The forced experiment in remote work that was brought on by Covid-19 has shown organizations around the world the benefits - and challenges - of decentralized workforces. For many, this has been a successful experiment, and opened the door to employees working remotely on a permanent basis. For others, it’s been a challenge that can’t end soon enough. To help manage these varying opinions around where and how people should work, many organizations are adopting a hybrid workplace model.
This article will explore the concept of a hybrid workplace, and offer advice for how to organize your team around a combination of remote and in-office work.Let’s get started!
What is a hybrid workplace?
The concept of a hybrid workplace has catapulted into mainstream consideration, due largely to the “genie out of the bottle” effect of last year’s rapid shift to remote work. This movement is a reflection of a growing desire among work forces to have more balance and flexibility in their lives.
Hybrid work forces accomplish this by offering a combination of remote and in-office work. There are many different models for a hybrid workforce (which we’ll get to later) but in general it allows employees to spend some time in the office, and some time at home. Alternatively, there might be a large contingent within a team that works entirely remotely - by choice - while others work entirely in office - also by choice.
How a hybrid workforce is structured depends a lot on the:
- Location of the company offices
- Location of the employees
- Flexibility of management
- Needs, goals, and wants of the employees
- Nature of the work being done
While the logistics of hybrid workplaces will inevitably vary from organization to organization, the underlying principle is the same. Employees want to be able to work where and when they feel most productive. By making the appropriate adjustments and accommodating this desire, organizations are in a position to improve not only the lives of their employees, but also the results they produce.
Examples of hybrid workplace models
As mentioned, hybrid workplace models are as varied as the number of organizations who use them.
That being said, there are five hybrid workplace models that you might consider when starting to think about shifting to this style of work.
- Mostly in-office work, with some remote. The majority of employees work on-site at a designated office, with some days allocated for remote work. Allocated days might be company-wide “remote” days, or they could be scheduled on a waterfall basis across different teams and departments. Alternatively, the company could give complete autonomy to employees, allowing them to choose in-office or remote work.
- Mostly remote, with some in-office. The majority of employees work remotely, with just a skeletal staff on site. This is likely a familiar set up for organizations keeping the lights on during the pandemic. With this model, you’ll need to think through what the purpose of the office space is. Like the above, the company might also consider giving the employees the choice of in-office or remote work.
- Fully remote with physical meeting spaces. All employees work remotely 100% of the time, but they are given opportunities as required to meet in person. The company may retain shared meeting spaces for regional employees, or they may rent them as needed.
- Staggered in-office. All staff are required to be in-office, but it’s done on a staggered schedule. This is similar to option 1, but may have a harder mandate for in-office work. This is a model you’ll likely see used as companies return to the office post-Covid.
- 3-2-2 hybrid model. This approach mandates that employees work from home three days per week, in-office two days per week, and have the weekends off. Again, this is similar to option 2, but offers a more strict mandate for when, and how often, employees are in-office.
As you can see, the overarching consideration when choosing a hybrid workplace model is whether you intend to mandate work settings, or intend to give employees the option to choose their own schedule. This choice will help guide the ideal hybrid workplace model for your organization.
What are the benefits of a hybrid workplace?
There are many benefits of a hybrid workplace, all of which are primarily rooted in the positive effects of giving employees a choice over where, when, and how they work. This core benefit has ripple effects for both the individual and the organization, leading to a wide range of sub-benefits.
- Allowing employees to work around their lives, rather than live around their work
- Leveraging the autonomy and productivity of remote work, alongside the social benefits of in-office work
- Reducing excess stress and expenses incurred by employees caused by commuting to and from a fixed location
- Increasing productivity by allowing employees to work when they’re most efficient
- Increasing employee happiness by giving them full control over their own schedule
- Reducing overhead costs for the company, by allowing you to scale down your physical location, reducing office space, energy, and tech usage
- Forcing managers to shift from time management to output and results management
That last point is key for company leaders who may still be on the fence about not being able to physically see employees doing work. In most cases, when you stop thinking of “time spent in the office” as a key indicator of productivity, the focus turns to what kind of outputs and results the employees are generating. And because results are what drive your business forward - not time spent in an office - this facilitates a natural transition to looking at employee output as the key measure of success.
In most cases, it shouldn’t matter how long an employee takes to complete a task, or where they do it. What matters is the result they achieve. So, if your employee feels they can get the best result from their home office, it’s more beneficial to the business to let that person choose where they work.
That concept is at the core of what it means to build a hybrid workplace.
How to create and implement a hybrid workplace strategy
Following hybrid workplace best practices can help ensure that your transition is as smooth as possible. There’s no fixed process that can be applied to any and all organizations, but in general, there are eight key steps that you should take into account.
- Talking to your employees and forming a plan
- Addressing challenges
- Creating a hybrid workplace policy
- Creating a strong communications plan
- Onboarding new technology
- Rethinking your office spaces
- Maintaining your company culture
- Measuring employee satisfaction
Let’s dig into each of these steps in more detail.
1. Talking to your employees and forming a plan
Like with any major change in an organization, the first thing you should do when transitioning to a hybrid workplace is talk to your employees. The goal is to understand what kind of workplace the majority of people at your company want. This will inform how you structure your policies and requirements going forward.
To do so, form a workplace planning team that includes representatives from all departments across the organization. Use this committee to gather preliminary insights into how teams currently work, and what the sentiment is across each department.
From there, you should survey each individual employee at the company to identify what they value most in a workplace. Ask them how and where they work best, and what type of work arrangement is most appealing to them.
Analyze the survey results, and form a plan of attack for how to transition to a more hybrid workplace.
2. Addressing challenges
Before you act on your plan of attack, you should take a step back to identify all of the potential challenges and issues that may arise from your chosen workplace model. Key questions to ask yourself include:
- How will teams collaborate?
- How will you maintain a strong company culture?
- How will you enforce availability requirements?
- Where do you have legal jurisdiction to operate?
Identify all potential issues from the start, and brainstorm potential solutions with your workplace planning team. This will help inform each of the following steps in the process.
3. Creating a hybrid workplace policy
At this point, you should be in a position to start creating a new workplace policy that reflects a hybrid arrangement. Ensure that it’s comprehensive and includes clear guidelines, procedures, and rules for each potential work setting.
Include clear language that explain expectations and policies around:
- Which positions qualify and don’t qualify for remote work
- When and where remote work can take place
- When and where in-office work takes place
- Health and safety protections for in-office and remote work employees
- Availability and communication requirements
- Data security requirements for each work setting
- Inclusivity and harassment policies for each work setting
This process will require you to think of, and provide guidance on, all different scenarios that may arise for in-office and remote workers.
4. Creating a strong communications plan
Open communication during this transition process is extremely important. You must ensure that employees are kept informed about any and all major decisions that will affect their personal work arrangement.
Send regular email updates at key milestones during the transition. Keep your doors open, and solicit feedback as the plan comes together. Inform staff as key milestones are hit, and about any hiccups that may arise.
You should also make it clear how you will communicate to staff once the transition to a hybrid workplace is complete. This should include information on how leadership will communicate with teams, and how teams can communicate with each other.
5. Onboarding new technology
As you transition to a hybrid workplace, you’ll need to take your existing tech stack into consideration as well. Will your existing tech infrastructure be sufficient when employees are working remotely and in-office? Do you need to onboard new tools, or upgrade existing ones? Is your tech stack primarily on premise, or do you have cloud capabilities?
In general, hybrid workplaces will likely need to have robust and reliable solutions for:
- Email and office suites
- Video communication
- Cloud storage
- Cybersecurity and file encryption
We recommend meeting with your IT teams to determine if your existing tools are sufficient for scaling to a hybrid workplace.
6. Rethinking your office spaces
If your goal is to transition to a primarily remote work culture, then you’ll need to re-define what the function of your office is. What will it be used for? Do you still need the same amount of space? Can you downsize or rearrange your existing space?
Think about what your office space is meant to achieve in your organization, and what that will look like if your team is remote. Redesign, downsize, or close in-office spaces altogether if this space appears to be redundant or unnecessary for your workforce going forward.
7. Maintaining your company culture
It’s important that you take steps to protect your existing company culture from the effects of transitioning to remote work. Often, company culture is built in your office space by organic connections between co-workers. This will be disrupted as you move to a hybrid model.
To help protect your culture, it’s important to reaffirm its importance to your staff. Put your values and cultural pillars in writing and emphasize that they still apply to all employees in a remote setting. This will also help remove any unconscious bias towards remote employees.
You should also make time to maintain social bonds between employees. Encourage virtual hangouts, physical meetups, and unique communications strategies that keep your culture alive.
8. Measuring employee satisfaction
As with any major organizational transition, switching to a hybrid workplace isn’t an event: it’s a process. To ensure success, you need to keep tabs on how your employees are feeling and responding to these chances.
To do so, consider implementing regular pulse surveys and long form engagement surveys once per quarter. Actively solicit quantitative and qualitative feedback on how the new hybrid workplace model is going.
As this feedback comes in, actively work to identify areas of improvement or concern, and adapt your approach as needed.