Adaptation plays as central a role in work success as it does in survival, and the new hybrid work model is the end result of the adaptations necessitated by the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
The shared goal of slowing the spread of the coronavirus spurred most people to change their work habits more, practically overnight, than they had in decades. Office workers, no matter where they worked before, had to work remotely. They developed the skills and systems they needed to successfully navigate the digital realm of remote work while still holding on to their office know-how.
Like resilient amphibians who adapted to survive in both land and water, these workers adapted to work effectively in all environments. They became the budding hybrid workforce of the post-pandemic world.
Hybrid work just makes sense for many people. It represents the ultimate in personal flexibility and marks the end of doing the same thing day by day.
“There are morning people, there are night owls,” HR expert Brian Kropp told ABC7 News. “Let people work when it makes the most sense for them, and you’re actually rewarded as an employer by having a more productive workforce, and those employees are happier as well.”
Below, you’ll find tips for going “hybrid” with confidence.
What Does a Hybrid Work Model Look Like?
Hybrid work is any work model where employees split their time between in-office and remote work. One worker does one job from at least two different locations and often alternates between those locations.
Synonyms for hybrid work may include, in certain contexts:
- Hybrid work from home
- Hybrid remote
- Flexible work
- Hybrid off-site
- Hybrid on-site
Get a clearer picture with the hybrid work model examples below.
How Hybrid Work Differs From…
Office-first work models gather most people into a physical office on most days. Unlike hybrid work, office-first work means remote and off-site work are exceptions, occasional privileges, and not established norms.
What it looks like:
- Office-first work-life example: You book only a physical conference room for the brainstorm you’re hosting as you know everyone will be in the office on Tuesday.
- Hybrid work-life example: You book a conference room and set it up with Zoom conferencing capabilities. (You want to make sure everyone can attend but you don’t know everyone’s hybrid work schedule.)
Remote-first work models allow most people to work from their home office or another remote location on most days. Unlike hybrid work, remote-first work brings people to a physical space only occasionally. Some remote-first work organizations even choose not to own or lease a dedicated workspace.
What it looks like:
- Remote-first work-life example: You look forward to the company picnic when you get to see everyone face-to-face at the same time.
- Hybrid work-life example: You have a lot of digital interactions with your co-workers, but you also see everyone in person for one super meeting each week.
3) Full In-Person
Fully in-person work models gather all people into a physical office full-time, on all days, typically without exception. Unlike hybrid work, full onsite work provides little flexibility for remote or off-site work.
What it looks like:
- Full in-person work-life example: You take time to decorate your office space; you even bring in your favorite French press so you can get a lot of good use out of it.
- Hybrid work-life example: You keep one special mug in the office kitchen, but otherwise, your “office” is fully mobile, packed into your handy backpack so you’re ready to work anywhere.
4) Fully Remote/Distributed
Fully remote/distributed work models allow everyone to work from their home office or another remote location every day. Unlike hybrid work, fully remote/distributed teams don’t even need to worry about finding or maintaining a physical workspace.
What it looks like:
- Fully remote/distributed work-life example: You go ahead and invest in that seriously heavy desk you’ve had your eye on. It’s time to make your home office your forever office.
- Hybrid work-life example: You look for flexible office equipment and furniture like folding desks and laptop stands. You can’t be anchored to any one location.
Benefits of Hybrid Work Model
Hybrid work models represent the ultimate bending of traditional rules and norms. They reject limiting labels and definitions. You might be wondering what big benefits come along with that flexibility, apart from the obvious boons to an employee’s schedule and work-life balance.
The benefits of using a hybrid work model include:
1) A Practically Limitless Candidate Pool
A hybrid workplace is essentially a borderless workplace. Your employees can come from pretty much anywhere. Your candidate pool is practically the entire world instead of the subset of the population that happens to live near your office.
Selecting candidates from disparate locations will organically enhance your socioeconomic, sociocultural, experiential, and racial diversity.
2) Reduced Overhead Costs
Office space — the space itself and also everything you need to clean it, fill it up, and keep it well lighted — is, to put it gently, very expensive. Moving to a hybrid model means you no longer need office space to accommodate all your employees at all times on all days. You can reduce your real estate investment by minimizing the square footage you rent and avoiding long-term leases by favoring co-working spaces.
3) Increased Productivity
For many companies and some people, remote work is new, it’s different. As a result, they think more actively about how to do it and how to do it successfully.
All this leads to more structure. Companies invest in systems for feedback and collaboration. Employees use them and — no surprise here — find the tools have measurable benefits for their productivity.
Plus, a lack of common workplace distractions leads to enhanced productivity. Remote workers say reduced distractions help them get more done at home. As it turns out, small talk and office shenanigans are more distracting than domestic concerns like laundry and cooking.
4) Improved Work-Life Balance
Hybrid work provides an opportunity for employees to reshuffle their priorities and even recommit to their wellness. They might be able to spend more time (waking hours, that is) with their families than they do with their team members. They might be able to spend more time enjoying meals they prepared from scratch than meals suctioned into plastic tubs. They might be able to spend more time exercising than they do commuting.
- The need to adhere to health and safety protocols (such as social distancing) (38%)
- Spoken or unspoken pressure to be present in the office more (32.2%)
- Heightened risk of infection (30.8%)
- Time or money required to commute to the workplace (24%)
- Lack of childcare or elderly care (21.6%)
5) Best Of Both Worlds
Everyone has heard variety is the spice of life. Anything you do every day will get tedious and eventually feel frustrating and annoying.
When you work fully remote, you lament the lack of in-person contact, complain about Zoom fatigue, and suffer from feelings of isolation.
When you work office-first, you feel distracted constantly by loud coworkers and sometimes hate the feeling, the obligation, of being in the office and spending so many minutes of your life commuting.
The benefit of hybrid work is avoiding doing the same thing every day.
6) Improved Employer-Employee Trust
If remote work triggers distrust and in-person work fuels it, then the hybrid work model allows employees to balance the vulnerability and isolation of remote work with the trust-enriching experiences of in-person work.
7) Agility To Accommodate Shifting Preferences
When employees are set up to work from home and work from the office, your company is set up to survive both remote work and office work. You have the ability and the confidence to shift along with changing needs and preferences. In other words, your workforce is flexible and equipped for anything.
Hybrid Work Model Challenges
Hybrid work models require employees to hold and act on two different concepts simultaneously. It also requires companies to have the social and practical infrastructure set up to hold and act on two different work models simultaneously. Naturally, all this demands prodigious mental and logistical agility and also demands a significant up-front investment in planning.
The challenges outlined below will help you think through many of the ins and out and create a comprehensive strategy for hybrid work success.
1) Maintaining A Sense Of Company Culture
When people aren’t working together physically every day, organizations have to do more to keep a feeling of togetherness alive. They have to do more to reward employees and make them feel appreciated. They have to isolate values equipped to survive beyond the shared spaces and the day-to-day contact.
Hybrid companies have to pinpoint those unique elements of their company culture and then feed them by hosting purposeful events that bring people together for quality interactions. The increased investment in hosting company-wide events will be worth the benefits of solidified culture. (Plus, the space-related savings hybrid companies enjoy will easily offset the increased costs of events.)
Pro-tip! Use care packages as a way to provide thoughtful care to employees who are all in different places at different times.
2) Hosting Truly Effective Meetings
With people in and out of the office on different workdays, meetings can get a little more complicated. You’ll either have to manage schedules to plan meetings when as many people are in the office as possible or plan all your meetings (and equip all your meeting rooms) with technological components necessary to get engagement from a mix of remote and in-person participants.
3) Communicating With Pristine Clarity
When you’re talking to someone face-to-face, there’s a connection, even if you don’t consciously feel it, that makes it easier to tell if you’ve been understood, if people are listening.
When you run a hybrid office, you have to put in the extra effort to ensure (through active verification) all key messages are being heard and understood.
You’ll also have to enhance your communications with extra precision. Many hybrid workplace buzzwords lack actionable precision. “Flexible work,” for example, will mean different things to different people. Some will assume they’ll come to the office one day a week while others may assume they need to be present all but one day a week.
Companies need to clearly define and then clearly communicate those definitions to avoid misunderstandings.
4) Achieving An Efficient Information Flow
To reach people wherever they are at any given time, hybrid workplaces have to diversify their information delivery to make sure it does in fact flow through the proper channels, reaching all the necessary touchpoints. For example, they might have to announce a breaking change both on the digital bulletin to accommodate in-person workers and also through Slack to reach people at home.
5) Syncing Schedules Across Time Zones
Working at different times of day and across different time zones creates not only a logistical problem in aligning schedules for meetings and calls, but it also creates challenges for your overall cultural sync. Hybrid workplaces have to put in extra effort to encourage employees to use their flexibility to its full advantage. The effort pays off in the form of retention. Eighty percent of people responding to a FlexJobs survey said flexible work options would increase their company loyalty.
6) Avoiding Hidden Barriers To Inclusion
Hybrid work models, especially those that allow people to self-select their in-office time vs. their remote time, naturally result in some people coming to the office more often than others. Unfortunately, many employers perceive in-person workers as more reliable than their remote counterparts.
However, when companies put proper checks and balances in place, they can actually improve inclusion.
“This includes taking care to ensure workers are not penalized if they are unable to physically come into the office as often as some of their peers,” writes Steven T. Hunt, Ph.D, in Forbes. “Success should not depend on currying favor with executives based on getting “face time” in the office. It should depend on making a positive impact on company performance.”
7) Maintaining Deep Engagement
If they ever hope to cultivate employee engagement levels comparable to fully onsite teams who get plenty of facetime, companies have to be diligent about immersion strategies, using engagement apps and recognition software to help automate and streamline bonding processes.
8) Finding The Right Accountability Systems
When everyone is present in the office, many managers tend to take an instinctual approach, a gut check if you will, of employee productivity. They look around and see people in seats and feel a calming conviction that everyone is working hard.
Shifting to a hybrid model requires the adoption of more precise accountability systems and time management strategies. These resources ultimately paint a clearer picture of the actual work being done, provide more data, and therefore more insights and ideas for further improvements. Employees may at first resist or distrust these tools, but ultimately, they only bring companies closer to the truth.
9) Mitigating Feelings Of Isolation
When people work from home, especially if they’re accustomed to working in a bustling office, they naturally feel a little isolated. Hybrid work arrangements require both individual and systemic coping strategies to overcome this challenge and ensure all employees feel happy and productive — doing their best work — no matter where they’re working from.
10) Keeping Track Of The Role Models
The actions of company leaders send a message. Whether they realize it or not, employees tend to follow the example they set. In a hybrid work environment, organizers have to consider not only the logistical aspects of where their leaders sit but also the implications and the messages underlying those placements and actions.
11) Handling All The Logistics
It can be hard, expensive, time-consuming, and strenuous for companies, especially in the early days of hybrid implementation, to find the right logistical mix that minimizes costs, meets needs, and also maintains flexibility.
It takes a lot of infrastructure to achieve the kind of flexibility that allows companies to absorb the changes while maintaining consistent levels of success and productivity.
How To Implement A Successful Hybrid Model At Your Organization
By now you’ve browsed hybrid work’s benefits. You’ve investigated and weighed the challenges. If you’re feeling ready to implement the hybrid work model in your own organization, then launch your adventure with the help of the sips and strategies below.
1) Complete A Readiness Audit
2) Survey Employees
Your employees are the most critical component to your hybrid work success. They can and should be part of the planning process, starting with a survey to gauge where their preferences fall on the hybrid work spectrum. Their preferences may also indicate how committed they’ll be to a smooth transition.
3) Train Managers
Optimize the employee experience by training managers on how to lead teams successfully in a remote team and hybrid team setting.
4) Create A Crystal Clear Policy
Nailing down and socializing your hybrid work from home policy is just as essential and complex as creating a traditional work from home policy. Especially during the early days of implementation, a clear policy could mean the difference between calm collaboration and confusing chaos.
5) Keep Consistent 1:1 Meetings
Set the expectation that changing work models will not break down existing structures. Maintain a sense of consistency by committing to having 1:1 meetings at the same time each week no matter where the direct report in question happens to be working.
6) Schedule Frequent “Nonwork” Chats/Syncs
Build in “small talk” time via meetings and casual team building activities to promote deeper team connections
In-office work presents plenty of opportunities for organic non-work discussions in the hallways, in the kitchen, and pretty much everywhere else. To achieve a similar level of interaction in a remote setting, nearly everything must be scheduled beforehand. Companies that stay together are those with the foresight to plan those interactions.
7) Create A Communication Channel Map
Help everyone communicate effectively while also giving employees the power to assert their preferences by making a detailed communication map. Outline all your communication avenues and send out a survey asking people to enter their preferences (call only if urgent/use email all other times) and estimated availability by day and time.
8) Invest In Tools To Maintain Workflows
Like communication, the togetherness of office work can create a reassuring sense that everything’s working. Switching to hybrid work requires leaders to take a closer look, and if they haven’t yet, to actually document existing workflows. After they document and define the flows, they’ll need to consider innovations to accommodate remote work and also find technology and tools to maintain processes in the long term.
9) Create Detailed Shared Calendars
Creating thriving, connected, and supportive workspaces require deliberate effort, especially when those workspaces are hybrid ones. Plan an entire annual calendar of both virtual and in-person events. Publicize it with employees early so they can plan their schedules accordingly and also get excited when they’re feeling isolated.
10) Cultivate A Culture Of Recognition And Appreciation
The office, and also employees’ connection to it, may start getting a bit abstract with the hybrid work model. The office is no longer a constant. Face-to-face interaction is no longer a constant.
Help create a sense of solidity in a hybrid working world by making sure “feeling appreciated and recognized” is a constant at your company. For example, you could provide tangible tokens of appreciation like welcome back gifts or take advantage of employee recognition ideas.
11) Hold Virtual Events
Host plenty of virtual events, events that everyone can join, even if they happen to be on site on the scheduled date. Many vendors and digital venues perfected the art of the virtual event during the past year. Take advantage of their expertise and continue offering catch-all events that can engage all employees regardless of schedule.
12) Announce Birthdays And Work Anniversaries
Employees want to celebrate one another on special days, but even important dates tend to slip the mind now and then. Help co-workers celebrate one another as much as they want to by making company-wide announcements about birthdays, anniversaries, and other festive occasions.
13) Offer The Perks People Want
The changing landscape of “work” brings with it a changing landscape of perks that align with everyone’s new lifestyles. The flexibility of hybrid work is a benefit in itself, but companies can also convey their appreciation and support through an assortment of in-demand employee perks, such as wellness programs.
14) Hold Team Contests
A little competition is a recipe for inspiring engagement and also for triggering exemplary teamwork. Hold contests (such as cooking or group building contests) to re-spark that invigorating sense of motivation.
15) Monitor Success Using Data
The need to deliver a consistent employee experience while operating under a work model that is, by its nature, inconsistent, requires a firm grasp on the data, on what’s really going on.
All the terminology and nuance of hybrid work may be confusing, but that’s actually the best part. Hybrid work is confusing because it defies definition. Its meaning depends on needs. No hybrid work model is alike because no two companies are truly alike. (There is no one-size-fits-all new normal, after all.)
Hybrid models indicate that companies are getting more granular, specific, and creative in designing work models that make sense for them — their culture, their goals, and their employees.
These models suggest the future of work may be as flexible, customized, and adaptable as the terms we use to describe it, and that’s truly an inspiring thing.