Many companies have started to bring their staff back to the office, but things are not like they were before. Are you thinking about how to adapt to the new way of working? Do you have employees working at home and others at the office?
Increasingly, rather than the traditional office based model, companies are adopting a hybrid work model. This is effective when the company is neither fully remote, nor fully offline. It is, and will continue to be, the new normal.
The hybrid model works in a variety of ways, so it’s not 100% clear on how to define hybrid work. We’ll get into the different models later, but generally it’s neither completely online nor offline. This may involve people coming in on a certain day or a few days a week, or having certain teams based in the office who benefit more from offline collaboration, or allowing workers to come to the office if they wish.
Yet, this work model has some significant challenges. Some companies want to return fully to the office to overcome these challenges, or are considering remaining online. Both of which have disadvantages as well.
However, to get the best of both worlds, there are different ways to adopt the hybrid model, and some tips you can follow to make your employees happier and more productive. We provide a run down on the details of the hybrid model, and give you some tips.
Why adopt hybrid work
Hybrid work has many advantages over purely remote work and purely offline work. We run through these now, to show why you should consider adopting a hybrid work model.
The pandemic has not finished, and other pandemics are predicted. By protecting workers, particularly vulnerable ones, it shows the manifestation of the duty of care by the employer. It limits how many people are in the office at one time, and does well to protect people from harmful diseases.
Some people are itching to return to the office, but many are happy working remotely. This isn’t just about employees either (though of course that is very important), a study by Stanford showed that workers were 13% more productive when working from home. This makes sense when you consider the lack of time being spent travelling and that the office, and that workplaces, particularly open-plan offices, can be quite distracting to workers. So we can recognize that there are benefits to allowing people to work from home.
Larger workforce pool
When a company restricts its workers to be in one location, this rules out certain workers from other locations. People can live in other cities, time zones and even countries, who will offer you great expertise and skills, but they won’t want to relocate. By allowing for remote work, these workers are available to you.
There is a positive societal impact if you permit workers to stay at home. One is that it shifts the burden of housing away from certain cities and locations, by permitting people to live further away from the office. It also reduces congestion and pollution as a result of less commuting.
The cost to maintain expensive offices, and to keep them running with hardware and resources, is a lot. By reducing this cost and the necessity of large central offices in expensive real estate locations, the company can save considerable money.
Challenges of the hybrid work model
While there are many advantages to hybrid work, there are some challenges that you will need to overcome if implementing this working approach. Later we will provide you with tips to address them, but however you proceed, these need to be considered:
Isolation of remote workers
A major difficulty is that the hybrid model can create a sort of unspoken hierarchy and unfairness within the company, with those working offline significantly advantaged over those who don’t. The ones who work at the office can stay more in the loop about work projects and meetings, and get their faces known to leaders, leading them to be more likely to get promoted. This can fuel resentment between workers and then lead to resignations or a lack of productivity.
Managers will have to both deal with managing offline and online teams at the same time. This will raise a host of different issues, as both remote workers and offline workers may have different needs. They will need to ensure all parties are informed constantly, facilitating offline and online meetings.
If done badly, the hybrid approach may incur significant costs. There may still be high spending on rent or taxes for property, while not having all the benefits of purely offline work. Companies who struggle to adapt to hybrid work and online work in general, may have an increase in expenses, rather than the decrease it can potentially bring.
How does the hybrid model work?
It is important that any company is completely clear on which kind of hybrid they are adopting, so that employees and potential employees know what is expected of them.
Here is a break-down of the different types of hybrid models:
The remote first work model is one where the company is primarily remote, with some exceptions. Employees may work from home, in different locations and time zones, but have the option to work in the office if they wish. Or the company may ask for some specific workers to come to the office if it is necessary for them to do so, but generally keep the team and workforce working at home.
The benefit of such an approach is that those who are productive at home, those who are located far away from the office, can continue to work with ease, while those who do value the office can use it if they wish. Quora has adopted a remote first approach, allowing anyone to work at home if they prefer, while keeping their office open. Dropbox have taken a different approach, and allow use of the office only for collaborative work, keeping solo work at home.
The potential disadvantage of remote first is that it may make it difficult to manage, and that those tired of virtual meetings will have to continue to tolerate a mostly online working space.
Office first, with remote for minority
The office first approach is the opposite. It designates the office as the primary work location, expecting certain teams and staff to work offline, while permitting certain members to work online, whether because of geography, health, or merely preference. It may mean that the leaders are required at the office, but the regular staff are permitted to work remotely if they wish.
The advantage of this is to get the benefits of offline work, particularly career progression, networking, and the ability to manage. The disadvantage is that those who do work remotely may be sidelined and at a disadvantage, by being left out of the loop and not recognized for their hard work by the leadership, by not making face to face connections. Office first companies will struggle to get staff who have got used to working from home, and will have higher overheads on expensive office spaces.
The percentage model
The percentage model, i.e. 50/50, 40/60 etc. or office occasional model, is one where employees are expected to come to the office for some designated time. This could be one or several days of the week, with the other days allowing for work from home.
The main difference between this and remote first is that there is a requirement to work in the office, so staff cannot be spread across the country or the world.
This working model has advantages in that it can ensure all staff get the chance to meet each other and collaborate in person, but it may be seen as restrictive on members of staff who don’t want to or can’t really come to the office with ease.
It limits the employee pool, and while it can get the best of both worlds, it can arguably get the worst, by still dividing workers, and getting lower productivity.
Tips to make the hybrid business model succeed
So now you know why you should adopt a hybrid model, what the challenges are, and what models are available to you. We now give you advice on what to do to make the hybrid model succeed!
Focus on remote work
Office first companies will and are struggling. It is best to accept the reality that online work is here to stay and work around that. It is generally better to focus on this, and provide an element of flexibility to employees about how and when they will use the office.
Consider using the work space for certain goals, and allow most staff members to work at home, or provide the office as an optional space. Expecting that people will want to all come back to the office just is not realistic, and you may drive your workforce away.
Review fairly and be consistent
If you have workers coming into the office, the biggest challenge is the tiered nature of online versus offline workers. This can be remedied in part by only making certain teams and workers go to the office, or allowing the space to be optional, and reviewing remote workers’ growth on their terms, to ensure they are not overlooked when it comes to promotion.
You can ensure that managers also work remotely in addition to employees, so that they do not prefer those who come to the office, and make steps to ensure the remote workers’ hard work is noticed. This ties in to making online the priority.
Keep all meetings online, and maintain a level of consistency with this, to guarantee that no online worker is left out of the loop, and the team all know what is taking place.
Also, offline office perks may be a way to draw people back to the office, provide perks for online workers as well, and keep online socialization events, to make sure the disparity is reduced.
Reimagine both the online and offline work spaces
It is important to reimagine both the role of the offline and online space. In terms of the offline space, consider why you really need staff there. Is it for collaboration? If so, focus on allowing employees to visit in order to work together, rather than for the sake of having people in the building.
For the virtual space, try to consider ways to make it better for everyone. It is best to keep a lot of work online, even if the workers are in the office. For example, for brainstorming sessions and collaborative online work, consider white boards apps such as Google Jamboard or Miro.
Consider having less online meetings, and have tools such as Slack, or Discord, to facilitate audio or text based conversations, to allow staff to get on with their work. Don’t overload people with 20 Zoom calls a week, rather, have few meetings which are productive and use other tools for communication.
Consider meeting note software such as Notiv to help record, transcribe, and isolate key action items automatically, in order to get the most out of online meetings and lessen the burden of taking meeting notes.
To conclude, focusing on keeping remote work in place, and allowing flexibility for your workforce is the way to go. To prevent a divide between workers, you can try to keep a lot of work in the online space, have online managers, and try to ensure that there is no preference for those who work offline. Make sure you look at software to help make the online space and online meetings as productive as possible as well, to make sure your company stays up to date on how it works. Following this guide will overcome the main challenge you will face. It will take a bit of imagination to make it work, but the benefits will be many, and it can overcome the problems faced by adopting a purely offline or purely remote model. In summary, the hybrid work model is a real opportunity to improve your company.