prioritized honesty and transparency in our discussions, and our associates responded well to that.”

Moving forward, Beata predicts that this same degree of clarity will be pivotal in properly rolling out workplace plans—regardless of whether organizations choose to return to the office or remain working remotely.

Looming workplace evolution

While remote work represents a scorching hot trend in today’s workforce—particularly for working parents—is it sustainable? While there are large populations of the workforce who are intent on remaining remote, other sectors of employees are craving a return to the office. Take it from Gina Martin, who serves as the Office and Facility Manager at Chicago Trading Co.

Gina predicts the progression of an “organic shift” back to in-office work over the next several months. As recent college grads and entry-level employees may have little to no experience working in an office environment, these workers may jump at the opportunity to form more meaningful relationships in a traditional workplace setting. Gina pointed to statistics that show greater team-based collaboration and efficiencies when in an office.

“One of my friends is a commercial realtor, and he said that all of his clients are taking back the office space that they gave back last year,” commented Gina. “I think that’s pretty telling about what employers are anticipating as we emerge from the pandemic.”

Formulating a return-to-office plan

So how should your organization approach its plan to return to the office? According to Brittani Shaw—Chief People Officer at Litera—much of return-to-work preparation depends on the region(s) that companies operate in. As a global company with offices across the world, Brittany has had to manage these concerns herself—and offered the following advice to fellow HR leaders.

“It’s important to approach return-to-office plans by geography. For example, Australians are back in the office with no masks, while India is suffering from hundreds of thousands of new cases every day. Continue to monitor the COVID numbers before making a prudent decision. But remember to keep the health and safety of your employees first. Don’t do anything that would jeopardize their well-being.”


Despite the turmoil that our world has endured since the outbreak of the pandemic, all four webinar panelists expressed confidence that our world would be back to normal in no time. While it remains to be seen what this “normal” will look like, company leaders need to think carefully before making a “one size fits all” workplace decision—one with significant implications. Ultimately, the viability of your employer brand is at stake—so being thorough and strategic in your workforce planning could be the difference between retaining your employees and losing them altogether.

Interested in discussing workforce strategies with TalentRise? Schedule time to connect with Carl to design an effective workplace approach that is custom-made for your organization.  

Learn more about the future of work in a COVID-19 world

Interested in watching the full webinar with Carl and the other discussion panelists? Check it out here.