Remote workplaces became the norm in 2020. But as the world comes out of the COVID-19 pandemic a new workplace model is taking shape: a hybrid workplace. For knowledge workers, remote work had a lot of upsides:
- No commute
- Fewer distractions
- Flexibility in when/where to work
It was a successful transformation. Getting rid of the physical office boundaries, some employees flourished during the pandemic. This has challenged the previously held assumption that the remote work environment impedes productivity and cannot produce as many results as office work. Many professions that at one time seemed impossible to imagine in a remote environment successfully made the transition to a new environment.
Despite the initial upside, many knowledge workers experienced, there were also downsides. Remote work was particularly beneficial to more senior employees with families, but single, junior employees cited feelings of isolation and limited access to growth opportunities.
As 2021 continues, and more vaccines start to roll out, employers are beginning to urge employees to return to the workplace. Not everyone was excited to return to the workplace. The result is a debate around what kind of workplace we should return to.
This paved the way for a new model of the workplace - hybrid-remote workplaces.
What Is a Hybrid Workplace Model?
A hybrid-remote workplace is a model that combines remote work with office work. Some employees can work from home and others can work in the office. Just like schools offer a hybrid learning approach when some classes are held at school and some online.
The Debate: How To Organize a Hybrid Workplace
A hybrid model includes freedom and autonomy: you can decide when and where to work. For many employees (and employers) this is ideal. Although the idea of hybrid work - giving employees the choice of what days they want to work in the office vs at home - sounds fair, there are nuances that present challenges.
In an HBR IdeasCast episode on hybrid workplaces, Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University shares his research on the challenges of designing hybrid workplaces. He sheds light on the nuances that employers will have to take into account when deciding what days people will be remote vs in office. The episode is worth a listen.
The Different Types Of Hybrid Workplaces
In the podcast episode, Nicholas Bloom explains that few companies will be able to go back to the traditional office. The war for talent is back in full swing and employees will want to work for companies that give them the flexibility of a hybrid model.
But how the future of work will look like for different organizations will fall into three categories:
- Employees have full freedom to choose when (if at all) they come into the office
- Employers decide what days employees can work from home vs in the office (Google is a notable example. Their employees will spend “three days in the office and two days wherever they work best”)
- Allow teams/departments to decide which days are in the office or not.
There will be trial and error with whatever organizations decide. Many organizations have questions and concerns about how employee onboarding processes will work in a hybrid workplace. Other companies are concerned about how to monitor employees who are working from home and if they need employee apps to do so.
Hybrid work will be the future of work - that’s certain - but we have yet to see what the prevailing standard will be.
Now let's understand the pros and cons of a hybrid working model.
The Advantages Of The Hybrid Workplace Model
A hybrid workplace can capture the best of both worlds between remote and in-office work. Employees can skip the commute and have more time to focus on their work, but also go into the office to brainstorm new ideas and connect with their colleagues.
The Pros Of Hybrid Work For Employees
For employees, there are a number of advantages to being a part of a hybrid workplace. They include:
- Encourages a stronger work-life balance
- Alleviate the anxiety that employees may have about returning to the public workspace
- More equitable workplace for employees who care for family members or those with immune deficiencies
- A clear distinction between time for focused vs collaborative work
The Pros Of Hybrid Work For Organizations
Employees aren’t the only ones who stand to gain from a workplace model. Companies who adopt hybrid working models will benefit from:
- Lower expenses for office space
- Access to more talent in different locations
- An adaptable workforce that can switch completely remote if necessary
Hybrid workplace models are more flexible. To do this, however, companies will have to adopt new ways of working.
For example, new hires will need tutorial videos that teach them how to complete their tasks and how to keep up with other team members. In addition, the sales team will definitely need to use a strong CRM, while your social media manager will need access to an Instagram scheduler or an individual calendar for upcoming posts.
Employee development will have to be addressed as well. How will employees receive mentorship in a hybrid workplace? Remote employees will need more opportunities to connect with senior leaders and not feel like second class compared to those in-office. With these challenges in mind, let’s look at the challenges of hybrid work environments.
The Disadvantages Of The Hybrid Workplace Model
Despite the advantages, the hybrid style of work also has a number of disadvantages that need to be considered.
The Cons Of Hybrid Work For Employees
At the beginning of the pandemic, employers feared that productivity would tank. However, the opposite happened. Remote employees actually worked longer hours which led to higher productivity. By remaining unchecked, an overloaded culture can permeate the hybrid workplace model. They worry that because they are out of sight, their office colleagues may perceive that they are lacking, so they tend to overcompensate by being late or making themselves available outside of regular working hours.
- Working remotely can stunt employees opportunities for promotions
- Remote workers work longer hours which can lead to burnout
- A disconnect between in-office employees and remote employees
- Striking a balance between what days to have employees in-office and if there can be both fully in-office and fully remote employees
The Cons Of Hybrid Work For Organizations
Managers have a particularly hard challenge when it comes to leading their teams that are both remote and in-house. Some companies have opted to track their remote employees with invasive surveillance technologies. This is obviously not the right way to adapt to the future of work.
In addition to the challenge of managing, employers need to make sure their employees are given the tools to work effectively wherever they are. The IT department of a hybrid office should be able to manage a whole mess of different personal devices connected from unpredictable places, not only to ensure equal conditions for all employees but also to ensure the security of the company's data.
On the other hand, make sure your marketing, design, and other teams are using safe tools from credible sources. This refers to mobile apps for making Instagram grids to YouTube thumbnail downloader for your video marketing
To complete the transition to a hybrid workplace, employers must invest in remodelling their existing office space to meet the needs of flexible workers. This means providing staff with a variety of areas to do their best work, such as common break areas, quiet focus areas, and customized meeting rooms that can be quickly replaced by activity-based work. On the other hand, employers also need to acquire proper tools including human resources management software, invoice generator tool for professional operations, accounting software, and more.
For that reason, organizations will have to grapple with these disadvantages of hybrid work:
- Managers may micro-manage their teams because they can’t “see” them working.
- It will take intentional effort to build equitable and inclusive cultures that don’t favour in-house employees over remote ones.’
- Making sure all employees have access to the right tools and technologies to do their jobs.
- Redesigning the office space to accommodate both hybrid and in-office workers
The hybrid office requires enhanced functionality, including charging sockets, conference screens for seamless communication with remote partners, and strong Wi-Fi anywhere anyone can try to do something. For companies based in older buildings, this type of transformation can pose a serious challenge.
In a hybrid workplace, it can be difficult to establish or maintain relationships with colleagues. If you do not share the same physical space, you can not just turn around at their table for a casual chat. You can also use digital tools like Zoom for video calls, SMS integration like Dexatel, or work chat platforms like Slack.
This gap in employee experience becomes even more apparent as some employees continue to work in the office, creating perceived groups that can leave employees far behind, more unfavourably, alone. A good manager can alleviate this by adapting the company's team-building activities to ensure that they are inclusive of all employees, by organizing regular social events that are accessible to all, regardless of geography.
Hybrid work will be the prevailing workplace model going forward in the post-pandemic world. However, there isn’t a standard operating procedure yet for companies to follow which makes trial and error inevitable.
To make a successful back-to-work transition or build a company that attracts talent that wants flexibility, companies will need to know the nuances of hybrid work. It will be an interesting year ahead for the future of work. What will work, what won’t and which model will prevail is yet to be determined. But the pros and cons can still be weighed to help inform whichever decision companies decide to choose.
How Together Can Help Build Effective Hybrid Cultures?
To build a strong hybrid company culture, keeping employees connected is a critical first step. Without a culture that supports one another and provides ample opportunities for growth and learning employees will flounder. For that reason, Together’s mentoring software is designed to connect distributed workplaces through remote mentorship programs.