When we wrote the first version of this article in the fall of 2020, the pandemic had pretty much just started. A lot of workplaces—including ours—were closed, or operating with a small onsite presence.
With many of us working from home, it was our first foray into experimenting with the hybrid workplace model—a scenario many of us assumed would be either transitional or short termed.
But after a few years of working either remotely or in a hybrid setting we have enough data collected to truly gauge the success of these workplace models. In fact, we have even recently learned that the share of workers in-office full time is actually shrinking, and hybrid work is growing.
The question now is, should we continue to operate in a hybrid environment, or is it time for us all to get back into the office?
What is a Hybrid workplace? And what does a hybrid work model look like?
Back in 2020, employers found themselves at a crossroads, trying to ensure employees had all the resources they needed to maintain their productivity (and sanity), while still hitting organizational goals. This paved the way for the hybrid workplace.
The hybrid workplace is defined as a business model combining remote work with office work. It may look different among organizations, but it typically includes the onsite presence of a core group, while others are free to come and go as they please, within reason.
It may be the same employees mandated to be onsite, or it could include a staggering of different people present on different days or times. Or, there may simply be specific days where employees are requested to attend in-person meetings.
The hybrid workplace generally allows employees the opportunity to fit work around their lives, rather than structuring work around fixed hours logged into an office. For many employees (and employers) it’s an optimal balance of productive work with reduced stress and less commuting.
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What do employees want?
A study by Boston Consulting Group revealed that 75 percent of employees who transitioned to or remained remote during the pandemic, are at least as productive in performing their individual tasks as they were before the pandemic struck. And about half report that they are at least as productive on collaborative tasks that normally would be performed in conference rooms.
While some organizations have now mandated employees to return full time, this hasn’t exactly worked out well. In a study conducted by Fortune with Momentive, almost 50% of workers who are still remote or hybrid say they will look for a new job if their employer forces them back to the office after the pandemic ends.
What are the benefits of a hybrid workplace?
A hybrid workplace prioritizes the employee, and encourages a stronger work-life balance. It is also a more economical workplace. With less reliance on large scale offices, organizations can save thousands of dollars in real estate and office maintenance costs.
Organizations offering a combination of in-person and remote employees will also have a larger talent pool to work with, as they will no longer be confined to hiring employees in specific geographical regions.
Additionally, many employees have discovered they are much more productive working from home. And the research exists to support this. One study found that people who worked from home were more productive and one-third less likely to quit than those who didn’t.
Finally, a hybrid workplace can reduce the spread of contagious viruses, as employees can choose to work from home if they are feeling unwell. With the pandemic behind us, this is a win for all of us during every cold and flu season.
The cons of a hybrid workplace model
As some critics have pointed out, the hybrid workplace model isn’t without its flaws. Not all of us have the luxury of quality internet access, designated home workspaces, or distraction free environments. And obviously remote work or hybrid work isn’t an option for frontline workers (check out this post on how to engage your frontline workers) like many employed by hospitals, factories, and law enforcement.
A hybrid environment may additionally put employees who cannot work in the office at a disadvantage of those that can. For example, consider a scenario where one employee is unable to attend an in-person meeting. Even if they join via video, there are potential side conversations they may miss out on.
There is also concern that employees ‘seen’ in the office will be viewed as providing greater output. Remote employees may feel passed up for opportunities because they are less visible than those who return to the office. This could be especially problematic if leadership are the ones present in the office. In other words the physical office should not hold more power than a remote office.
Equally important are the challenges associated with collaboration and communication. With two different experiences to manage, there is increased risk that one group may feel excluded in crucial conversations.
Such scenarios highlight the importance of a robust hybrid workplace plan and a hybrid workplace assessment. If not properly executed, a hybrid workplace could create a divide between those who work in the office and those who don’t.
How to implement a hybrid work environment
Leverage your intranet
The hybrid work environment may be new, but the challenges associated with connecting and communicating with employees aren’t. The good news is that these problems were solved a long time ago with intranet software.
Long before the pandemic, organizations around the world depended on their intranet to increase knowledge management, communication, innovation, efficiency, and resilience. Modern intranets take it one step further by automating a variety of business processes, like those involving paper forms.
Intranets also make it easy for communicators to understand if employees have read important announcements, as well as to instantly broadcast critical news to employee employees through their mobile phones.
Finally, intranet software enables asynchronous collaboration, so employees can stay focused and on-task.
Include your employees in the process
There is a greater chance your hybrid workplace initiative will be successful if employees feel included in the journey and related discussions. This could be accomplished through employee surveys and polls, where employees are asked for input on how they feel about returning to the workplace.
Don’t neglect your culture
A hybrid workplace requires the management of two distinct employee experiences, making it challenging to retain and grow a unified workplace culture. Again, it’s about investing an equal amount of effort into your at-home employees as your in-office employees. Virtual social hours, video town hall meetings, and the continued usage of online collaboration platforms can help keep all employees connected to your shared values and goals.
See how Hachette Book Group connected their remote employees throughout the pandemic
Consider a structured hybrid workplace
If a hybrid work environment isn’t for you, consider a structured hybrid workplace. A structured hybrid work environment allocates a set number of days that employees are required to be onsite. Typically, this involves 2-3 days within a week, with Tuesday as the most popular day, followed by Wednesday and Thursday.
The pandemic empowered us to reimagine the workplace, and the opportunities to optimize it. But for the hybrid workplace to be successful, it must be well planned and executed, and not treated as a novel experiment.
While the hybrid workplace may have seemed like an answer to a temporary problem, it’s really a solution for the future of work. It’s about finding ways to structure and balance work, safety, communication, and mental health.
This post was originally written in 2020 and revised for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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