What is hybrid work?
As the world moves on post-pandemic, companies are trying to figure out how to adapt to the new normal when it comes to where their employees will work. Many organizations are grappling with whether to return to the office, stay remote, or explore a combination of the two with a hybrid work model.
Known for its flexibility, the hybrid work model enables employees to work across multiple environments while allowing for in-office collaboration opportunities that business leaders crave.
As you’re evaluating whether to return to the office or not, it’s beneficial for you to understand the benefits of hybrid work and how it can impact your business. Before we dive into the details, let’s discuss how other companies have adapted to the hybrid work model.
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Hybrid work model examples
According to Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index: Annual Report, 38% of employees say the biggest challenge is knowing when and why to come into the office. As we move into this next phase of work, many of the top businesses across various industries have all chosen a different approach.
At Apple, employees are returning to the office for a set number of days, with some teams expected to be back in the office full time. One reason Apple gives for bringing employees back two to three days a week is that innovation is often unplanned, and can occur when people bump into each other and discuss ideas.
Other companies, like Tesla, are requiring employees to return to the office full time while Google announced that remote US employees could be subject to a pay cut. For some, this decision is based on the belief that remote work negatively impacts productivity, which points out one of the biggest challenges to hybrid work — the disconnect between executives and employees.
On the other side, Airbnb is actively encouraging employees to work from wherever they feel most productive. This could be working from home indefinitely, in-office full time, or simply showing up at the office when it makes sense for them. Meanwhile, Dropbox is remote-first or “virtual-first,” meaning that offices will be more like co-working spaces.
In addition, UBS recently announced their Virtual Worker Framework, giving certain employees the option to work remotely 100% of the time if they choose to. This flexibility is partially inspired by the new approaches to engagement they discovered while adopting hybrid work.
While your options for hybrid work are endless, you need to figure out what makes the most sense for you, your employees, and your business.
Benefits of hybrid work model
As the past few years have shown us, there are many benefits to the hybrid working model. Not only do employees prefer flexibility, but businesses are also seeing positive impacts on employee engagement, collaboration, and productivity, especially when done with intention.
With 63% of high-growth companies adopting a "productivity anywhere" workforce model, here are a few of the benefits of hybrid work:
- Build more sustainable operations
- Improve employee experience
- Propel diversity
Build more sustainable operations
Hybrid presents the opportunity to be strategic about costs, time, and energy and, with the right approach, can generate meaningful savings in a short amount of time. In fact, Cisco reported that between 2015-2020 the reduction in real estate footprint enabled by hybrid work saved the company around $500 million.
Not only does a hybrid work model help with overall costs, but it also makes your organization less vulnerable to external stoppages. Plus, a lack of commute saves time and energy. With the average employee losing 2.7 work hours per week due to travel disruption and delays when commuting, it’s a win-win to offer more flexibility.
The environment can also benefit from hybrid work. A recent study found that our personal emissions can decrease by up to 80% when working from home versus commuting daily. If your company is looking to impact your ESG (environment, social, and governance) initiatives, the move to a hybrid work model is a great place to start.
Learn more about the importance of ESG.
Improve employee experience
The more time that passes, the clearer it becomes that employees want flexibility. An effective hybrid work model can give employees better balance and support while creating an environment that is trusting, autonomous, and collaborative. With 76% of employees wanting flexibility in where they work and 93% wanting flexibility in when they work, hybrid is a no-brainer.
For workers who are raising children, taking care of sick family, or balancing other obligations, hybrid work allows them to structure their time more individually.
In a hybrid work environment, employees might be given the opportunity to take advantage of what helps them to be productive, including things that would be difficult or impossible in an office (such as keeping non-traditional working hours, or working next to your cat).
By focusing less on where employees work and more on how they work, outcomes and impact can be emphasized over output and activity. This mindset is currently emerging from many hybrid office cultures.
That’s because outcome over output helps employees focus on the “why” of their work, encourages strategic alignment, and places more value in their creativity, which in turn amplifies innovation and adaptability.
For all these reasons and more, forward-looking companies that set their hybrid work models up for success will be more likely to attract — and keep — top talent.
The ability to hire remotely opens new possibilities for the diversity of your enterprise. Four out of five companies in the top quartile for gender-diverse executive teams confirmed that flexible work was a critical component for improving their diversity.
Hybrid work enables people to work together across languages, countries, and time zones. At Quantive, for instance, we’re remote-first and have employees in more than 15 countries, which means speaking with people all over the world who have different backgrounds, experiences, skills, habits, beliefs, and approaches to success.
A hybrid work environment can also help remove obstacles presented by the conventional in-office model for mothers, the elderly, the disabled, and the neurodiverse, as well as those unable to afford commuting right away.
As LinkedIn Chief Economist Karin Kimbrough noted, “Companies in major cities can hire talent from under-represented groups that may not have the means or desire to move to a big city. And in smaller cities, companies will now have access to talent that may have a different set of skills than they had before.”
The ability to recruit without borders also allows organizations to maintain 24/7 operations and can be a game-changer for companies recruiting for scarce or highly in-demand skill sets, allowing them to tap global job markets and remote regions.
Learn more about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.
Hybrid work challenges
The benefits of the hybrid work model mean that it's here to stay, and the case for a permanent switch is a powerful one. Despite this, many companies have yet to fully commit to hybrid work.
The struggle to align workforce with strategy
Communicating your mission and strategy to your workforce and keeping them aligned isn’t easy for leadership under normal circumstances, especially in large organizations with layers of hierarchy and international operations.
A hybrid workforce only adds to the communication challenge of keeping everyone aligned with strategy. Employees may not understand how their work fits into the bigger picture, making it more difficult for the organization to scale their efforts and achieve strategic agility.
Isolation, division, and information overload
In the office, it's easy to consult with nearby teammates and managers, but being remote, we take this informal, often non-verbal communication for granted. Without easy access to information in today's fast-paced business environment, staying on top of team, company, and process developments becomes a real challenge.
Consequently, for new employees, remote working means it can take them longer to acquire the knowledge required to get up to speed and become productive. In our new working environment, onboarding may be done completely remotely, which means employees are learning more on their own.
For remote workers in general, the sense of isolation can give rise to feelings of dislocation. It can even leave them feeling secondary to their office-based counterparts, which can culminate in a divided workforce.
Unfortunately, trying to compensate with more meetings and increasing the information flow can backfire by adding more distractions and the danger of burnout rather than mitigating the problem.
The trust issue
According to a recent study, 80% of employees say they’re equally or more productive after going remote or hybrid, however, 54% of leaders fear that the opposite is true.
In fact, Harvard Business Review notes that managers who cannot “see” their direct reports can sometimes struggle to trust that their employees are indeed working.
Negative attitudes lead to negative perceptions of employees, including questioning their competence, knowledge, and essential skills. These negative perceptions can lead to micro-management, with leaders sowing seeds of self-doubt in their employees.
Accountability assumes competence. For leaders, it’s necessary to hold staff accountable, especially as employees get used to working with more autonomy. Being accountable to their own work also helps employees connect to their purpose within their role and develop good habits, which benefits the company.
However, when an employee’s competence, knowledge, and essential skills are questioned, this core lack of trust leads to inevitable disengagement, lack of focus, and decreased productivity.
To say there’s a disconnect between executives and employees desires to return to the office is probably an understatement. While 44% of executives would prefer to come back to the office every day, only 17% of employees feel similarly.
For some people, the switch to hybrid work helped shift work-life balance in a positive way, giving them more freedom and autonomy to better prioritize their family, health, rest, and passions.
For others, hybrid work led to more night and weekend hours, as well as the pressure or expectation to be on-call as often as technology allows. On average, meetings, chat, workday length, and after-hours and weekend work have all increased over the past two years.
With the pressures and difficulties of guiding their teams through massive uncertainty, leaders have certainly felt the weight of these imbalances. The challenge for leaders continues now, with the mandate to configure their organization’s standard working model in the new normal.
Simply wanting to see employees back in familiar spaces may also partially explain why so many leaders want to return to the office.
Tips for a positive hybrid working environment
While there are benefits and challenges to any working environment, hybrid work is the way of the future and it’s time to figure out how to make it work for your organization. And now that you’ve decided to implement or optimize your hybrid work model, there are five areas to focus on to ensure you’re set up for success:
- Provide the right resources
- Empower management
- Encourage intentional connections
- Build trust by creating team agreements
- Foster alignment, initiative-taking, and a sense of purpose
Provide the right resources
Just like any other work model, there are obstacles in a hybrid work environment and it’s critical employees be provided with the resources they need to overcome them. When we talk about resources, it encompasses everything from onboarding to communication channels to offboarding, and everything in between.
As you shift into a hybrid work model, you might need to overhaul your onboarding process to ensure new employees understand what resources are available, how to use them, and how to ask for what they might be missing.
In an office, it’s easier to set aside time each day with new employees, but in a hybrid environment, it’s important to set up a structured program with access to the most important information they’ll need to hit the ground running.
“With the right resources, people can be productive anywhere.” — Accenture Future of Work Study
Once employees are fully operational, make it a point to check in periodically to ensure they have what they need to succeed. A great place to start is a quarterly, company-wide survey to understand what’s working, what’s not, and what’s missing from your tech stack. Do a yearly review of your tools and technology to ensure you have the right resources in place and aren’t paying for things people no longer use.
Managers are the connection between employees and leadership. They are the key to bridging the gap between the company’s highest-level priorities and the day-to-day execution, enabling everyone to achieve their goals along the way.
In addition, managers are crucial for helping foster working relationships and connections in a hybrid workplace. They are the ones implementing practical change as teams develop their own best practices for sustainable collaboration across borders, time zones, and screens.
It’s vitally important that managers are empowered to practice the healthy habits introduced to employees during the shift to hybrid work, while mentoring employees in how to adapt to their roles and thrive in a hybrid work environment.
These “culture-keepers” are in the right place to mediate differences, decide what’s essential and what’s not, and experiment with turning the weaknesses of the new normal into strengths. The potential of hybrid work may very well lie in the good discretion of empowered managers.
Encourage intentional connections
Connection is not as organic in a hybrid working environment as it is in an office. In fact, 43% of leaders say relationship-building is the greatest challenge in hybrid and remote work. However, good relationships are key to optimizing engagement and productivity in a hybrid environment.
“Building relationships will feel like a luxury workers cannot afford unless there's a shift in how time is prioritized and valued by managers.” — Constance Noonan Hadley, organizational psychologist
Companies need to prioritize healthy working relationships, or they’ll likely experience a sharp decline in employee engagement, collaboration, alignment, and productivity — all integral aspects to achieving a successful, streamlined, and sustainable digital organization.
Organizations can implement structured check-ins with managers, team-wide brainstorming sessions, and internal communications systems where people can share what they're working on. Teams should be encouraged to reach out to one another for support, as well as give support when the opportunity comes.
Create team agreements to build trust
In a hybrid working environment, trust is more important than ever. Employees and leaders need to be able to communicate about expectations, ensuring employees both feel supported by leaders and are doing their work efficiently.
There are different ways to talk about trust, as well as many ways to build trust, within a hybrid work model. The most important thing about building trust is ensuring employees feel they can be vulnerable with leaders, while leaders need to feel secure in knowing their empathy isn’t being taken advantage of.
A great place to start is with team expectations. Creating, agreeing on, and communicating team expectations can help create the necessary structure to support transparency, vulnerability, and trust in a hybrid workplace.
One possibility is agreeing on hybrid work schedules and discussing expectations around work-life balance, availability, and employee ownership of results.
Business researcher Brené Brown's acronym BRAVING is an excellent conversation guide for building trust within organizations. BRAVING stands for boundaries, reliability, accountability, vault (confidentiality), integrity, non-judgment, and generous assumption (interpreting others' intentions, words and actions with kindness).
Trust helps foster employee engagement through clarity and consistency.
Foster alignment, initiative-taking, and a sense of purpose
It's important for teams and individuals responsible for outcomes to understand how they fit into the big picture—how their individual efforts contribute to strategic goals.
By getting on the same page in regularly cadenced, agreed-upon ways, remote employees can stay just as aligned with business goals as on-site workers, but without the need for more meetings and updates, eliminating the accompanying deflection from the job at hand and the potential for burnout.
An additional payoff is the individual and collective sense of purpose that arises from everyone finally being able to understand how what they do makes a difference to the organization's well-being.
Such an understanding also fosters the confidence within individuals to take the initiative to do better. When they do take the initiative, the emphasis on alignment with business goals leads to better decision-making. It also helps employees be more proactive about developing knowledge, receiving feedback, and developing good habits.
Implementing your hybrid work model
As the world adapts to the new normal, there will be plenty of challenges and opportunities to re-imagine what work looks like for your organization. When it comes to implementing a sustainable hybrid work model, it’s necessary to choose a system that will benefit and adapt to the uniqueness of your business.
As you set out on this path, look to build a work environment that supports connection and collaboration, while empowering teams and managers to achieve their best. Like we’ve discussed, every approach will be different, but it’s up to you as a leader to figure out what will help your business thrive.
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