When adtech firm InMobi surveyed its workforce to get a sense of what employees wanted from their Covid-impacted work environment, the response was clear. Over 75% of its workforce—2,000-strong and spread over 18 countries—prefer a hybrid model of work over coming in full-time once the pandemic recedes. The remaining 25%, the poll shows, want to only work remotely. 

“Almost 80% of those who are choosing the hybrid option are younger employees. Hybrid gives them the option to work from more exotic locations or just be closer home. We are encouraging that trend,” says Sahil Mathur, the global HR head for InMobi.

The biggest proponents of this are the pandemic cohort—the tribe of white-collar workers who’ve escaped the tyranny of the 9-to-5 work day, and are now too used to the freedom and flexibility of working from a location of their own choosing.

This new, dispersed normal, however, isn’t without its drawbacks. A newly appointed analytics expert in a large Indian bank tells The Ken that he’s slowly trying to make his way up the conversational ladder. He joined the bank a few months ago, just as the second wave of Covid was ravaging the country. Getting the new job wasn’t the hardest part. Fitting in while working remotely was the real challenge.

The analyst is yet to meet his team in person. “I’ve been trying to shift my conversations with them from just ”work-related” stuff to”work adjacent” stuff. I’m going to go for non-work topics next,” he says with a laugh, over a phone call. Time and a few mandated online activities are the only ice-breakers. The biggest miss is the lack of mentorship and direction that usually comes with a new job. “I miss just being able to walk up to my new boss with questions,” he says. 

The analyst isn’t alone. In a survey conducted by The Ken, which had over 2,000 respondents, nearly 91% of those who had started a new job in the last 1.5 years felt “disconnected” from their new work environment. Around 37.5% said they couldn’t really gauge their company’s culture online. The challenges—of remote joining, dreary orientations, and physically distant employees—do take a toll.

For InMobi, with its global sprawl of offices, online, distributed work was always part of its reality. The pandemic only cemented this way of working. But even in more traditional sectors like banking, real estate, and food processing, there is a desire to quickly move up the hybrid learning curve. “Flexible work is now a desired condition for joining. Without that option, 50-60% [of applicants to a job] will potentially reject an offer from the company,” says Prithvi Shergil, co-founder of Entomo and Smarten Spaces. The former is a Singapore-based employee performance platform, and the latter helps offices redesign to improve efficiency and optimise costs.