When people think about the idea of remote work, they envision the freedom and flexibility that comes with the ability to work where you want, when you want. But reality isn’t that simple.
Rather than working completely remotely or completely in the office, people are finding themselves in hybrid work environments, combining traditional brick-and-mortar office jobs with flexible working hours and remote team meetings at times convenient to them.
The rise of the hybrid workplace
The pandemic caused many people to rethink their work habits, leading to a rise of hybrid workplaces that mixes remote and in-office time. Studies show this new way of working has benefits for both employees and companies alike, but there are also some drawbacks that need to be considered.
While many employees were perfectly happy working from home, managers struggled to track productivity and felt uncertain about how much time and effort their employees were actually putting in.
Additionally, many leaders missed the face-to-face interaction with their teams, and have put pressure on their teams to return to the office—but when they encountered severe resistance from employees, they have compromised to allow a hybrid workplace instead.
What does a hybrid workplace look like?
In a hybrid environment, work takes the form of X number of days in the office, and the rest of the week spent working remotely. Most companies have employees reporting to the office either two or three days per week, though Harvard Business School found that the maximum productivity for most workers is one or two days per week.
Employers have found that it makes sense to have the same teams in the office at the same time, to foster working relationships and allow for team meetings to happen in person rather than across Zoom. Other employers let their employees set their own schedule for which days to come into the office, and though having that choice is nice, many employees then report working alone (or nearly alone) in an office.
The benefits of a hybrid workplace
A hybrid workplace may be the best of both worlds for employees and employers, as it allows greater flexibility while still bringing teams together regularly. Employees like it and often demand it, because they like being able to work from home on days that would otherwise require them to drive to the office. A Gallup poll of 14,000 office workers found only 9% wanted a full-time return to office.
For the employer, it saves office expenses by cutting down on building costs and utility bills, which can help your company in tight economic times. It also allows companies to expand their workforce without expanding their office footprint, saving significant expense—many companies have even eliminated some of their office space.
The challenges of a hybrid workplace
Hybrid workplaces do pose their own unique challenges: aligning the work of teams, helping employees see the value of returning to the office part time, managing employees that are both in the office and remote, and mitigating proximity bias. Some employees who grew accustomed to remote work want to continue being fully remote, and push back on hybrid work. They may need some enticement to return to the office—this doesn’t need to be expensive, but a clear indicator that you value their return to the office.
Other employees really miss the connection of everyone being in the office, so being part-time with only some of their colleagues isn’t as fulfilling to them. Team-building activities and mentorship programs can help offset this issue.
For younger or less experienced employees, it can also be more difficult to get access to tribal knowledge and/or mentors that help them rapidly improve their skills and productivity. With the hybrid work environment, companies are also somewhat at the whim of poor internet connections, interruptions, etc. that were challenges in a fully remote world.
How to make a hybrid workplace work for you
As with almost everything in life, communication is key. Planning is also critical. Decide as a company what your strategy will be, including:
- What days do you need your employees in the office?
- Are teams coming in together, or are employees allowed to choose their own in-office days?
- How will you and your first-line managers track goals and productivity?
- What tools and resources do your employees need at home to be effective there?
- What benefits are you providing, both in the office and at home (e.g., a home internet stipend, and occasional lunches in the office)?
If you know who your influencers are (whether you use Performica or another resource), this is a good time to enlist your influencers to make sure positive messaging goes out to your entire workforce. Solicit their feedback, and make sure you haven’t missed anything important in your hybrid strategy.
Next, make sure that you’ve set up clear boundaries and expectations for employees. When employees understand what’s expected of them, that they’re valued, and have open lines of communication to leadership, employee engagement and morale is significantly higher. You can leverage your influencers to promote this messaging as well.
Finally, remember that different types of work thrive best in different environments—highly collaborative work can often be best accomplished in person; focused development work, for example, may be better accomplished in a quiet home office. Helping your employees have the optimal environment to accomplish their best work benefits everyone.