Here in the United States, many companies have been calling their employees back to the office or instituting a hybrid model, which involves a combination of time in the office and time working remotely. With the Delta variant taking over headlines in recent weeks, we’re back to more uncertainty on what’s the best work model during this time and how that extends beyond Covid. Some organizations are going remote again, while others are going back to the drawing board to redesign what the future of work looks like for their teams so they can try to get back some sense of operating normalcy even with the continued pandemic concerns. If all this back and forth leaves you a little dizzy, you’re not alone!

The uncertainty of this time – and frankly, the last 18 months – has left many employees wondering what’s right for them right now and left feeling as though what was once important to you pre-pandemic is maybe not as important today. Women left the workforce in record numbers in order to care for their families while in-person schooling and daycare were shut down. In fact, one in ten women report leaving their job during the pandemic, and female participation in the workplace is now at 57%, the lowest level since 1988 according to the National Women’s Law Center. While some are ready to go back to work when school is back in session, many aren’t ready to return to the daily in-person office life they had previously known. And this is true even for those who aren’t parents. Many of us are rethinking the where, how and when of work life – leading to what many are calling the Great Resignation.

So whether you’re more than ready to go back to the office, completely dreading it or somewhere in the middle, how do you decide what’s right for you? First off, it’s important to acknowledge that what you need now may be different from what you needed last year (or even last month!). Do you desire more flexibility in your working hours? Has your capacity for in-person gatherings diminished and you need more heads-down time? Do you still crave the face-to-face interactions you used to enjoy pre-Covid? These are just a few of the questions you can ask yourself during this time. Here are a few more to consider as you navigate the transition into your new future of work.

1 – How do you want to use your time? What will realistically work for you, your family/community and your lifestyle?

Research from our very own Science experts at Happy Money, Dr. Elizabeth Dunn and Chris Courtney, shows that people who prioritize time over money are happier than those who prioritize money over time. When you’re evaluating the kind of working environment that best suits your lifestyle and life stage, ask yourself, “How might this decision impact my time?” Does returning to the office also mean returning to a long commute you enjoyed avoiding the last 18 months? Or did you actually enjoy the decompression time where you could catch up on podcasts and phone calls with loved ones? Returning to the office also might require more in-person time than you’re prepared to give – or you might actually find working from home to be too challenging when it comes to setting boundaries around your working hours. 

Time is incredibly valuable – the way we spend the minutes and days of our lives shapes our happiness. So, when navigating the future of work, make sure it allows you to spend more time doing what you love – like enjoying lunch with your kids, taking walks around the neighborhood, connecting in-person conversations or whatever it is that brings you joy!

2 – What workplace model appeals to you most? 

Hybrid, virtual-first, digital-first, distributed, remote, flexible…oh my! There are now so many different workplace models and related terms floating out in the ether that it can be difficult to make heads or tails of what they even mean. “Hybrid” might seem obvious on the face of it – it typically includes a mix of in-person and remote work. But what mix exactly? “Virtual-first” and “digital-first” are other commonly used phrases that actually refer to hybrid models, but lean more heavily on the remote aspect of work versus the in-person. While a “flexible” workplace model might lean more toward in-person, office-based work. 

“Remote” is another that might seem obvious, but can be a bit confusing. Having a remote role typically means that you are remote from something – meaning that there is a central location (or locations) from which you are remote. This is potentially challenging given the inequities in career advancement that tend to take place when some people are in the office – and getting all that facetime! – and others are somewhat unseen in their remote environments. 

That’s why at Happy Money we chose a different path: “distributed-first.” This very purposeful term means we are open to where employees choose to work from – our HQ is in the cloud, not a physical location. They can choose what works best for them and their families and importantly, everyone is distributed. From our executive leadership team to our frontline support staff, everyone is on a level playing field. With distributed work, communication and culture are moved outside the boundaries of a physical location so that everyone is included and engaged, regardless of where they live. We saw the benefits of this model after several months of working from home after the initial shut down in March 2020. 

Of course, every model has its challenges. And a fully-distributed workforce may be tough for people who crave more face-to-face interactions or for those without enough space to allow for working from home comfortably. That’s why it’s important to consider what will work realistically for you, your family and your lifestyle – and to evaluate how your current or future potential employer will support you in your preferred workplace model.

3 – What kind of support are you looking for?

With that, here are some signs to look for that indicate the company has your best interest in mind: 

  • Benefits that support work-life harmony: At Happy Money, we offer a stipend for people to equip their home office, monthly mental health days (separate from PTO!), a free meditation subscription, flexible work hours and regular programming to help people with their physical, mental, family and financial wellness. When you’re speaking with a recruiter, be sure to ask about benefits beyond just health, vision and dental so you can get a truer sense for how the company treats its employees.
  • Teams that actually take PTO: Sure, unlimited PTO sounds great, but if leadership isn’t modeling taking time off, it could be harder for you to enjoy the rest you need. I’m extremely thankful that our entire executive leadership team prioritizes taking vacation and having time to rest and recharge. It makes it easier for others to do the same as we’ve modeled this as an important value to achieving true work-life harmony.
  • Mission and values that align with your own: Is the company’s mission clear? How does it live out its values? Evaluating the fit of a potential role goes beyond job responsibilities. Look for a company that has a clear vision and mission and walks the talk! At Happy Money, our values of Love (to care for), Trust (to believe in) and Hustle (to push forward) guide everything we do – and we’re deeply committed to co-creating the workplace experience together with our teams. So, as we designed our new future of distributed work, we detailed our guiding principles and shared them with our newly-distributed team. We’re continuing to experiment and iterate, and we’re honest and transparent about the process so that team members really feel the Love, can Trust leadership and help each other Hustle with a continuous growth mindset.
  • Community: Even if you prefer working from home or are pretty far on the introverted end of the spectrum, everyone still needs a sense of community – even, and perhaps especially, at work. What kind of personal and cross-functional interactions does the company facilitate? Do they offer virtual and/or in-person gatherings? For instance, at Happy Money, we have regular all-company meetings for strategic alignment and business operations, but we’ve also stood up guidelines in alignment with current CDC measures that support in-person gatherings for the purposes of relationship building. Although intentional and beautiful connections can be done virtually, we still believe in-person team time enhances relationships and builds strong foundations of trust. 
  • Asynchronous work: If you are looking for a more flexible working arrangement or fully distributed, ask questions about how work gets done asynchronously. Do you have to work set hours in order to align with other time zones? Does the company have a way of working asynchronously to allow for more flexibility? At Happy Money, we are moving away from a single time zone and towards being time zone inclusive. Whether it’s a scheduled shift or agreed upon core hours for a team, we are trying to balance collaboration with the flexibility of having flow time when it works best for the individual. 

So, if you’ve been called back to the office but decide in-person isn’t what you want your future to look like, what do you do? Or if you’re still navigating the changes and simply want more flexibility right now, how do you ask for it? Here are some great tips for asking for more WFH days – and my best piece of advice is to practice confidence daily! Be kind to yourself as you navigate this time. Stay connected to what you need, get enough rest and keep checking in with yourself. Remember, what you need today could shift down the road – and that’s okay.

And if you’re looking for a distributed company like Happy Money, keep an eye out for terms like “fully-distributed” versus just “remote.” And be sure to ask about how the company supports its distributed workforce since that makes all the difference. So what about you? What do you think is your next right step into your future of work?