The hybrid workplace is not a science fiction idea, nor a far-fetched plan by some tech visionaries.
The hybrid work model has arrived in companies across the world in a quick and unexpected way — propelled by the need to find safe and effective solutions as an answer to the global pandemic. What we considered unthinkable just a few years ago is now a reality in the modern workplace.
Instead of betting only on remote or in-office work, the hybrid approach combines the two to craft a novel way of improving productivity and increasing safety for businesses across the globe.
The results of the Accenture Future of Work Study 2021 show a clear preference for the hybrid model — by 83% of respondents. High-growth companies are switching to productivity-anywhere workforce models, with 63% reporting that the physical location is not central for their work anymore.
It’s apparent that the future of work is rapidly evolving — steadily moving to flexible and decentralized solutions. They allow employees and companies to make the best of both worlds, live and digital.
The switch to hybrid entails numerous conceptual and operational changes. Let’s dig into the main notions and the most effective tips for successful hybrid workplace management.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll find in this article:
What’s hybrid in the context of work?
A hybrid workplace, or hybrid office, is a workplace model that combines in-office and remote working, whether the latter is working from home or from a third-party location, such as a co-working or flexible workspace.
What we used to know as the hybrid model of work before 2020 was very different from what it is today.
We’ve been using digital tools to collaborate for many years now. But the focus of companies has been on ensuring a physical location where it all happens — even if everyone is focused on their own screen most of the time. The ‘workplace’ had to be a real place where we go each workday.
Back then, companies introduced the option for employees to either work fully remotely or to be only in the office. This meant there were two different groups that worked in different ways.
There was rarely the option to switch between the two modes. What’s more, many businesses were not that keen on having a hybrid workplace because they saw this model as having too many complications in terms of coordination and organization.
According to a 2020 CoreNet Global and Cushman & Wakefield survey, before COVID-19, most businesses preferred their staff to work in the office. The hybrid model was present in only one-third of the surveyed companies.
The beginning of 2020 changed everything for the hybrid workplace — and for most workplaces, in fact. The COVID-19 pandemic was an unforeseen, but the powerful driving force for finding new ways to work — amidst health risks, lockdowns, and the unclear future.
Switching to online work from one day to the next was a gigantic experiment in which we all took part.
After the initial shock of having to transfer all activities online, companies and employees alike are reconsidering their views on digital collaboration. Rather than being an experiment that only some businesses would embrace, hybrid work is becoming the norm now and is changing workplaces everywhere.
One could easily say that the hybrid model, fueled by the pandemic, has revolutionized the way we work — on a global scale and faster than we’ve ever imagined.
Instead of having two options — ‘office’ or ‘remote’ — with the hybrid approach, now employees are getting more and more flexibility to choose where and when they feel most productive and safe. It can be the office, their home, or a safe and compliant coworking space in their city, among many other options.
Naturally, technology is central to this transformation. It allowed the overcoming of the physical restrictions in the early pandemic days, so many businesses could still continue their operations. Technology is bound to push the transitioning processes forward, providing better tools for collaboration, productivity, and safety of teams.
While the hybrid model has required organizations to rethink how they operate — undoubtedly a rigorous process — it has led to numerous beneficial and novel developments.
First and foremost, in the context of the pandemic, the possibility to switch to partially or fully digital work has been a lifesaver — literally, for employees, and metaphorically, for businesses. With safety being the number one priority in a health crisis, the hybrid model has proven to deliver a viable option for work, given the requirement for social distancing.
Beyond the immediate safety function of this switch, the hybrid approach is changing how companies are looking at their processes. Instead of focusing on physical attendance in the office, more and more organizations are shifting the priority to results and productivity. Employees are accountable for completing the actual work, rather than for proving they’ve been at their desk for eight hours per day.
The high level of flexibility provided by the hybrid model has not remained unnoticed. In the 2021 Hybrid Work Report by Microsoft, ¾ of employees wish to have flexible work options to switch between office and remote.
The benefits of the hybrid approach are appreciated by companies too, with ⅔ of surveyed organizations planning to reorganize their office spaces and transform them into hybrid environments.
As a new territory that still needs to be explored, the hybrid model has to be ‘tamed’ to achieve the best results and overcome some tricky ground (explore this topic further in this in-depth eBook on making the hybrid model sustainable). Given the unusual circumstances of the pandemic, the challenges that the hybrid workplace poses are often mixed with — or amplified by — the impact of the anti-COVID-19 measures, such as social distancing and isolation.
The hybrid approach has increased the need for effective communication. When coworkers can’t simply drop by other people’s desks (and, by the way, disrupt their workflow), bouncing ideas back and forth or asking a question needs to happen in a more coordinated way.
Communication is often asynchronous, with remote and in-office employees receiving information at different times and in different ways via email and work chat. This, though, doesn’t need to be a problem, as long as people develop awareness about these specificities and pay attention to how and when they communicate. This is especially important for managers and business owners who have to ensure equal treatment for all employees, irrespectively of whether they’re in the office or working remotely.
The mode and frequency of communication can pose some team collaboration challenges. Yet these can be overcome with good adaptation and adequate planning. When employees can flexibly choose where to work from, they can still build working relationships with their colleagues, despite the different settings and dynamics of the hybrid workplace.
That’s why the hybrid model requires leaders to take extra care of company culture. Because of the new conditions — dispersed teams and intense online collaboration — the building of shared values and visions may take new and different trajectories.
Creating a meaningful company culture is possible — and necessary — in the hybrid workplace, just as it is in the office setting, but it simply needs a tailored approach and planning (more on that in the last section below).
Many employees reported a high level of fatigue from online meetings and screen-only work in the last year. However, virtual meetings burnout can be caused to a greater degree by the social isolation policies rather than the hybrid model. In a normal situation, any time an employee wants to shift their work mode, they can go to the office or choose another physical location to work from.
This also relates to the mental and physical health challenges that many employees experienced since the beginning of 2020. Essentially, the hybrid workplace does not limit team members from being together in the office — but rather gives them the flexibility to choose when to do that.
Transitioning to the hybrid model can be challenging, but doesn’t need to be difficult.
Here is what to keep in mind while planning and executing the move — so you get the best results with the least amount of obstacles.
The first step to setting up a well-functioning hybrid workplace is to select the model that best fits your organization.
The remote-first option entails that everyone who can do their job remotely is permitted to do so. Common office space is also available but is rarely the primary choice for employees. This has been a viable solution for many organizations since the beginning of the pandemic. Some companies had gone remote-first even before that, such as Buffer.
Office-first is another common option that is often preferred by companies that still don’t have much experience with remote and hybrid work models. They have a remote work policy that allows employees to work out of the office in certain cases. However, teams work primarily at the office.
Probably the most flexible variant is in-between these two, with employees, offered the freedom to choose whether and when to work remotely or from the office. With this option, companies keep many of the benefits of the traditional workplace, such as live meetings and more opportunities for in-person relationship building between team members.
Switching to a hybrid workplace requires some preparation to ensure the best results.
Besides choosing the model that is most suitable for your organization, you’ll also need to take care of some practical details, such as:
The idea of the hybrid workplace is to provide the maximum level of freedom — to reach the highest productivity, creativity, and business results.
That’s why the focus is shifted away from physical attendance in the office, as the traditional workplace requires. Instead, creating the best conditions for achieving the maximum results is what matters.
Planning for productivity is thus more important than counting days in the office. It’s important to consider:
Solid coordination is essential for making the hybrid model work for your team.
You’ll need to figure out a plan on how to have people come together in the office at the right times while giving them the flexibility to complete their other tasks in the place where they’re most productive.
Some of the important topics you should clarify for your team include:
Technology is a great enabler and an indispensable helper in establishing a well-functioning hybrid workplace.
Using a powerful technological tool with robust functionalities would help you streamline your employees’ gradual return to the office, as well as provide flexibility and convenience in scheduling and signup.
You’d also gain full visibility on who’s in the office on which days, so you can optimize your planning and conduct workplace analytics.
OfficeRnD Hybrid is such a software solution. The platform simplifies desk and room booking, visitor management, inventory management, and more. It also helps keep employees engaged through an easy-to-use set of web and mobile apps. If interested in learning more, check out the hybrid management features or book a live demo to see the platform in action.
As illustrated in the previous sections, planning is central to the good functioning of the hybrid workplace. Setting the expectations for team members and managers is an important element of this process.
As the hybrid model of work is based on achieving goals rather than physical presence in a shared office, you’ll need to clearly define what employees have to strive for — be it project deliveries, in-person meetings, or team building activities.
While leadership plays a crucial role in establishing the right framework for a successful hybrid workplace, employees are important too.
Listening to what your team has to say is essential — both for nurturing a creative work environment and for adjusting the hybrid model to your organization’s needs. You can hold informal meetings to tap into employees’ views, as well as conduct surveys and other more formal ways to collect input.
For some people, working from home due to the pandemic has been a blessing in disguise. For others, it has disrupted their work-life balance, and they’re craving the option to be in the office.
The hybrid model is all about allowing your team members to be the best version of themselves in their work — so it makes sense to accommodate their opinions in the process of switching to hybrid.
There are clear difficulties with nurturing company culture in the hybrid model. Yet it’s not an impossible task — it just takes some adjusting.
Good team chemistry starts with mutual trust. It’s the building block of solid company culture.
Some of the points to consider to foster a healthy hybrid work environment include:
One of the major challenges of building a strong company culture in a dispersed team is the reduction of spontaneous communication and physical cohabitation.
When employing the hybrid model, it’s important to create the conditions for friendly and transparent communication. Many activities can still be held in person in the office — and this is quite important after the long months of remote work and social isolation. But even if you have to move some activities online, you can still lay the ground for open sharing, humor, and a sense of comradery.
The channels for communication between team members and the management staff should be kept open. Employees need to feel heard and understood to develop a sense of belonging to your organization.
Having a dispersed team that gets together in the office only occasionally is not a reason to skip on mentorship, coaching, and training. Investing in people is essential for building a strong team that has trust in the common vision and in your leadership.
Offering the necessary support for employees to develop their skills and explore new professional horizons shows them the organization cares about them beyond their daily tasks.
Adapting these efforts to a hybrid environment is certainly not impossible, especially given the fact that many learning programs are conducted online anyway. For example, you can create online versions of the following:
For more educational resources please visit our Hybrid Work blog section.
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