Where and how we work has undergone a rapid transformation in the last two years. Fueled by continued uncertainty regarding the pandemic, a shortage in skills, and in response to demand from individuals for the ability to work from anywhere, many organizations have adopted policies for permanent hybrid work and for managing hybrid working environments.
The Accenture Future of Work Study 2021 revealed that, “A majority of workers (83%) prefer a hybrid work model, but a variety of factors influence their ability to thrive, whether they’re onsite or off.” The same study noted that “63% of high-growth companies have already adopted a “productivity anywhere” workforce model.”
Similarly, a recent Gallup poll on remote work trends found that “91% of workers in the U.S. working at least some of their hours remotely are hoping their ability to work at home persists after the pandemic,” and that “Hybrid work is most preferred.”
There are a number of variations of hybrid work models, and organizations need to recognize that hybrid work environments may impact their teams in different ways, including employee work-life balance. Choosing hybrid work models that optimize productivity and also allow their employees and culture to thrive is critical to success.
What is hybrid work?
The idea of hybrid work has expanded over the last two years to encompass various combinations of in-office and remote work. Typically, hybrid work models support employees’ ability to decide how to combine in-office and remote work hours. However, some organizations are creating policies determining more precise in office schedules, such as working in the office a set number of days per week or per month.
Regardless of the specifics of the model, to be successful and sustaining, hybrid work must be able to support not only productivity but also collaboration, employee engagement, and inclusivity. Some other key challenges that organizations need to address with hybrid work policies include ensuring the security of devices, connections, and collaborations; creating a new corporate culture; and making sure remote employees feel connected and part of their workplace team.
What are the different hybrid work models?
Management consultants, workplace, human resource and other industry experts are defining several different types of hybrid work models. In a recent report on the continuing transformation of the workplace, Deloitte notes, “Digital workplaces must serve not only as the primary workplace for remote workers but also effectively and productively serve hybrid and on-site workers at the same time.”
While hybrid and remote work was already in place at some organizations prior to the pandemic, for some organizations, hybrid work was a completely new experience. Now that hybrid working models must be sustainable permanently, policies and procedures need to be created and implemented for all levels and roles. This includes delineating guidelines and policies for all employees, including leadership, executives, knowledge workers, sales teams, and customer-facing teams such as support desks and staff members.
It's crucial to create policies that maintain flexibility but also ensure that expectations and structures are set. Whatever model organization chooses needs to support the structure and be well organized and support all of their workforce. It is imperative that hybrid and remote work policies are clearly written and communicated to all employees.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common hybrid work models below.
The remote-first model
With the Remote-First Model, the majority of the organization’s workforce are doing their jobs remotely or virtually. Work can be done from anywhere without any geographical limitations. In this time of challenging skills gaps, organizations can benefit from the ability to attract, acquire, and retain talent from anywhere.
An article in Inc. recently outlined the key differences between “remote-first” and “remote-friendly.” The article states, “It's the difference between empowering employees to work remotely and merely allowing them to work remotely. There's also a big operational difference as remote-first companies build their processes, systems, and culture around remote workers (rather than in-office workers) first.”
With the remote-first model, organizations must implement specific policies, processes and procedures to optimize success. GitLab, an early adopter of the remote-first model, proposes that with remote-first, there needs to be “a deliberate, org-wide approach to pressure test culture, values, and workflows to guarantee that every element serves first the distributed workforce and not the vestiges of office-first workflows … In the virtual-first workplace, everyone from top to bottom (and especially leadership) should ideally be out of the office.”
Building the optimal digital workplace is key for hybrid and remote work success, including collaboration and communication. In addition, with the remote-first model, all work and employee-related processes must be addressed – including hiring, interviewing, onboarding, mentoring, training, and assessments.
Many organizations whose employees worked in the office prior to the pandemic transitioned to an all-remote model in the last two years. Large enterprises that moved to remote-first include Twitter, Upwork, Shopify, Pinterest, GitLab, and BaseCamp.
The office-occasional model
The office-occasional model means that employees primarily work remotely while working in the office from time to time. However, what the model looks like in practice may vary widely from company to company. Organizations can create an office-occasional model that allows employees the flexibility to work the way they prefer. For example, in some organizations, employees only travel to the office once or twice a month for collaborative work, or in-person meetings. At other companies, employees have the option to work in the office more often.
The office-occasional model represents a middle ground solution between remote-first and office-first models. However, because the model can vary so widely, organizations must create specific policies and clearly communicate them to their employees so that they understand the expectations.
The office-occasion model can provide a lot of flexibility for individuals who prefer to work remotely the majority of the time. However, some organizations use this model to implement mandatory days in the office according to a recent article in Autonomous.ai. There are many ways to implement this type of hybrid model. For example, at some companies, employees are expected to work in the office on specific days, for example, every other Monday, or every Tuesday and Thursday.
The office-first model
With the Office First model, the organization’s office locations remain the main workplace while employees have the option of working remotely. Office-first can vary in flexibility
- “In the office-first hybrid workplace model, the office serves as the primary workspace. However, employees get the choice of working remotely. Companies can designate specific teams to work from the office to avoid confusion, while the rest can stay remote.” [source]
The benefits of a hybrid working environment
Organizations of all sizes and in various industries are clearly seeing the benefits of implementing hybrid working environments. What initially started as a temporary fix due to the nationwide lockdown in the early days of the pandemic has become a permanent option for many large enterprises. In particular, organizations that employ many knowledge workers are finding it easier to fill positions or find individuals with specific skill sets if they have a hybrid work option in place. The opportunity to work in a hybrid work environment is now considered an appealing company perk that can attract and retain talent.
Along with offering a flexible and versatile option for employees, some of the other main benefits of hybrid work models include the following:
Creates a better work-life balance
Employees are finding that they have a better work life balance when working for an organization with a hybrid model that allows them to work from home part of the time. Individuals are finding it easier to spend more time on desirable activities and have the flexibility to schedule priorities such as self-care into their day. The remote or hybrid work option also helps part-time caregivers who also need to work more flexibility.
Employees experience less stress when a long commute is eliminated or reduced. Many individuals find they’re more productive on the days they work remotely. Employees also save on expenses related to commuting and work travel.
Creates more team-building opportunities
A hybrid working environment creates team building opportunities even with colleagues who work in a completely different location or office. The most successful remote team building activities are engaging and typically feature video conferencing for face-to-face communication.
When an organization is exclusively hybrid, it’s important for them to create deliberate team building and mentoring opportunities that are inclusive to their remote-only employees and teams.
Allows employees to work when most productive
Hybrid employees have flexibility to work autonomously and work at the times that work best for them. With asynchronous work, remote employees can take advantage of the flexibility and work at their optimal times of day. Hybrid work offers a balance of in-person collaboration and interaction with remote work activities.
- Attracting talent. One of the main lessons learned over the last two years is that people want to be able to choose how and where they want to work. A recent global survey from Deloitte found that, “More than half (54 percent) of employees surveyed from around the world would consider leaving their jobs post-COVID-19 pandemic if they are not given some form of flexibility in where and when they work.” Hybrid work options make it possible for organizations to attract more talent and skills. With remote work, organizations also aren’t restricted to a particular geographical location to hire talent. They can hire anyone from anywhere.
- Cost savings for organizations. Organizations are cutting their office space and real estate budgets by moving even to a partially remote staff. When less office space is needed, they are also reducing other overhead expenses.
- Supports sustainability. Because organizations are using less energy, hybrid work may lower the carbon footprint of some companies, as Flexjobs recently stated.
How does a hybrid model impact productivity?
Employees value hybrid work for a number of reasons. As Accenture observed, “It brings together the best of both worlds. Those who had a hybrid work model during COVID-19 had better mental health, stronger work relationships and were more likely to feel Net Better Off ... They also experienced less burnout than those who worked entirely onsite or entirely remotely.”
Hybrid work and remote work options give individuals more control over their schedules and the ability to work from anywhere supports the concept of the digital nomad lifestyle that many people have embraced in the last few years. Overall, many people find that there is less stress when they can work from anywhere. Less stress generally means people are more productive. Remote workers are also finding new and innovative ways to collaborate with their team members no matter where they’re located.
To obtain the full benefits and advantages from a hybrid work environment, organizations need to make sure they’re creating clear and detailed guidelines for success.
How to implement a hybrid work model
Organizations must create and follow guidelines for their hybrid work models. Then, they are responsible to clearly communicate the procedures and expectations of the environment to their employees.
To be effective and successful, hybrid models must have the following characteristics:
- Must be inclusive, flexible, equitable
- Must embrace a hybrid work culture starting from leadership down
- Digital workplace must be safe and secure with advanced technology to create best experiences for all workers
With these parameters in mind, organizations can take the following steps to develop and implement a hybrid work model to meet the needs of their employees and their business.
Step 1: Determine what employees need
Companies need to take into account employee preferences and needs. Without listening to their employees, organizations risk a wave of employees leaving for companies with more flexible hybrid work policies.
But organizations are also responsible for fully supporting their employees and making sure they all have an optimal experience. This includes providing the right high-quality technology and security for their employees. Companies must support and provide technology to make sure hybrid work model is optimal for all employees
Step 2: Create clear policies and procedures
Companies may decide to use one hybrid model or a combination of models. Regardless of the model or models chosen, the organization must clearly communicate policies and expectations to employees. If their model involves in-office requirements, they may consider adding some flexibility to the model.
Procedures for security must be part of the hybrid work model, as CPO Magazine stated in a discussion on cybersecurity for remote employees. For example, many organizations are implementing zero trust security for all employees no matter where they are working. Organizations have the responsibility to protect their internal data, their employee and customer data and information, as well as identities, content, and other information.
Step 3: Make office communication easy
In a hybrid work environment, employees need multiple ways and opportunities to collaborate and communicate with teams and leaders. The organization should provide technology to make it easy to hold face-to-face conversations with video conferencing for team meetings or training. It’s best to choose technology solutions that also integrate with other tools including Slack, Microsoft Teams, and offer shared calendars and planning options. It’s important to make sure that remote workers always feel connected and have the same opportunities as their hybrid or in-office colleagues.
Step 4: Train employees on the hybrid working model
All employees, whether they are new hires or just new to remote/hybrid work need to be trained so their work experiences are effective, engaging, and productive. Some innovative organizations are creating onboarding programs to introduce their current employees to remote and hybrid work best practices for success.
Step 5: Ensure employees have tools needed to succeed
It’s critical to ensure that all employees know exactly how to use digital workplace technology so they can succeed. Organizations are responsible for making sure they’re implementing everything needed for a successful digital workplace, including devices, digital tools, and other technology solutions. They need to ensure that their remote only employees have access to these same solutions.
How to know if a hybrid work model is right for your office
Organizations of all sizes are adopting permanent hybrid work models. But certain models may work better at some organizations than others. For industries that employ a large number of knowledge workers, the remote-first hybrid model was in place even before the pandemic.
But even organizations that viewed remote work as a temporary solution, can’t ignore the benefits for companies and the workforce. With the persistent talent shortages that are challenging many firms, organizations may find it necessary to offer a permanent hybrid work option to stay competitive and retain talent. This means adapting to the evolving work model. As Salesforce cautioned, “In a business climate where nine out of 10 companies plan to adopt a hybrid workplace model, companies must reinvent the processes and tools they previously relied on — such as in-person meetings, company-wide emails, and strategy offsites — to adapt to the digital age.”
The way we work has likely been changed permanently. The most successful and optimal hybrid work models offer employees flexibility and support multiple ways of working and collaboration for today’s circumstances. Company procedures must acknowledge their employees’ need for work-life balance and must ensure their remote only workers are fully supported.
Organizations that implement hybrid work models need to embrace a work culture centered on employee engagement, well-being, and allows for feedback, assessments, and opportunities, no matter where they are working.