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Could the Future of Work Be Hybrid?

November 02, 2020 Digital Workplace
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

The decision to shift to remote work was forced upon many organizations. Some decided to run with the idea and go completely remote and others that had been remote simply doubled down on their efforts. Many others are still weighing what happens next when a return to the office becomes viable. 

According to CNBC, Google will test a hybrid work-from-home model whereby employees won’t be required to return to the office full time. This comes in the wake of a report showing 62% of their employees want to return to the office, though not permanently. 

Given the implications of choosing to go fully remote, returning fully to the office or somewhere in between, businesses should grapple fully with the potential advantages and drawbacks of the hybrid work model.

Plan for Potential Bottlenecks in Hybrid Work

Creating a hybrid model that balances remote and in-office work comes with issues that need to be overcome. According to Sagi Gidali, co-founder and CPO of Perimeter 81, a cybersecurity SaaS service company based in Tel Aviv, Israel, organizations should have a plan to support waning employee productivity, sagging work satisfaction and decreased transparency.

While those are significant challenges, they're not insurmountable. “Hybrid on-premises/remote environments can encourage better communication to hit all three birds with one stone,” he said.

How businesses utilize office space is also a key consideration for the hybrid work model, said Brian Haines, vice president of strategy at digital workplace solutions company FM Systems.

“Hybrid office environments require not only a mix of assigned versus reservable space but also require a proper mix of 'we' versus 'me' space,” he said.

That distinction is especially important as organizations weigh the needs of their business and their employees. We space is collaborative and should support ad-hoc gatherings, small meetings and collaborative working sessions which are often not held in conference rooms or other enclose spaces, Haines said. Me space is important when an employee needs to perform solitary work, and should include options reserved, semi-private workstations to enclosed quiet individual office space.

"Getting the right mix of types of space with flexibility in mind is key to the success of the hybrid office space and will often require updates to be performed to your current physical office layout,” Haines said. 

The way teams interact, whether on-site or remote is also something which needs to be factored into planning. “It’s important that there is a shared interface between on-premises and remote teams where they can immediately understand the state of their department and individual responsibilities,” said Gidali. 

Gidali also highlighted the tools that needs to be considered in this shared environment to address potential bottlenecks. “For example, streamlining IT’s more complex network access duties with a company-wide single sign-on platform, or onboarding BI data into a reporting platform, used by employees to generate their own reports rather than opening yet another ticket,” he said.

Related Article: Building a New Model for Remote Work

The Advantages of a Hybrid Model

Despite the number of factors which businesses need to consider, there are important benefits of the hybrid model. “Streamlined remote work also makes employees more productive, which comes from the satisfaction of being able to live their lives and work in tandem without the two worlds colliding in stressful ways," Gidali said. Benefits include improved employee retention and lowers office costs. 

Many companies can also benefiti from more access to talent. “We have expanded our hiring criteria and are now hiring Drifters from all over the country -- not just where we have offices," said Dena Upton, chief people officer at Drift, a software platform for personalized customer experiences. "Moving forward, HR teams can lean on remote work as a permanent fixture of talent acquisition long after our return to the workplace.” 

Despite remote work being forced upon some, Upton believes businesses will reap the benefits in the future. “We’re all much more comfortable with remote work now than we were six months ago, and behaviors are shifting as a result," she said. "This new exposure and comfort with remote work will lead companies to embrace the global talent pool." 

The advantages of the hybrid remote work model extend to the office as well. The hybrid work environment provides flexibility to allow for a mix of different styles of work as the needs of office space change in the future, Haines said. "Many organizations are rapidly adopting more flexible work from home policies, and a hybrid work environment is absolutely necessary to ensure that the proper type and amount of reservable space is available to employees who may be frequenting the office at somewhat irregular intervals,” he said. 

Related Article: Companies Grapple with the Return to Work Decision

Overcoming the Drawbacks of Hybrid Work

Many of the drawbacks of remote work stem from less human interaction or difficulty with tools and communication. What seems to be an advantage initially can end up being a disadvantage, according to Gidali.

“Just the fact that much of the office is remote also causes a host of problems for IT, which need to be headed off before the transition as well. Otherwise, remote access and solutions get in the way of work more than they enable it,” he said.

Upton added that a hybrid reality means some employees can also miss out on the essential team-building opportunities that occur in an office environment through spontaneous meetings and desk-side visits during the day. "The remote working environment must be more intentional than it was before, and this is something that we’re all still learning to do,” she said.

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