What is a hybrid workplace model and how does it work?
A hybrid workplace model mixes in-office and remote work to offer flexibility and support to employees. In a hybrid workplace, employees typically enjoy more autonomy and better work-life balance – and are more engaged as a result. Employers benefit by building a more productive, healthy, stable workforce.
However, the hybrid workplace is not a simple formula or a panacea for all workplace challenges. Today’s hybrid workplace must be implemented strategically, taking advantage of modern HR technologies that engender connection, collaboration, and employee engagement.
Forty-two percent of current remote workers say if their current company does not continue to offer remote work options long term, they will look for a job at a company that does.
What is a hybrid workplace model?
The hybrid workplace model combines remote workers with on-site workers, with some or all employees having the flexibility to choose where and when they work. In-office time may be allocated by days or by teams, or on an as-needed basis. According to Gartner, “where and when work gets done will be determined by what makes the most sense to drive the highest levels of productivity and engagement.”
The hybrid model isn’t a fit for every workplace or every industry, it’s best suited to employees whose work is computer-based and doesn’t need to be performed on site. A recent report from McKinsey looked at remote work that can be done without loss of productivity. It determined that “about 20% to 25% of the workforces in advanced economies could work from home between three and five days a week. This represents four to five times more remote work than before the pandemic.”
The hybrid workplace model is not a temporary model, or a stop-gap, instead it’s the future of work and of agile, resilient workplaces.
Why the hybrid workplace is the developing norm
The move towards remote and hybrid work was happening long before the pandemic, but, as with so many things, COVID-19 accelerated the transition. Businesses had to quickly overcome a myriad of challenges, from providing the right tools to managing productivity and morale in a dispersed team environment. After a few months, however, it was clear that there was no going back – because employees preferred this new, more flexible way of working.
Now that some employees are reentering traditional office settings – at least some of the time – businesses can benefit from lessons learned from their remote work experiences. The goal is to design a hybrid work model that best suits their specific needs.
Modern HR technologies are easing the shift to hybrid work by making it possible to gather, manage, and analyse data from all teams, regardless of location. Technology can support employee onboarding, upskilling and reskilling, and, when used effectively, it also gives employees access to everything they need during their employee journey – from collaboration tools to cloud technologies.
The ideal “new normal” is an inclusive hybrid workplace where all employees – no matter where they’re working – are productive, engaged, and feel connected and included.
Benefits of a hybrid work environment
A hybrid workplace with a people-first approach to employee experience takes advantage of evolving HR technologies to become flexible, agile, and productive. According to Gartner, “at typical organisations where employees work a standard 40 hours per week in the office, only 36% of employees were high performers. When organisations shift from this environment to one of radical flexibility where employees have choice over where, when, and how much they work, 55% of employees were high performers.”
- Increased employee productivity: A number of factors contribute to boosts in productivity: increased autonomy to choose work hours and location; fewer interruptions at home than in the office; repurpose commuting time; and the opportunity to come into the office at times when in-person collaboration is best.
- Reduced overhead costs: Companies are looking at their real estate strategies and opportunities to reduce office space or move their offices to smaller cities – all of which can lower overhead. Hybrid employees tend to be more engaged, which leads to less turnover and also reduces costs.
- Better employee experience and work-life balance: Greater flexibility and autonomy increases job satisfaction and happiness, which improves performance at work as well as overall employee well-being. An integrated focus on work-life balance helps create a successful hybrid workplace.
- Improved safety and social distancing: With COVID-19 variants predicted to be an ongoing threat, the hybrid workplace model allows for office space to be designed to emphasise safety and sanitization. Mixing and matching who is in the office – and when – allows space for social distancing and increased cleaning, which also makes it easier if there is a need to perform contact tracing.
Technology can also help reduce pandemic-related health risks. For example, “Internet of Things (IoT) sensors can count the number of people in a building to limit occupancy. They can also identify desks that need sanitization, based on the frequency of use. Artificial intelligence (AI) can analyse this data to identify spaces that maximise worker safety. It can also analyse building floor plans to implement automatic social distancing and reduce touchpoints,” according to Forbes.
Challenges of managing hybrid teams
Every organisation will face somewhat different challenges in making a hybrid work model successful. Below are some of the most common challenges facing hybrid team leaders today:
- Developing the right hybrid model: Because there are so few established hybrid workplace models to follow, each company must design and develop a model specific to their needs. This approach may also need to be iterative as different combinations and technologies are tried and tested to find the best fit for each company’s unique situation and culture.
- Increased security risks: As companies move towards hybrid models security will continue to be a risk and a concern. With employees working from home using their own networks, and potentially their own devices, HR and IT departments will need to focus on end-user education and security.
- Managing people effectively: In a hybrid workforce, managers must take care to ensure that both on-site and remote workers have the same opportunities and exposure, including evaluations that are based upon work product rather than work process. It is important to ensure that remote team members do not feel isolated or unseen – and likewise, that they are subject to the same expectations and accountability as their colleagues in the office.
- Employee isolation and disconnection: HR teams will have to focus on keeping employees feeling connected when their staff is working from anywhere at anytime. Developing “virtual water cooler” opportunities and other chances for employees to interact and connect in non-physical settings will be key to designing a healthy hybrid workplace. As will being able to use technology to take the pulse of the workforce and course correct as needed.
- Creating seamless connectivity: To avoiding disparities, silos, and knowledge loss, businesses need to develop barrier-free connectivity that allows hybrid teams to communicate quickly and efficiently. Maintaining a thriving company culture has to be an intentional goal in a hybrid workplace model.
Hybrid workplace best practices
The shift to remote work in 2020 was abrupt and driven by necessity, but now companies have a chance to be more intentional in their approach to how they work. According to Forbes, “The hybrid workspace is about enabling as much productivity as possible without costing our employees too much personal time, sacrifice, or ability to control their workday.”
Best practices when developing an effective hybrid workplace model include:
- Getting employee buy-in early
- Communication that is transparent, early, and often
- Clearly communicating the value of the chosen model
- Enabling managers to answer questions from their teams
- Investing in the right tools, technology, and equipment
- Productivity and communication tools that are mobile-enabled and device-agnostic
- Providing equipment for a safe and healthy work from home office, such as, large monitors, supportive desk chairs, and standing desks.
- Focusing on employee experience and maintaining a positive and engaged culture
- Getting employee feedback through listening tools and demonstrating action
- Holding consistent team check-ins and career progress meetings
- Utilise technology that allows for video conferencing
- Offering continuous education opportunities for employees and managers alike
- Communicate available learning and development opportunities across the organisation
- Offer great learning content in a variety of modalities to meet diverse needs
- Tracking goals and performance metrics
- Improve employee performance with performance goal management, ongoing dialogue, and continuous development
Transitioning to a hybrid work model
In the workplace of the future, employees will seamlessly integrate into hybrid teams, regardless of their physical location. That starts with building strong communication and planning strategies, breaking down silos and building a connected workplace.
According to the SAP SuccessFactors paper, Eight Meta-Trends Impacting Human Resources in 2021, “Success will involve more integration between HR technology and workforce productivity software.”
HR leaders need a complex array of smart tools to support recruitment, onboarding, and engagement – as well as the systems and tools needed for remote team productivity, efficiency, and resilience. Hybrid workplaces that embrace cloud-based services, stronger security infrastructures, and enhanced collaboration tools will be better equipped to meet both employees’ expectations – and the bottom line.
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