The Hybrid Work Model:
Welcome to the new way of working
Do you want staff back in the office or can they continue to work from home?
What about a mix of both? Hybrid work could be the best way forward for your organization.
Working from home was always a thing. But over the last 18 months it became a Very Big Thing. Now, as thoughts turn to a return to workplaces, there’s a new way of working on the minds of business leaders everywhere. Welcome to the world of hybrid work.
As businesses reopen their physical spaces, many employers are choosing to retain some level of remote working. According to a McKinsey survey, around 90% of organizations intend to combine remote and on-site working as part of their long-term plans.
Most employees now have an effective office set-up at home, and the pandemic has proved that remote work can be effective. But while remote workers have maintained productivity, they may have lost the sense of personal contact and connectedness they need to flourish. Hybrid work is a way to have it all – the autonomy of remote working and the social and cultural advantages of in-person contact.
But while it’s relatively easy to offer a hybrid model, making it work for your business requires a lot of thought and planning, as well as additional support for employees who may find the new decentralized, multi-space way of working difficult to navigate.
A recent report from Temporall says that "...the threat of a disconnected organization poses a real challenge," in a hybrid world. It also says, "the importance of listening and a supportive, trusting culture will play a critical role during these transitory periods - both for post-pandemic change and beyond - to ensure that an organization changes positively and for all."
So how can organizations get the balance right and be best positioned to succeed in a post-pandemic world?
What is the hybrid work model?
A hybrid work model offers the best of both worlds – a mix of on-site and remote working. For instance, an employee could work from home three days a week and spend two days in the office. Or there may be specific days where leaders expect staff members to attend in-person meetings. This kind of arrangement allows employees to retain the flexibility they've enjoyed when working from home yet still have those vital face-to-face connections with colleagues that are so important for collaboration and well-being.
Hybrid work is slightly different from a hybrid team, where some of the group work on-site together some or all of the time while others are fully remote.
Let’s take a look at the different types of the hybrid work model:
This is where anyone who has the tools to work remotely is allowed to do so most of the time. Most organizations adopted the remote-first model at the start of the pandemic when it was considered unsafe to travel on public transport and mix with people outside your household. And some of them, including Shopify and Upwork, have said they'll stick with the remote-first model even after the pandemic begins to recede.
Businesses continue to work remotely and seek to take advantage of in-person meetings and employee team-building that a workplace environment can nurture. In this model, employees come into the office for one or two days a week, allowing them to chat with co-workers and attend important team meetings face to face.
Where organizations prefer that most people work from the office, although they still offer a remote policy. Some employees have the freedom to work from home as and when they need to, but it's not actively encouraged.
Why hybrid work?
For a while now, hybrid work has been growing in popularity thanks to faster internet, cloud collaboration tools, and a greater emphasis on promoting a healthy work-life balance. But it only really came into its own during the pandemic in the urgency for businesses everywhere to sever the ties of traditional working.
Although not every organization can adopt a hybrid model, it's becoming the dominant way of working in some sectors like finance and tech. Major brands like Facebook, Microsoft, PwC and KPMG are among the companies now embracing hybrid work.
Jon Holt, chief executive at KPMG UK, says: “We trust our people. Our new way of working will empower them and enable them to design their own working week. The pandemic has proven it’s not about where you work, but how you work.”
Working from home has many benefits that employees don't want to lose. So much so that it's becoming increasingly important for organizations to offer hybrid working to attract and retain talent. In fact, 30% of employees say they would consider switching jobs if their organization returned to entirely on-site work after the pandemic.
We've yet to see how the hybrid work model will play out in the long term. Policies, practices and collaboration technology will evolve as organizations find their feet with it. But it's a fair assumption that going into the workplace just for the sake of it will no longer be a necessary part of working life.
What are the advantages of hybrid work?
A well-thought-out hybrid work model can be great for collaboration, productivity and employee satisfaction. Reasons for adopting a hybrid model include:
Public health Covid restrictions, including social distancing, are still in place in many countries, and there is still a lot of anxiety about returning to offices. Hybrid work makes it possible to have some office presence while helping people feel safe. This is particularly critical for people with compromised immune systems or those caring for them. A hybrid workplace can also reduce the spread of illness as employees can choose to work from home if they don’t feel well.
1. Improved work-life balance By offering hybrid working, you’re giving staff the chance to achieve a better work-life balance, with reduced stress, less commuting and more time for activities other than work. More than 50% of employees say they’d like to work remotely at least some of the time,
2. With many preferring a hybrid working pattern because it gives them the freedom to choose where they feel most comfortable working.
3. Wider talent pool If your organization offers a combination of in-person and remote working, you’ll be able to cast your talent net wider and attract people who otherwise would not have applied for a job with you. It means you’ll no longer be confined to hiring employees in the local area. Someone who lives further afield may want to work for you if they only have to be physically in the office, say, one day a week or just for meetings.
Greater productivity Even before the pandemic hit, evidence suggested that remote working could boost productivity because of fewer distractions at home. Employers can see the benefits too. After adopting remote working practices during the pandemic, many business leaders saw that their organizations were at least as productive as before.
Employee satisfaction Hybrid working is popular with employees because of the flexibility to work outside the office at least some of the time. Some people prefer the buzz of being in the office, whereas others like the solitude of being at home. Hybrid work can provide the right employee experience for both groups. It also brings opportunities for collaborative working, which can boost morale and a feeling of togetherness.
Savings on office costs Remote working reduces the need for office space, saving organizations a lot of money, both in terms of office size and the cost of maintaining the building. Savings on utilities like heating and air-conditioning, as well as printing and stationery, can be substantial.
A huge opportunity to change culture If there is a silver lining to the past couple of years, it's that the pandemic has brought about a positive shift in the mindset towards a work-from-anywhere culture. It's shown that business leaders can trust most people to work on their own initiative and, in many cases, has cultivated more caring relationships between managers and their teams. A hybrid workplace can also help build a resilient culture by preparing you for future disruptions. With many employees already working from home, you can easily go back to a fully remote operation if necessary.
What are the challenges of hybrid work?
While the hybrid workplace model seems to strike the right balance, it’s not without its flaws. Challenges of adopting a hybrid model include:
Mismatch in expectations of hybrid work Broadly speaking, employers are keener for staff to return to work in person than employees. That disconnect is made clear in a recent report by McKinsey. More than three-quarters of senior executives surveyed say they expect the typical ‘core’ employee to be back in the office at least three days a week. But nearly three-quarters of employees say they would like to work from home for two or more days a week, and 52% want at least three days of remote working.
Difficulties in maintaining relationships Being in a hybrid team is a bit like being in a long-distance relationship. It requires trust, regular contact and a lot of determination to make it work. When people are working together all the time, it’s relatively easy to collaborate, give feedback, get help, participate in meetings and build solid foundations within teams. And when everyone is working remotely, people become familiar with virtual collaboration and know to stay in touch with regular check-ins and virtual chats. But when teams are split, a disconnect can develop between those in the office and those at home.
Lack of spontaneous interaction Many people enjoy the random chats that happen in the workplace. Remote employees can feel they miss out on office culture, spontaneous communication and team activities. Being there in person makes it easier to interact with each other, have instant catch-ups and socialize after work. Many of the challenges hybrid teams face come down to ease of connection.
Having to engage hybrid teams in new ways Keeping remote workers engaged can be hard work and time-consuming – which is why some leaders perhaps don’t give it as much attention as they should. Previously, you could walk around the office, notice body language and problem-solve when needed. Now, it’s much harder to pick up on people’s emotions if you can’t see them in person. There’s a risk that disillusionment will fester unless you find ways to recreate the office culture at home..
Imbalance in the way off-site and on-site workers are treat Rightly or wrongly, people sometimes feel that on-site workers get preferential treatment to remote workers. Leaders may view employees 'seen' in the office as more dedicated and give them more support. Remote workers may feel overlooked for training and promotion opportunities because they're less visible than those in the office.
Harder for new recruits to learn from more experienced staff This is one of the biggest challenges of hybrid working. New hires can find it very difficult to learn the ropes if they only spend limited time with colleagues in the office. Not only that, forming bonds with co-workers is much harder if they don’t have any in-person interaction. This can lead to feelings of isolation and frustration.
Impact on culture The sense of belonging in an organization may not be as strong as when people are there all the time. Remote workers can feel less connected, out of the loop and like they can’t contribute as much, ultimately feeling like they don’t really fit in. All team members need to feel invested in the success of each other and the business.
The hybrid work environment
When you’re managing a hybrid work environment, there are a few things to think about that you might not have had to consider before. One of the major ones is the physical space. If, for example, you have 150 employees in total, you won’t need a building that can accommodate all of them at the same time.
Some employees might only work in the office on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, while others may come in for a weekend shift, so you can use a hot desking system instead. It’s essential to get an accurate understanding of when people will be in the building so you find the right space for your needs. Facebook offices in some countries, for example, are open at 10% but accepts requests for people to be in-office via an online form with a 1-2 week turnaround time for approval.
Many organizations are now completely reimagining their physical work environment to function better with hybrid work. Modern offices are becoming more of a flexible space for collaboration and team building rather than a formal full-time workplace with rows of desks.
Your set-up could include having more social spaces so people can make the most of collaborating when they’re on-site. Another idea is to have hubs where people can meet clients and meeting rooms fully equipped for physical and virtual meetings. Some companies are also investing in new touchless technology to replace surfaces like buttons and handles to address Covid health concerns.
How to do hybrid work
Simply telling people they can split their time between home and the office and hoping it will all be fine won’t cut it. You’ll need to develop a solid hybrid workplace strategy. Here are some things to think about to help you get it right.
Transparency in hybrid work policies
Put policies in place that clearly outline what’s expected of your workforce. If some staff are allowed to work remotely but others aren’t, people need to know the rationale behind this decision to avoid conflict and resentment. Questions to answer include:
how many days should people be on-site?
what work is done better in person than virtually?
should certain members of staff be in the office at the same time for meetings and collaboration?
It’s important to get feedback on new policies and make tweaks as you move forward until you’ve found a hybrid model that works best for you.
Hybrid work schedule
Just like many businesses have rotas for different shift patterns, consider the same for your hybrid workers. This can avoid employees always being on-site with the same people or being in the office on their own when everyone else is working from home.
As well as showing where employees are working, rotas can help you see what people are working, so everyone is in the loop. Alternatively, you could use shared calendars, so they know when people plan on being in the office.
Team leaders can optimize schedules based on what type of work is better suited to the office or home environment. Asynchronous tasks are the ones you can complete without input from others, like data entry or putting together a solo presentation. These are ideal for doing at home, where people can schedule large blocks of uninterrupted time. Synchronous tasks, on the other hand, are better suited to an office environment. These are jobs that require group collaboration, brainstorming, chat or creativity.
Trust is the bedrock of any hybrid workplace. Even after the success of home working during the pandemic, some managers still think that remote workers take advantage of their freedom and regularly slack off. Managers need to trust those working remotely to get their work done without micromanaging.
Gartner research shows that employees who feel trusted are 76% more engaged than those in workplaces with low levels of trust. Learning to let go can create an altogether calmer working environment, especially for remote workers who often feel they have to put in more hours to prove they're working hard. That said, you do still need to check in with them regularly to make sure they're happy.
Communicating with remote workers is different from those on-site and may need more thought. You might need more frequent check-ins to see how people are coping with working from home and if they need any extra support, whether that's more IT, a better chair or mindfulness guidance. It might be helpful to carry out regular pulse surveys and 'ask-me-anything' sessions that give you instant feedback on employee engagement and morale in a hybrid working environment. Show that you welcome honesty and expressions of vulnerability and that everyone has a voice.
Give some careful thought to inclusivity and how teams can work together seamlessly in a hybrid set-up. It's vital not to add to existing inequalities by sidelining those who mainly work remotely, for example, carers, working mothers and people with disabilities. There is often an unconscious bias against home workers, so make sure they're given the same opportunities and feel as valued as those who return to the office.
Managers should also pay particular attention to onboarding new recruits so they don’t feel left out and unable to forge relationships with their co-workers. Initially, it might be a good idea for them to spend most of their time on-site sitting next to colleagues who can mentor them and answer any questions they might have, making sure they feel included in your new, hybrid workplace.
6 Best Practices for Any Hybrid Workforce Model
The world of work looks different now. Things have forever changed, though employers are still wondering just what that means. One thing that has become increasingly clear, though, is that the hybrid workforce model will be a mainstay for personnel organizations, for many types of companies large and small.
As we try to imagine the office of the future, the one thing we don’t see — and likely will never see again – is entirely co-located employees. Physical distancing protocols virtually eliminate cost-effective use of space.
Long before the pandemic, we were familiar with distributed teams. Employees worked from multiple offices regionally or around the world. In recent years, some remote employees may also have worked from home. But where you worked was the same every day. COVID-19 forced previously hesitant employers to accept work-from-home as an option, and even back in May 86% said they had gained confidence in this alternative.
Nonetheless, HR professionals worried that a move toward remote working would make it harder to evaluate job candidates and assess ongoing productivity, due to lack of face-to-face communication. By now, presumably, everyone is comfortably conversant with video conferencing and other team-building tools that do provide some measure of face time.
So now, we are talking about the hybrid workplace, but definitions are a bit hazy. Some refer to any situation that includes remote as well as in-office workers to be “hybrid.” Others, however, say a truly hybrid environment is one in which employees have the option to work in-office or remotely, depending on their preference or the day’s needs. In this case, you might have some employees who mostly or always work at the office, others who are always “away,” and some who roam in and out.
A hybrid model offers numerous benefits for employers and staff:
Keep employees and visitors safe when they need to be together – fewer people on hand makes distancing and cleaning easier, and stringent protocols emphasize the company’s concern for employee health and well-being
Accommodate individual employee preferences for work location
Hire a truly global workforce
Monetary savings – employers can reduce office-scapes and associated overhead, employees who don’t have to commute save on transportation, etc.
Agility to adjust smoothly to changing COVID rules – for example, if new quarantine or other rules are mandated
Help protect companies from potential legal liability that might result from unnecessarily exposing employees or visitors to the virus
And who knows? Maybe you’ll want to go whole-hog after all. In the words of one industry organization, “The best time to go all-remote is as soon as nobody is showing up to the office anymore!” Of course, that’s not an option for every business. Some still require a brick-and-mortar presence. On the other hand, it’s not something to reject outright, either. Things are changing, and your firm may well learn from going hybrid that remote works surprisingly well in more ways that you thought. It’s merely a matter of degree. Meanwhile, you have to start somewhere.
Best Practices for Going Hybrid
1. Get Up to Speed with Digital Transformation
One of the biggest hurdles for employers as stay-at-home orders hit was the lack of technology needed to support remote workers. Unless you already had a system in place, you instantly realized that you needed new tools to connect your scattered employees — tools to communicate, collaborate as teams, and share resources such as work products. Embracing cloud-based operations is mission-critical. With the right technology in place, you are ready to go hybrid.
2. Revising the Office
This requires some serious thinking. One ultimate benefit of going hybrid is reduction in expensive office space, but whatever space you retain has to work efficiently in order to work effectively. Ask yourself:
How many people do we need to accommodate every day? Are there ways to reduce that, say with staggered shifts?
How many people might we need to accommodate (for instance, when someone comes in to work for the day)?
Do we have no-longer-needed gathering space (lunch or break rooms, etc.) that could be redesigned for working instead to help with distancing?
What kind of meeting spaces will we need to accommodate onsite and/or remote employees for meetings, collaborative sessions, and so on? (Hint: the more versatile your spaces, the more valuable they will be.)
How you outfit your redesigned spaces is crucial. Technology that supports hybrid working includes multiple types of software tools, but you’ll need the right equipment to facilitate use of those tools. Think in terms of video conferencing, interactive whiteboards, and simple tools such as the Meeting Owl, a device that sits on a conference table and pivots 360o to face the person who is speaking, so remote meeting participants can always see each other.
3. Cleanliness Takes on a Whole New Meaning
In the past, the janitorial crew typically showed up after hours and the office was vacuumed and tidy again when everyone arrived for work the next morning. Now, cleaning is everyone’s responsibility, and it involves more than emptying the trash.
According to current CDC guidelines, “It is unknown how long the air inside a room occupied by someone with confirmed COVID-19 remains potentially infectious.” However, recent news reports indicate the virus may be present longer than initially believed. This means that, should someone test positive for the virus, you will have to thoroughly disinfect any space that person occupied (and the HVAC system) before the area can be used again.
4. Other CDC Recommendations for Employers
Work closely with local and state health officials to understand and follow COVID-related guidelines and protocols
Develop policies and train employees on new cleaning requirements, including whether and when PPE is required and, if so, how to use it properly
Teach employees how to recognize COVID-19 symptoms, and develop a mandatory reporting protocol
5. Don’t Neglect the People Aspects
Appearances and perceptions can make or break your move to hybrid. Experts recommend:
Be sure managers and C-level employees work remotely at least part of the time, even if they are headquartered in the office. Otherwise, it might appear (and rightly so) that those who do choose to work in the office have better access to decision-makers for work issues as well as prospective career support.
Review your compensation policies and benefits package carefully to ensure equal opportunities exist no matter where employees work. You don’t want to inadvertently create different classes of workers.
6. Just Roll with It . . . Flexibility Is the New Zen
Hybrid staffing solutions can offer tremendous benefits for employers as they navigate into the future of work. That said, we still don’t know what will happen next with COVID-19, though clearly it will be with us for some time to come. Employers will have to keep adjusting their staffing and working environments to meet virus-related requirements.
But this is also an excellent opportunity for employers to experiment with options, teaming up with employees to find solutions that work uniquely for your business and internal culture. As such, it has the ability to bring employers and employees together as never before – perhaps not face-to-face, but side by side in their efforts to create a more productive and satisfying workplace.