The Different Models of Hybrid Work
Hybrid work and the hybrid workplace are now norms for many businesses across the United States. Although the movement toward hybrid work started pre-COVID-19, the pandemic accelerated the shift from office to remote.
Two recent surveys illustrate how employees have come to accept the hybrid work model. According to Prudential's Pulse of the American Worker survey, 47% of employees working remotely say if their company does not continue to offer remote opportunities, they will look for a new job at another company that does. A Gensler survey from 2020 found that while most employees look forward to returning to their offices, they also want their companies to continue to offer a hybrid workplace model.
Most Companies Recognize the Need for a Hybrid Workplace
To their credit, most companies have realized that office space is no longer the only option available to their employees. If they want to retain the best talent, they have to offer a hybrid workplace model.
An April 2022 survey by Envoy found that 77% of companies have adopted a hybrid work model with the “at will” hybrid workplace model being the most popular choice. Meanwhile, a McKinsey report from May 2021 found that 9 of 10 companies surveyed want to create a hybrid work solution.
It wasn’t that long ago that what attracted workers to companies were things like free snacks, a recreation area with ping-pong tables and relaxed dress codes. Now it’s a hybrid workplace.
CRM software firm (and Slack owner) Salesforce put it this way in a recent article: “The physical place where you sit while at work won’t matter really as much as cloud access and the online tools that connect you to your coworkers. Work won’t be somewhere you go, it’ll just be something you do.”
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The Different Models of Hybrid Work
Each company must decide the kind of hybrid work policy they will implement for their employees. Although there are several kinds of hybrid work models, what works for one company may not work for another. Those models include:
As the Envoy survey mentioned above showed, this is the most popular kind of hybrid work arrangement. In this model, employees choose which days they wish to work in the office and which days they want to work at home.
In a hybrid split-week model, companies assign specific days when employees work on site and when they can work at home or in another remote location. Depending upon their job requirements, individuals and teams may have different split weeks.
Team managers or supervisors decide which days the teams need to work from the office and which days their teams can work in a remote location.
Companies can use a combination of all three models depending upon the employees and the teams in question and their job functions.
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The Benefits of Hybrid Work
Hybrid work would not be so popular among employees and companies if it did not offer substantive benefits. Some of those benefits include:
No Need for 9-To-5
Some employees may enjoy starting work at five in the morning. Others may be nighthawks and do their best work beginning at eight in the evening. Some people may work best from home, and others may enjoy working at the local library or in a coffee shop. Others may work best with team members in an office setting. Hybrid work allows people the flexibility to do their most productive work.
Improved Work-Life Balance
Work-life balance is probably a fundamental reason employees prefer a hybrid workplace model. The Envoy survey mentioned that 63% of employees say a greater work-life balance makes them feel more empowered. The ability to deal with events that crop up in their personal lives — the need to pick up kids from school, being home when a service technician needs to come, picking up a car from a garage that’s only open until five — allow employees to integrate these events into their work schedules.
Tesla boss Elon Musk told his employees in June 2022 to return to the office, or he would fire them. That prompted Australian billionaire Scott Farquhar, co-founder of software company Atlassian, to say he would happily hire any of Musk’s disgruntled employees to work at his software company, which allows people to work from anywhere in the world. He later described Musk’s comments as “something out of the 1950s.”
The Australian's vision speaks more to the future of work. If your company is based in Boston and an employee works in San Francisco, it’s hard for them to stop into the office for a couple of days a week. However, there is no question that working with a more hybrid, remote work model gives your organization a competitive edge.
Reduced Chance of Spreading Illness
While the primary wave of COVID-19 may have ended, not a week goes by without news about new variants. With many employees already nervous about returning to office spaces, the hybrid work model allows for the flexibility of not having too many people in the office at one time. Combined with vaccinations for employees and visitors and enhanced cleaning precautions, employees will feel better about returning to the office when needed. Sick employees can stay at home, where they can work if they feel able.
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The Challenges of Hybrid Working
As companies move to a hybrid work model, there are challenges that come along with the benefits. Depending on which hybrid model workplace the company selects, the challenges will be wholly or slightly different. Those challenges include:
Finding the Right Hybrid Work Model
Along with the types of hybrid work mentioned above, companies can design and develop a model specific to their needs. The company may need to try different approaches until it finds the one that fits its needs the best.
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In the past, it might have been easier for IT security teams to protect workspaces in an office setting. Security becomes even more critical in a remote setting, where employees may use their own computers and software.
Basic security needs to include enabling multi-factor authentication, patching vulnerabilities as soon as possible, teaching employees how to beware of phishing emails, and ensuring security is tight in any virtual meeting. Some companies may wish their employees to use virtual private networks (VPN) for all work done in a remote location.
Managing Effectively in a Hybrid World
Perhaps the most challenging task for any manager or supervisor is managing employees working from a remote location. Managers need to ensure that office and remote workers have the same advancement opportunities. They should base their evaluations on work, not processes. They need to consider how they can reduce the isolation and disconnection that many employees feel when working remotely.
There is much to be said for the serendipity found in an office. Employees who gather in a lunch room or break space can bounce ideas off each other and come up with significant new projects. That can be sometimes hard in the world of communicating via Zoom's Brady Bunch squares.
However, new communication tools allow for the creation of virtual water coolers and other opportunities for employees to interact with each other and spark ideas off each other. Designing meeting spaces for people in remote locations helps create a robust hybrid work culture.
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What About the Office?
We can’t forget the other side of the hybrid work equation — the office. What will the office space look like as we increasingly move towards a hybrid work model where more employees work remotely at least two or three days a week?
The reality is some people will always want to work in the office. Working remotely may not be as attractive an option for them. They may have small children who consistently pull their attention away from work. They may have a roommate or bandwidth problems. Their need for the office will always remain strong.
The office will become a collaboration space where employees will meet to exchange ideas and work together on team projects that need in-person attendance. The new workspace will need to be designed to serve functions that will bring workers back into the office, such as a brainstorming room or rooms to meet clients and vendors.
What we thought of office space two or three years ago will be a completely different space in the next two or three years.
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As we emerge from the worst parts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are entering a new world of work, in many cases built on the model of hybrid work. It’s a world that offers both employees and employers benefits.
Employees have better work-life balance while employers need to spend less on costly real estate. Many companies are already considering moving offices to locations outside big centers like San Francisco or New York to smaller spots like Denver, Austin or Atlanta.
As companies adapt to the hybrid work model, the day will come when the word hybrid disappears and only the word work remains. New generations of workers entering the "office" won't even know that there used to be a difference.