Remote-first, office-first, part time remote and in-office. There are so many terms for what the return to offices will look like. Whatever your organization chooses to go with, it will most likely combine some amount of remote and in-person work aka hybrid work.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- The different models of hybrid work
- Pros and cons of hybrid work
- And the steps you can take today to support a hybrid workforce
So, what is hybrid work?
Put most simply, a hybrid work model offers flexibility in when and where employees work. It’s significant that flexibility is allowed for both where and when people work, because employees are looking for that. Workers are showing a strong interest in continued remote work to some extent. According to a recent study from Slack, based on knowledge workers across five countries, employees are still more satisfied with remote work than office-based work. In fact, 83% of respondents do not want to return to five days a week in the office.
However, not all hybrid work is built the same. There are many variations, so it can be helpful to think of it on a spectrum, with remote-first on one end and office-first on the other. Here are some of the typical options:
Remote-first, office optional
The company operates like a fully remote organization, meaning the workforce can be distributed across time zones and the majority of communication occurs virtually. Although remote work is the default, many organizations with this model are opting to keep their offices for occasional in-person collaboration. These organizations are usually widely distributed across locations and time-zones.
Part time remote, part time office
The company keeps their offices like the above model, but they require employees to come in for a part of the week. This can look like a flexible requirement i.e. employees can choose how many days they come in or a set requirement i.e. employees are required to come in a certain number of days a week. This can also be based on role type. Certain teams may decide to come into the office on specific days and work remotely for the other part of the week.
Office-first, remote optional
The company identifies the office as the primary place for work. Remote work is allowed, but it’s not as flexible as the above models, and the workforce is less likely to be widely distributed. This model is the closest to what we had prior to the pandemic, and companies who have a large portion of their workforce that needs to function in-person may opt for this model.
Hybrid is a new beast
No matter what your organization chooses to do, your hybrid work model shouldn’t just be a quick fix to account for current conditions. Assume that organizations will have to incorporate some level of remote work for the long-term. Although hybrid work might seem simple – you just mix remote and in-person work and you get hybrid...right? – there’s actually much to consider.
The unique aspect of hybrid work is that employees have the autonomy to decide when, where, and how they want to work. The above models afford different levels of this flexibility, so whatever you choose, focus on intentionality and sustainability so that both remote and in-person workers feel engaged and supported.
Benefits of hybrid work
The past year has revealed the benefits of working from home, and many employees are not ready to work in-office all the time just yet. In fact, 47% of employees would look for a new job if their employer didn’t offer flexible work opportunities. Hybrid work holds many of remote working’s benefits with some added emphasis on autonomy and flexibility.
The main benefits include:
- Increased autonomy
- Greater employee engagement
- Better productivity
As mentioned, what seems to be the greatest benefit of hybrid working is the level of autonomy and flexibility. Employees are able to have greater control over where, when, and how they work. It encourages a better work-life balance, and empowers employees to fit work around their lives rather than the other way around. And flexibility is the key reason employees are attracted to the hybrid work model. Employees with a flexible schedule report lower levels of stress and anxiety and greater satisfaction with their working arrangement and productivity.
Greater employee engagement
At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a concern that employees would be less engaged when working remotely, however, we’ve disproved this over the past year. In fact, remote workers are just as, if not more, engaged. A Gallup study found that optimal employee engagement occurs when workers spend 60-80% of their time (or three-four days a week) working remotely. Even more significantly, engagement increases when employees split their time working remotely and in-office. The mix of solo work (that comes with remote work) and collaboration (that comes with in-person work) has a tangible impact on employee engagement, and subsequently employee happiness.
In a literal sense, hybrid work cuts down on stressors like commutes and finances spent, and allows for more time spent on work. A more indirect impact is that hybrid work can mitigate presenteeism. Peakon’s CPO, Rick Kershaw puts it well: “It’s clear that many employees still see the need for having the office as a ‘hub’ that keeps us connected through work, but a lot of the need to be in the office is centered around presenteeism – the ability for people to see that you’re busy. A hybrid workplace could eliminate those stereotypes and instead focus more on output, delivery, and value.”
Potential pitfalls of hybrid work
With remote work we saw many opportunities but an equal amount of challenges. It’s the same for hybrid work. There are some pitfalls to avoid, so that your hybrid work model doesn’t become the worst of both worlds.
The main cons include:
- Greater difficulty making connections
- The creation of in-groups and out-groups
- An inconsistent employee experience
Greater difficulty making connections
As a remote worker, it’s already difficult creating connections. The tendency is that you only speak to the four-five people that you see on video calls every day. Hybrid work only complicates things. Coworkers can have widely different remote to office schedules, and if you’re mainly an in-office worker, you may have trouble connecting with remote workers, and vice versa. [Related article: How to Encourage Internal Networking and Empower Employees in Your Remote Workforce]
The creation of in-groups and out-groups
Organizations may unconsciously give preference to in-office workers, just because they’re more visible. Like the saying goes – out of sight, out of mind. Remote workers can easily feel like an afterthought. This not only affects employees’ sense of belonging, but it can also manifest in inequitable career advancement. Because in-office workers are more visible, they are more likely to receive career opportunities and even promotions/raises.
A Gartner survey found that 64% of managers are more likely to give office-based workers a higher raise than remote workers because they believe that the former are higher performers, which is not the case. Especially if all of leadership is based in-office, organizations can unwittingly disincentivize remote work, and reward those who work from the office.
An inconsistent employee experience
The last and perhaps most significant pitfall is that hybrid working can lead to an inconsistent employee experience. Factors such as communication, meetings, social events, and more can vary widely depending on if employees are in-office or remote. And again, remote workers can be at a natural disadvantage. For example, organic, unscheduled conversations can happen naturally in the office, but that leaves remote workers out of the discussion. As such, it’s important to create standard guidelines so that workers are getting a consistent experience, no matter where they’re based.