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 two years it became a Very Big Thing. Now, as thoughts turn to a return to workplaces and the future of work, 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.
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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." 1
So how can organizations get the balance right and be best positioned to succeed in a post-pandemic world?
What is hybrid work?
Hybrid work 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 wellbeing.
The 3 types of hybrid work models
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:
1. Remote first
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.
2. Office occasional
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.
3. Office first
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:
1. 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.
2. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.5 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 treated
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.
6 tips to get hybrid work right
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.
1) 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.
2) 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.
3) Task allocation
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.
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